Each Gospel account records Jesus celebrating the Passover with His disciples in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem. However, the Gospel of John includes a unique group of teachings known as The Upper Room Discourse.
In these teachings, Christ lays the foundation for church life in the New Covenant. In other words, this is how followers of Jesus should conduct themselves around one another. Jesus wants the church to know how they are to do life together and treat each other after His death and resurrection.
If there’s anything the church needs in this day and time it is this teaching.
Lesson 1 - Serving (John 13v3-17)
Jesus had already mentioned service several times throughout His early ministry. Given the fact that his disciples had been arguing about who will be the greatest in the Kingdom, this lesson had not completely stuck. So, He takes the next step in their education; action.
[Jesus] rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
In ancient Israel, feet were considered one of the most unclean parts of the body. Whilst the people wore shoes, much of the foot was exposed. This meant that the feet would get very dirty. If it was raining, the feet would get muddy. If it was sunny, the feet would get dusty.
Jesus washed their feet.
The one performing this particular action was the Son of God: holy, majestic, royal, perfect, righteous, pure. He had already stooped down in unimaginable ways. He had performed the ultimate act of condescension. Without ceasing to be God, the holy, royal, perfect, righteous, pure Son of God became a man. He found Himself robed in the frail matter that so limits humanity: flesh.
He came to serve. His whole life, up to that point, had been about service. The way He was born, the way He lived, the way in which He died; Jesus displayed an unparalleled desire to serve. But what He did in John 13 was an extraordinary display of humble service from the King of Kings.
I love getting to witness individuals living out the truths/principles that have been expounded in the teaching of the church. Sometimes it’s an extreme act. Sometimes it’s a bit more “every-day.”
One extreme example comes from long before I was ever the church’s pastor. It involves the inception of our church (Blurton Baptist Church in Stoke-on-Trent) in the 1980’s. After originally being formed as a youth outreach and meeting in multiple hired halls, the church eventually outgrew temporary venues and stood in need of a permanent building. Simultaneously, a “failed” church-plant in a Primitive Methodist Chapel a few miles away was disbanding. The building was offered to Blurton at a discounted rate. And, though they had been saving up for quite some time, the price was far more than these working-class Stokies could afford. So, after much deliberation, multiple families in the church made an unthinkable decision: they mortgaged their homes to pay the difference. Not everyone in the congregation could afford to make significant contributions. So, these able givers made up the difference on their behalf. This was extravagant service.
Then there are more everyday examples that we can all relate to. Imagine that you are going through a traumatic, life-altering event. In the midst of this experience, you discover that you have COVID-19. Before long, you are so weak that you can barely even get out of bed throughout the day. All the while, you are having to care for your children without any support.
How would you hope to be helped? Someone offer to come wash your dishes while you’re bed-ridden? Prepare a meal for you and your children? This is exactly what recently happened in our church. Without any recognition or approval from the church or its leaders, one church member took it upon themselves to simply do what they could to help a fellow spiritual-sibling in need. These are the types of tasks that any of us can perform.
But this type of service doesn’t come naturally to us. So, how do we get motivated serve?
Right-here, Right-now Sanctification
Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is washed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”
For the longest time, I had the wrong idea about sanctification. I had the idea that sanctification was a work that I needed to do to maintain my fellowship with God. However, I came to realise that in the New Testament sanctification is a work of God. It is something that God does in me from the moment of personal salvation, and continues to do it all the days of my life. Paul affirms this in Philippians 1:6: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”.
The word sanctify means “set apart.” Question: Do we set ourselves apart for salvation? Or does God reach down in His grace and power to place us eternally in Him? It is a work of God. The epistles speak of sanctification as both a past and present work. At the moment of conversion, God sanctifies us (positionally), and continues that work of sanctification (practically) throughout our lives.
Service is a part of our out-working of that sanctification. I don’t have to work it up. I just have to be indwelt by Christ and seeking to emulate Him. God sanctifies us and (through the work of the Spirit) produces tangible fruits of sanctification in our lives as we yield to Him. Serving our church family falls into that category. In other words, let God manifest your sanctification by proactively serving your brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is the least to be expected from a follower of Christ. Our Lord Jesus put it this way:
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Part 1 - A Culture of Serving
Part 2 - A Culture of Loving