Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership, Part 4 - The Servant Model (3)Related Media
The Servant Model Of Christian Leadership (Continued, part 3)
So far in this series on “Biblical Models of Christian Leadership”, we have considered the following:
Part 1: “The Shepherd Model of Leadership”
Section A. The Principle of Shepherd Leadership
Section B. The Paradigm of Shepherd Leadership
Part 2: “The Servant Model of Leadership”
Section A. The Principle of Servant Leadership
Section B. The Paradigm of Servant Leadership
Part 3: “The Servant Model of Leadership” (continued)
Section C: The Paradox of Servant Leadership
Now, we continue with Part 4, “The Servant Model of Leadership”, Section D…
D. The Practice Of Servant Leadership
The apostle Paul taught and practised servant leadership: “But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things. Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? (2 Cor. 11:6-7). The apostle Peter also taught and practiced the same paradigm of leadership: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:2-6).
Note that gentleness and humility are characteristics of true servant leaders. Similarly, this was the paradigm that Jesus practised. We see this clearly in John 13:1-17…
Textual Study: John 13:1-17
“The Practice Of Servant Leadership Demonstrated”
The Upper Room ministry of John chapters 13 - 17 is directed to the inner circle of disciples, in contrast to the earlier chapters which were directed to the world at large. The occasion was the eating of the Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Not only did Jesus give them the pattern for remembering him after his ascension, but now he sets before them the pattern for living together as a body of believers.
It’s as though the apostle John comes to the window of the Upper Room and invites us to climb up a ladder and eavesdrop on what is going on inside, to witness the greatest illustration of servanthood that we will ever experience and to teach us that because Jesus is the perfect servant, our service to one another must find its character in His servanthood.
There are three components to this lesson on servanthood:
I. We must understand the basis of true servanthood
II. We must demonstrate the character of true servanthood
III. We must imitate the nature of true servanthood
I. We Must Understand The Basis Of True Servanthood (1-3)
In order for us to demonstrate and imitate true servanthood we must firstly understand the basis of all true servanthood. Verses 1-3 are fundamental to our understanding of what follows. Here, John depicts a striking contrast between Jesus’ consciousness of who He is and the position of servanthood that He takes. The consciousness of who He is makes His subsequent action so remarkable. Jesus, the sovereign Lord, becomes their servant. First, we must understand, then, that …
1. The Basis Of True Servanthood Is The Confidence That Comes From Knowledge
It’s the knowledge of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going that generates the confidence to practise servanthood. That is evidently the basis of Jesus’ act of servanthood here in our passage.
First, the knowledge of where we are going and how we’re getting there. “Jesus knew that his hour had come” (1a). This was His predestined moment. This isn’t a fact that suddenly dawned upon Jesus. He had known it long before this Feast of Passover. It was in the full knowledge of this fact that he approached the Passover week. And it was in this full knowledge of where that “hour” would lead him that he demonstrates to us his perfect servanthood. Earlier Jesus had said: “My hour has not yet come” (2:4). No external power could coerce Him into any act until the appointed time. “They sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him because His hour had not yet come” (Jn. 7:30; see also 8:20). And no external power could hinder Him from the act when the time came: “Now is my soul troubled and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (Jn. 12:27). When the bell tolled, he was ready and willing to go forward.
Now He knew that His hour had come (13:1; 12:23; 17:1), the hour to which He was destined and for which He had come to earth. Though the hour held such horror, yet it also spoke of a strange triumph. On the one hand, this was the hour for Him to go to the cross – that was the issue at hand - but on the other hand, this was the hour to leave the world behind. He knew that the issue of the hour was the cross and the destiny of the hour was “to depart from this world to the Father” (1b). The Father had sent him into the world (1 Jn. 4:9). Now he would complete his mission in fulfillment of his destiny and “depart from this world to the Father” by way of the cross. He knew that the Father had laid on Him the task of effecting salvation’s plan with all the suffering that that involved.
