In Humble Service

Is there a difference between performing good works and possessing a true servant’s heart?

The word servant often carries a negative connotation in Western culture, but for Christians, it’s an admirable quality that displays Christlike love for others. However, there’s a difference between serving and having a servant spirit. Believers can serve God for a variety of reasons—duty, self-satisfaction, financial gain, or recognition. But a servant spirit goes beyond outward actions to internal motivations. It flows from a heart yielded to the Lord for His purposes and willingly reaches out or stoops down to give of oneself to meet another’s need. Let’s read John 13:5-8:

Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”—John 13:5-8

“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” —Leonardo da Vinci.
The washing of feet is recorded in at least seven places in the Bible. (See Gen. 18:4; Gen. 19:2; Gen. 24:32; Gen. 43:24; 1 Samuel 25:41; John 13:5-8; 1 Tim. 5:10.)

The best way to understand humble service is by example, and that’s exactly what Jesus provided in this passage. Because people wore sandals and walked on dusty, manure-strewn roads, it was customary for the lowest slave in the household to wash everyone’s feet. Although the disciples had prepared everything for the meal (including the basin, water, and towel), none of them had volunteered to take on this lowly task. Luke’s account of this event adds further insight into the condition of their hearts (Luke 22:23-24). During the meal, the disciples began discussing which of them was the greatest, and the conversation erupted into a dispute.

Perhaps the best way to understand God is to look more closely at the things He creates, even if they seem lowly or embarrassing. To see just how creative and precise God’s design is, you need look no further than your own two feet.

Christ’s Demonstration of a Servant Spirit

Jesus saw two needs that night. The disciples needed to have their dirty feet washed, and they also needed to learn what true greatness looks like. Therefore, as the preeminent one among them, Jesus humbled Himself and washed His disciples’ feet—even those of Judas Iscariot. Peter was the only person to object, but Jesus told the disciple refusal meant he’d have no part in God’s work. This was a needed lesson: If Peter would not submit to his Lord’s service, he would not be able serve with humility.

Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover Seder, the symbol-laden retelling of the Hebrews’ miraculous rescue from Egyptian slavery (Ex. 12:24-27). Hand washing occurs twice, the second taking place just before unleavened bread is dipped into bitter herbs and distributed. Since John describes sharing bread right after the foot washing (John 13:4-5, John 13:26), it seems Jesus expanded on the familiar Passover ritual to teach a memorable lesson on servanthood—namely, He frees us from the wrong kind of slavery (to sin, symbolized by Egyptian bondage) so we’ll wholeheartedly serve as “slaves of Christ” (Eph. 6:6-7).

The Development of a Servant Spirit in the Christian

The words servant, service, and serve occur over 1,100 times in the NIV translation of the Bible.

Christ wasn’t establishing a foot washing ordinance for the church but, rather, was demonstrating a servant spirit, setting an example in both attitude and action. (See Phil. 2:1-11.) Believers are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus, who was a servant (Rom. 8:29). A servant spirit isn’t gained instantly by a decision; it takes a process of submission and obedience. We must be willing to:

• Put to death pride and self-will and look beyond our own interests to see the needs of others—even those who mistreat us.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “servant”—ebed— contains two elements: action and obedience.

• Let God break our hearts over the things that break His.

• Yield our rights and possessions to the Lord so He can work through us.

• Recognize our service to others as unto God, expecting nothing in return.

Questions

In the New Testament, doulos is frequently used to describe both a slave and a follower of Jesus (a “bondslave” of Christ). The word shows the relationship between the two as one of absolute dependence and submission.

• What motivates your service to God and others?

• Does anything hinder you from humbly serving other people? If so, what?

• What changes do you need to make in order to develop a servant spirit?

• Do you know someone who has a true servant spirit? What can you learn from him or her?

Related Topics:  Service

Related Stories

What happens to my notes

5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, Lord, do You wash my feet?"

7 Jesus answered and said to him, What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter."

8 Peter said to Him, Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."

23 And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.

24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.

1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,

2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;

4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree;

2 And he said, Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant's house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way." They said however, No, but we shall spend the night in the square."

32 So the man entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.

24 Then the man brought the men into Joseph's house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys fodder.

41 She arose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, Behold, your maidservant is a maid to wash the feet of my lord's servants."

5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, Lord, do You wash my feet?"

7 Jesus answered and said to him, What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter."

8 Peter said to Him, Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."

10 having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.

24 And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever.

25 When you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite.

26 And when your children say to you, `What does this rite mean to you?'

27 you shall say, `It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.'" And the people bowed low and worshiped.

4 got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.

5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

26 Jesus then answered, That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him." So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.

6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men,

Background Color:
Light
Aa
Dark
Aa
Font size:
A
A
A