An Example of Humility
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“Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am” (John 13:13).
by Tim Thomassen
Before celebrating his last Passover feast, Jesus spoke our theme text to his disciples. The Greek word used for “Master” (Strong’s 1320) means “instructor,” and is sometimes rendered “teacher.” John 13:13 refers to Jesus as our Master. Thus it is appropriate to think of Jesus as our Master and our Teacher.
Jesus, knowing that the time of his departure and death was near, thought it advisable to teach his disciples a lesson of humility. For the disciples showed too much attachment to
worldly honors and esteem.
Only a week before, James and John had requested that in the kingdom, they might sit in closest proximity to Jesus, the one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Our Lord had rebuked his disciples, assuring them that unless they cultivated and attained a spirit of meekness like little children, they could have no part in his kingdom. Perhaps a spirit of pride and position still lingered on this occasion, at the last supper in the upper room (Luke 22:24).
The washing of feet in former times was performed for a guest by the host or hostess, but later was committed to servants, and therefore considered as a servile assignment. When David sent servants to Abigail, to inform her that he had chosen her for a wife, she arose and said, “Behold, let thy handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord” (1 Samuel 25:41).
When Jesus performed this act, it was esteemed the duty of a servant. This “plainly showed the humility of Jesus, and emphatically taught the same to his disciples.” (See footnote in Wilson’s Diaglott, page 368.) Not only were their Master Teacher’s words often difficult to predict, but his actions were also.
Jesus had acknowledged himself as the Son of God, the Messiah, their Lord and Master. Yet, there he was, kneeling before them in the attitude of a humble servant, washing their feet. Amazed and dumbfounded, but accustomed to obeying Jesus, no remark or protest was made. No one cried out: “No! No! You must not do that! Let me do that for you!”
However, it must have generated some feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment. They watched him drawing nearer and nearer until they felt the touch of his hands on their own feet. But it was all done in a tense silence. No one spoke.
Simon Peter was generally impulsive, never tongue-tied, apt to voice what was on his mind, as are some of us. Finally, this was more than he could take.
At first, he stared in stunned amazement at what he saw. Then he proclaimed: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Perhaps Peter swung his feet out of the way as he asked the question. But Jesus answered him: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:6, 7 ESV).
Sometimes in life, we have to acknowledge that things the Lord puts before us are hard to comprehend and do not seem to be divine providence. Still, we must learn to trust our Lord and accept the ordering of our affairs as right and wise and kind, even if they are incomprehensible to us. It helps in such situations to realize, as Jesus told Peter, that he knows that we may be puzzled. He is not angry with us for that.
For example, he knows that it is not always easy to understand why a dear one should be taken in death; why a pain, an ailment, or some other thing is allowed to hamper our service; why we should be innocent victims of someone’s carelessness; why we do not get a job in what we thought was the right place; why an opportunity of fellowship with brethren is taken away; why we are sometimes separated from brethren whom we have known, loved, and respected for years; or why can we not all agree on scriptural interpretation.
It helps to be assured that one day all that now bewilders us will grow plain. But this may not relieve our present concern. The pattern that is being woven into our lives will take shape. We will understand it all at last and proclaim, “Oh that is why it happened!” Then we will appreciate that nothing which was sent could have been omitted without some spiritual loss. We must have faith in Christ and trust him where we cannot trace him, singing the words of the familiar hymn, “I’d rather walk by faith with him, than go alone by sight.”
The Apostles’ Reactions
Peter initially refused: “Thou shalt never wash my feet” (John 13:8 ASV). It was the language of a fixed resolution. However, once told that if not washed he would have no part with the Master, Peter quickly changed his mind and asked to have his hands and head washed as well.
When the feet-washing was completed, Jesus explained its significance. He had given them an example of humility, in being willing to perform the most menial service for those whom he loved. In their fear of being proclaimed least, the disciples had missed the importance of service for each other. That, and other such lessons, would come with the Holy Spirit that would “teach [them] all things” (John 14:26).
Their Lord, head and master, had humbled himself to serve them and had thus rebuked their pride. He had also set them an example that would apply to every affair of life: they should be glad to serve one another on every proper occasion, in the high things or in the common affairs of life.
Washing one another’s feet is a concept that we can apply to every service of life, to every kindness, but especially to those times when we can render spiritual assistance and comfort.
There are always opportunities for comforting, refreshing, and consoling one another in some of the humblest affairs, or in respect to some unpleasant tasks or trials. Any deed done or attempted in love, with a desire to do good to one of God’s people, surely has our Lord’s approval and blessing. Let us forsake no opportunity and let us remember our Master Teacher’s example. We should never feign humility but should perform kindnesses because it is the right thing to do if we want to serve God. It should always be considered a privilege to assist the members of the Lord’s body.
To wash one another’s feet is to stoop to the greatest degree of love for the benefit of one another. For us to rise in the school of Christ, we must in this picture lower ourselves. The Apostle Paul made himself a servant of all (Mark 9:35). Jesus came not to be ministered unto, but to minister (Matthew 20:28).
We must willingly follow these examples by diminishing ourselves for the good of our brethren. As washing the feet after travel in ancient times contributed to the cleanliness and comfort of the individual, so our spiritual feet-washing advances our brethren’s spiritual cleanliness and welfare.
Jesus said, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you” (John 13:10 NAS). All who are justified and consecrated members of his body already have had the washing of regeneration, and already are clean through the word spoken unto them (John 15:3). Nevertheless, as long as we are in contact with the world we are susceptible to a certain amount of earthly defilement. It behooves each of us not only to consider ourselves but to help one another to remove earthly pollutants.
We should have a mutual watch-care over one another’s welfare, to keep each other clean, holy, pure, and to assist one another in overcoming the trials and temptations facing us. “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10, NAS).
The first verse of John 13 calls attention to our Lord’s love as the basis for all his dealings with “his own.” Because of his love, he laid aside his glory as the Logos and became a man. Because of his love, he consecrated himself as the man Jesus to do his Father’s will. And, because of his love, he was anxious to help his disciples conquer their pride which would hinder their progress.
This love not only led Jesus to reprove them as necessary but to do it in the kindest manner. “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” (John 13:15-17 NAS).
Indeed, Christ is our Master Teacher. He instructs us by example as well as by words. For this cause, he came into the world, and dwelt among us, that he might show those graces and fruits which he desires his followers to develop. There was never a false stroke in our Lord’s example. We must not just attend to his words, we must also follow his examples and thus be thoroughly conformed to his image.
More like the Master I would ever be,
More of His meekness, more humility;
More zeal to labor, more courage to be true,
More consecration for work He bids me do.
Take Thou my heart, I would be Thine alone;
Take Thou my heart, and make it all Thine own;
Purge me from sin, O Lord, I now implore,
Wash me and keep me Thine forevermore.
More like the Master is my daily prayer;
More strength to carry crosses I must bear;
More earnest effort to bring His kingdom in;
More of His Spirit, the wanderer to win.
More like the Master I would live and grow;
More of His love to others I would show;
More self-denial, like His in Galilee,
More like the Master I long to ever be.
“More Like The Master,”
by Charles H. Gabriel