But it was the inner conviction of what lay beyond the cross, of where he was going, from which He derived peace and stability of mind and from which He derived a perfect perspective on what he had to do while in the world. That’s what formed the basis of this infinite expression of love and humility. He had the conviction that beyond death lay the resurrection; beyond the cross lay the crown; beyond Golgotha lay glory; beyond condescension was the ascension. We are gripped here by the consciousness of the task before Him blended with the thrill of going back to the Father. There is a shrinking back yet an air of eagerness; the terror of death but the boldness of life; the sorrow of separation but the joy of reunion; the fear of death but the anticipation of resurrection; a sense of humiliation but hope of glory.
If we have this same confidence based on the knowledge of where we’re going and how we’re getting there, then that for us would also form the basis of our attitude and acts of servanthood. When we look beyond the here-and-now to what will be, then we gain a totally different perspective on life – of where we’re going and how we’re getting there. As Christians we need to remember that we’re going to heaven and we get there by way of the cross. Before we wear a crown we’re called to suffer with Christ. Before we reign with the King we’re called to serve Him.
Often people don’t want to be servants in attitude and action. Perhaps it’s because they have a worldly perspective. The world looks down on servants but honours those who rule – that’s a worldly perspective. The world expects you to strive for a higher social standing than a servant, to be ambitious, to make something of yourself – that’s a worldly perspective.
Or, perhaps people don’t want to be servants because of pride. They see themselves as good as or better than other people. They consider lowly positions and lowly actions as demeaning and embarrassing – it’s beneath them. If you remember where you’re going and how you’re getting there, then that knowledge gives you the confidence to be a servant in attitude and action.
Not only do we need the confidence that comes from the knowledge of where we are going and how we’re getting there, but we need …
Secondly, the knowledge of who we are and how we fit in. “(Jesus knew) that the Father had given all things into His hands” (3a). This was His predestined position – the position of universal sovereignty; a position conferred on Him by His Father. He was fully aware of his heavenly destiny and His appointed position of sovereignty. And all of this only serves to highlight the greatness of the act of servanthood that He is about to do - something that will imprint on the disciples’ hearts an indelible impression of that sovereignty and destiny.
“All things” means universal and absolute dominion. Jesus knew that He was God’s one and only, eternal Son; that His Father had appointed Him “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2); that universal sovereignty had been conferred on him by his Father; that His Father had now given “all things into His hands.”
This sovereignty means that He is Lord of all – Lord of lords; King of kings. There is no one higher than He in power and authority. He has the right and power to demand compliance and submission to His authority. As such, all judgement has been committed to Him (Jn. 5:22) so that, ultimately, all honour will be ascribed to Him (Jn. 5:23). And in the final day, “every knee will bow…” (Phil. 2:11-12). Even those who die in unbelief will then confess His lordship and sovereignty.
Jesus knew who he was and how he fit into the eternal plans and purposes of God and he acted accordingly. And we need that same knowledge to act accordingly – the knowledge of who we are and how we fit into God’s plans and purposes. If you see who you are in God’s eyes, then that changes your perspective on what you do for God and how you do it. If you can see that you are God’s beloved child; that you are his redeemed possession; that you are loved by God unconditionally in Christ; that Jesus is even now preparing a place for us in heaven; that one day the world will acknowledge the lordship of our Saviour and bow at his feet; that you will reign with Christ, then that changes how you act now. That gives you the confidence to take the low place now in view of the high place to come. That replaces your view of the short term with a view of the long term. That means that it doesn’t matter what people think of you. It’s what God thinks of you that counts. If you know that you’re a child of the King, it doesn’t matter if people despise you for being a servant. It’s the perspective and confidence in who we are that empowers us to live for God in the attitude of servanthood.
In addition to the knowledge of where we are going (and how we’re getting there), of who we are in Christ (and how we fit into God’s plans), we also need …
Thirdly, the knowledge of where we have come from and why we’re here. “(Jesus knew) that he had come from God and was going to God” (3b). Jesus knew fully his heavenly origin to which he was returning. As to where He had come from, He said: “I proceeded forth and came from God” (8:42). This refers to his eternal existence prior to his incarnation. This is He who “in the beginning…was with God and (who) was God” (Jn. 1:1). This is the One who enjoyed a glory with the Father “before the world was” (Jn. 17:5).
