The Lord Jesus has been revealed as the elect and beloved Servant, “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased” (Matt. 12:18). In John 13, the feet-washing is a living parable on the self-humbling of Christ as outlined in Philippians chapter 2. It teaches us something of what it meant for Him to take that form of a servant. Thus, He gave an example for all acceptable service (John 13:15).
It Involved a Decision
“He riseth” (v. 4). Here is a picture of the great decision in eternity, to serve on behalf of fallen man at infinite cost. By this the Lord teaches His disciples that, in all spiritual service, there must be a determination to do it, a sincerity in doing it, and the actual doing of it. “As the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). James speaks of the “doers” of the word and the “not-doers.’” The “doers” are characterized by their uncompromising walk, continuing in the perfect law of liberty, and are blessed in their doing. The “not-doers” are characterized by their unbridled talk, contemptuous of the perfect law of liberty, and are self-deceived in their heart (Jas. 1:22-26).
It Involved a Renunciation
“He…laid aside His garments” (v. 4). This answers to Philippians 2:7, “He made Himself of no reputation.” The Lord did not empty Himself of anything. It was Himself that was emptied out, into the vessel of perfect sinless humanity, yet never ceasing to be God. He did not lay aside His divine nature, but took to Himself a human nature, so that He might die. He did not become another person, but partook of “the seed of Abraham.” Thus, having two natures in one glorious Person, He was “God…manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16).
He laid aside the garment of His visible glory for the swaddling bands of lowly birth; His Heavenly comfort for the garment of dew on the lonely mountains. He laid aside for a time, the diadems of glory for the crown of thorns; the glory of the Father, for the reed, the spittle and the nail; the throne of glory high and lifted up, for a felon’s cross. Thus, we learn that all true spiritual service involves a renunciation or anything that would impede the fulfilling of it.
It Involved Humiliation
“He…took a [servant’s] towel” (v. 4). This answers to Philippians 2:7. “[He] took upon Him the form of a servant”. The Lord thus taught the disciples that true, acceptable, spiritual service will involve taking the place of submission. As sinful beings, we cannot imagine what it must have meant for the Lord to become a man. Human existence is all that we have ever known, but not He, the eternal Son of God. We began in humanity. He became a man.
It Involved a Voluntary Restriction
“He…girded Himself” (v. 4). The Lord was never restricted in Himself. He is God. He did however, restrict the expressions of His greatness on occasions. Relative to time, He came from the infinite extensions of eternal days to the realm of sunrise and sunset. Yet ever He possessed His attribute of eternity. Relative to space, the One of whom the poet wrote, “Who art Thyself Thine own vast dwelling place,” came to dwell on this insignificant speck of stellar dust. Yet He ever possessed the attribute of immensity. Relative to power, He came from the infinite expressions of absolute authority and might, to learn obedience by the things which He suffered and to be touched with the feelings of our weaknesses. Yet He ever possessed the attribute of omnipotence.
The disciples could learn by His example, that if their service was to be after the character of their Lord’s, it will be very costly relative to their own persons, their own time, their own movements, and their own energies. They will “not go out free” (Ex. 21:5). As to our time, it is irretrievable and “cannot be gathered up again” (2 Sam. 14:14). As to our movements, we are accountable, and we shall meet them again at the Bema. As to our energy, it is expendable and soon, so soon, our strength diminishes and the good that we would, we cannot.
It Involved a Special Provision
“He…poureth water into a basin” (vv. 4-5) The water was there, but it had to be taken up, and it had to be poured out. We read of “the water of the word.” At great cost to God and to many of His servants, even martyrs, we have the word in our mother tongue. It is there, readily available, in Western lands at least. But it is not enough that it has been provided. It must be appropriated. By daily discipline, it must be personally taken up.
The Lord did not pour the water into the cup, that would have been useless. He did not pour it on their heads, that would have been thoughtless, it was their feet that needed the water. He did not pour it on the floor, that would have been waste. The water was applied where it was needed. The disciples could learn by this, that the application of the word must be relevant to the need, thoughtful, and profitable to the blessing of those ministered to.
It Involved Completion
Having washed the disciple’s feet, He took a towel and wiped their feet dry. Their cleanliness and comfort were restored. He did it completely, for behind the task was His own character. He did it tenderly, for behind the towel was His own blessed hand. He did it perfectly, for behind the act was His own purpose, divine instruction. Paul followed His Lord in this, he “finished [the] course” (2 Tim. 4:7). Spiritual service must be done in the right way, for the right reasons and at the right time and we are not to leave our allotted task undone for someone else to fulfil.
The Lord has given the example that “Ye should do as I have done to you” (v. 15). May we all be followers of the Perfect Servant.
Republished from Precious Seed, March-April, 1989