A few mornings ago, my 11-year old had a “princess moment”. You know what a “princess moment” is? Where she thinks the world should revolve around her. She was running late, as she fell back asleep. As she comes down the stairs, my wife was very gentle and encouraging to Ellie as she said, “I have everything ready for you. I’ve made you breakfast; got your bookbag all packed.”
As parents we would love for our child to respond by saying something to the effect, “Thanks so much mom! You’re the best! I couldn’t ask for a more caring mom. I love you.” Yep, you guessed it. That’s not how she responded. Having plopped down on the couch, opening up her laptop, she begins barking about the breakfast. “That’s not what I want,” she exclaimed. With a little bit of my wife’s New York-Italian coming out, she expresses that all she wanted to do was serve Ellie and make her life a little bit better and easier since she was running late.
My wife’s words resonated with John 13, the passage I’ve been contemplating lately. John 13 is where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Imagine the scene. The Son of Man wraps a towel around His waist. He kneels down to where the dirty, nasty, and filthy feet are planted. He then takes the basin of water and begins to wash the dirt and grim off the disciples’ feet.
As He begins to wash Peter’s feet, a shell-shocked Peter immediately and bluntly says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” We know that Jesus responds, “What I’m doing you don’t realize now, but afterward you will understand.” Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus looked up and locked eyes with Peter, or if Jesus continued to focus on the feet. If I had to guess, I would say that Jesus locked eyes with Peter for the dialogue goes on a few more sentences to the point where Jesus exclaims, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.”
It is in this exchange that we see a servant’s viewpoint. It is from the bottom looking up. We live in such a culture where I don’t know if we fully understand a servant’s viewpoint, for our culture in one way or another is where people posture themselves from the top looking down.
A servant’s viewpoint is from the bottom looking up, not the top looking down.
Looking up rather than looking down is a game-changer. They are two completely different viewpoints and perspectives. One says, “I’m here to serve,” whereas the other says, “I’m here to be served.”
Jesus goes on to describe to His disciples that what He did that night they are to do likewise. They are to pick up the ministry of the towel. To follow in the vein of Jesus, and to take upon ourselves a servant’s viewpoint, we will have to arm ourselves with three questions. In other words, a servant will always be asking themselves the following questions.
Who Can I Serve?
This seems to be the easiest question, yet it is the most difficult. I know what you’re probably thinking, “How is it the most difficult question?” Because, although it is easy, our hearts and minds don’t naturally want to ask this question. Rather our hearts and minds—especially in our culture—are constantly looking at who can serve us.
Be honest. When’s the last time you went to a sit-down restaurant, entered your subdivision, pulled into your home, exercised at the gym, or attended church and thought, “Who can I serve?” The places we frequent and the busyness of our lives do not condition us to think about others—they condition us to think about ourselves.
The places we frequent and the busyness of our lives do not condition us to think about others—they condition us to think about ourselves.
When you ask yourself, “Who can I serve?” it takes the attention of you and refocuses it on those God has placed around you. It can be a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or a complete stranger. Jesus arrived that night and entered into that upper room knowing that He was going to serve His disciples.
This question is critical. If you don’t know who you are going to serve, you won’t be able to answer the next question.
How Can I Serve?
Why did Jesus take upon Himself the form of a servant, wrapping a towel around His waist and kneeling down with a water basin to start washing feet? Because Jesus entered that upper room not only knowing who He would serve, but how He would serve them.
Knowing how He would serve them was built upon knowing them. You will not know how to serve others unless you know them. In other words, knowing precedes doing. Better yet, knowing precedes serving. You will not know how to serve others unless you know them.
If you know the account in John 13, you know that Jesus performs a physical act of service that has deep spiritual connotations. In other words, His physical act of cleaning feet represents His fast approaching physical (yet spiritual) act of sanctifying hearts. In short, Jesus’ physical act of serving feet reflected a deeper kingdom reality directed at their hearts.
The physical act of service should reflect a deeper kingdom reality directed at hearts.
As followers of Christ, when we ask ourselves, “How can I serve?” we should be thinking about the deeper spiritual realities of our physical act of service. For instance, husbands when you ask this question in the context of your home—particularly towards your wife—your deeper spiritual reality will involve loving your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.
How we serve should ultimately reflect the deeper spiritual reality of the kingdom of God invading the dirtiness and brokenness of our lives.
What do I Hope to See from My Service?
Obviously Jesus wanted His disciples clean—spiritually speaking. John 13 isn’t as much about feet as it is about hearts. Jesus wanted to see His disciples (as He wants to see the whole world) clean so that mankind and God could be reconciled. Without cleaning—which ultimately required the shedding of Jesus’ blood—there is no reconciliation. In fact, Jesus tells Peter if He doesn’t wash him then Peter will have no part (or relationship) with Him.
But there is something more Jesus wanted to see from His act of service. He wanted to see this kind of service enacted in the life of His disciples. In other words, what He did, He wanted the disciples to replicate.
If you continue to read the passage, there’s even one more layer to what Jesus wanted to see. He wanted the disciples to experience deep-seated happiness—better known as joy. He expresses that those who do such things are blessed.
Could it be the reason why many today have such an unsettled spirit is because they are selfishly driven to feed the bottomless pit of self-absorption. The only true way to experience wholeness, fulfillment, and joy is to give your self-away in the service of God.
The only true way to experience wholeness, fulfillment, and joy is to give your self-away in the service of God.
Put these three things together, and a servant’s viewpoint hopes their service:
1) draws the person closer to God,
2) ignites others to join in serving in a similar manner—making the world a better, more selfless place, and
3) instills a deeper-seated joy and peace in life.
Do you get it? A true servant’s viewpoint leads to the trifecta of life—right relationship to God, right relationship towards others, and a right relationship with self.
In closing, Jesus teaches that the greatest position in this world is from the bottom looking up, not the top looking down. That’s what we call an inversion of the gospel. The Prince of Peace didn’t tie a towel around His waist and kneel down next to a water basin to wash feet so that we could be American cultural princesses and princes that tell Him, “He missed a spot.” He did so in order for us to take our clean feet—washed by the blood of the Son of God—and go and do likewise. And this is definitely something my wife and I are striving to emulate for our children—not to mention, praying for them.