John 13:14-17 14 "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. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” [NASB].
Notice first off, Jesus calls Himself by two titles, Lord and Teacher. He signifies Himself by the titles the disciples call Him. The title of Lord means the disciples recognized Him as One who has power and is the owner of something or someone. In this instance, they recognized Jesus as the Son of God and the owner of themselves as servants to His command and as owner of the created world. The title of Teacher signifies the disciples acknowledged His proficiency in Hebrew Law and the Prophets and put themselves as His to teach in the ways of the Father, from the past as Creator and Provider to the near future as Savior. By calling Himself the Lord and Teacher, titles the disciples also used, they said they learned from Jesus and obeyed Jesus. The disciples were Jesus’ students and servants.
Many teachers and preachers have taught this passage about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. This passage has been used as a passage to remind us that we are to serve each other. Yet, something more is there than just that. Jesus stated explicitly, “For I gave you an example… (vs. 15).” Nowhere else in the New Testament did Jesus tell them He was giving them an example. He showed them what to do but never told them explicitly, “This is how you are to be: servants.”
Let us consider a few things Jesus said about servants. From John 12:26, just a day or two before Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me [NASB].” Jesus reminded the disciples that service to Him means following Him. Jesus added a positive, a promise if you will, that where He is His servant will be. The servants/disciples will be in the kingdom of God with Him. Another passage to consider about servants is Mark 10:42-45,
Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But, it is not this way among you, but whomever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” [NASB]
Jesus told the disciples the way to be first for Jesus and the Father was to serve others, “be slave of all.” He offered Himself as an example by telling them that He, too, did not come to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28 [NASB]). Though not explicitly stating the word “example,” Jesus implied servanthood in this passage.
Jesus set before the disciples in what manner they were to consider themselves and how they were to conduct their lives. The disciples were to be servants. Because Jesus was calling Himself the Son of God and breaking the Sabbath rule by working/healing on that day, the Jews wanted to kill Him. Jesus confronted the Jews and explained for all to hear, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner (John 5:19 [NASB]). Jesus explained that He could only do what He has seen the Father do. Since Jesus is the example to His disciples then and down through the ages, then He is our example today. We can only do what we have seen Him and the Father do.
So what is Jesus trying to say to us? Since He was a servant to them by washing their feet and plainly told the disciples that He was an example to them and since He said that if we want to be considered first and enter His kingdom, we must be servants and slaves to all, including to Jesus. That is really what this passage is about. Our actions toward others may appear as if we are being servants to them; however, we are serving Christ by serving others. It is a new attitude that is to be considered. Because we serve Christ, we will be like Him, as He showed us in His life and death. When we are servants of Christ, we realize and take upon ourselves the mind of Christ; we humble ourselves. See Philippians 2:3-8,
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [NASB]
Jesus humbled Himself and became human because of the Father’s love for us, the love the triune God has for us. His humbling of Himself, His servant life, and His sacrificial death, bring us to reverential awe for Him. As we stand before God, we are speechless and can only bow in love and servitude to Him. Jesus told them, as He had just a little time left with them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34 [NASB]). Jesus left them with a final commandment that goes along with the greatest commandment (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27 [NASB]). How would the disciples be known to be Jesus disciples? They were to love everyone. Jesus, in John 14:15, reminded them of this commandment when He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments [NASB].
Jesus has given His disciples for the last 2000 years an example. We are to be servants. We are to have an attitude of humility because He is God – Creator, Provider, and Savior. Jesus did not come down in human form because we are loveable. We are each darkened with sin. He came down because of His love for who we were created to be – His friends. Jesus spoke of this to His disciples in John 15:15, "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you [NASB]. Because Jesus came to earth in human form, taught and loved us up to and through His death, we see true servanthood. It is not being subservient and submissive to the person to whom we serve, though that can happen. It is being submissive and servant to our Father and Savior because of their great love for us. Because if this great love for us and our surrendering/yielding our lives to Him, Jesus can say we are not just servants, but we are His friends.
We are to serve because we reverence and love God. We are to serve because Jesus gave us the example, His great love enacted through His life and death. We are to serve because it is the commandment He gave to His disciples. Mostly, we are to serve, because He calls us His friend. We must decide for ourselves whether we will serve Jesus. This service requires following His example, surrendering our whole selves to His purpose, that all may know (as John said in John 20:31). Will you love God with your life?