Have you ever read the same passage of Scripture numerous times, and then suddenly you notice something that you have never seen before? This has happened to me on several different occasions. Perhaps, it is because I am a slow learner when it comes to spiritual matters.
I had such an experience a few weeks ago while reading John 13 in preparation for a sermon that I was going to preach at one of our churches.
This passage powerfully proclaims our Lord’s love for His disciples and serves as a powerful reminder to each of us regarding what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Jesus and the disciples are gathered in the upper room where He has been teaching them about His approaching death and suffering. Then He does something that seemed more than a little unusual.
He gets some water and then goes around the room washing the feet of these men. After He has finished, He tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (verses 14-15).
Now I have read this passage at least 100 times, and taught from it on several occasions. However, this time the final words of verse 15 simply struck me. This experience with Jesus was more than an object lesson. Actually, it is a foundational principle for all followers of Jesus Christ.
If we are His followers, then we will serve one another. In essence, one of the hallmarks of the body of Christ is this willingness to show preference to one another. We truly regard our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as being more important than ourselves.
Now I realize that this truth is not new. However, it is revolutionary. That our Master and Lord would humble Himself to the point of performing one of the most demeaning tasks imaginable for those who should have been serving Him, is a radical concept. It is an utterly foreign concept to the culture of the first century and the twenty-first century as well.
When He tells His followers that we must serve our fellow Christians with such humility and diligence, He has set a new standard for us. This flies in the face of everything that we have been taught in our individualistic and self-centered culture. He is saying by this act that your life is not about you, it’s about your eternal family.
In case we missed the point, He drives His point home in the following verse when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master …” Therefore, if our Lord and Master is willing to serve us, then we should willingly serve one another.
Who are we to try and excuse ourselves from serving our brothers and sisters in Christ when our Lord has told us that this is how we should treat one another? When we look a little further in this chapter and see what Jesus tells us regarding our love for one another, this example comes into an even clearer focus.
Our love for our fellow Christians is demonstrated in our willingness to serve them. Jesus even goes so far as to tell us that our love for one another will be a compelling testimony to those outside of our fellowship.
When people see our love for our Lord being fleshed out by the way that we treat our fellow Christians, it adds credibility and power to our witness. Never was this truth pointed out so clearly for me than in a church where I served several years ago.
The youth group in this church was divisive and malicious towards one another. After being there for just a few months, I was ready to pursue another place of ministry since it seemed that their open contempt was more than I could stand. One night, God did something amazing. As the result of some pointed words from one of our leaders, the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of some of our students to the reality of the situation.
We spent over an hour praying with students as they sought forgiveness from one another and God for their unwillingness to show love to their peers. From that moment on, things were no longer the same. Over the next few months, we were privileged to see numerous teenagers come to Christ, and lives being dramatically changed.
Isn’t it amazing what happens when we simply do what Jesus says? (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of the Church Health Team.)