As to where he was returning, He said: “I go to Him who sent me” (7:33). “I am going away…Where I go you cannot come…You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (Jn. 8:21-23). He knew where He had come from, why he was here, and where he was going. “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. And again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (16:28).
Jesus was fully conscious of His divine nature and mission and what that mission entailed – namely, that the way back to God was by way of the cross. Jesus’ knowledge of who He was, where He came from, and where He was going formed the basis for the certainty and confidence of his actions. Knowing that He had come from God and was going to God – what did He do? Did He flash His power? Show his majesty? Demand subservience? No! In the full consciousness of who He was, He took the position of a servant! Taking a servant’s place was of no concern to Him because washing his disciples’ feet didn’t impact his dignity; because servanthood didn’t demean his self esteem.
We, too, derive our confidence for service from knowledge - the knowledge of who we are in Christ, where we are going, what we mean to God. Lack of knowledge and confidence in God can paralyze us. Pride rears its ugly head and service becomes too lowly for us, below our dignity. Fear causes us to draw back: “I can’t do that; I’m not good enough.” Confidence in the knowledge of where we have come from, where we are going, and who we are in Christ is vital for the practice of servanthood.
A. W. Tozer once said: “The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself nothing; in God everything.”
Not only is the basis of true servanthood the confidence that comes from knowledge, but also …
2. The Basis Of True Servanthood Is The Motivation That Comes From Love
The motivation that comes from love is shown in the object of that love: “… having loved his own” (1c). True servanthood expresses itself in a love that flows out to others. Previously, “His own” were the Jewish people who did “not receive him” (Jn.1:11). But in his remaining hours, he came to those who did recognise and receive him. It is they who are now called “his own” (13:1).
“His own” here are His disciples, the believers in the new community of faith; those on whom He had set His love in a special way; those who left all and followed Him; and, in a certain sense, all those who would in the ages to come believe in Him and to whom his love flows out in abundance.
“His own” here are these poor men, who cleave to His strength in all their weakness; who seek His glory in all their shame; who thirst for His holiness in all their sin. The universal love of Christ falls with special sweetness on those who are His own. He has a special nearness to those who love Him. He has special delight in those who resemble Him. He has special tenderness toward those who serve Him. His love flows out to every creature. But to those who dwell in His love, He discloses the secrets of His heart.
The motivation that comes from love is shown in the object of that love. And …
The motivation that comes from love is shown in the extent of that love: “… having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the end” (1d). True servanthood expresses itself in a love that sacrifices all for others. Having loved, He loves. What He had begun, He continues. This is the perfect consistency of His divine nature – He does not change. His is not a fickle love but an enduring love. Those on whom He set His love, He continues to love. There is no exhaustion in that great stream of love that pours from His heart; no lessening or abating or diminution in its flow. Nothing can extinguish the fire that is in His heart. He pours His love out and yet its source is inexhaustible.
This was the appropriate time to manifest his love and He did so “to the end.” All that follows (the foot washing, the farewell address, the high-priestly prayer, the crucifixion) is the expression of this “love motive” in operation.
To love “to the end” has a double meaning here. Literally, it means that He loved His own to His death – i.e. to the end of His life. But it also means that He loved them completely, to the uttermost. It means that his love is absolutely without reserve, nothing held back. His love does not stop even in the shadow of the cross. He loves his own unconditionally and equally, without distinction or respect of persons; without regard for race, colour, creed, position, power, or possessions. He loves us regardless of the response from those who are loved.
Earlier, Jesus had said: “Now is my soul troubled…save me from this hour?” (Jn. 12:27). A little later he had said: “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39). Now, writing after the event, John says: “He loved them to the end.” Despite His pleas for deliverance He saw it through. Despite these men being ambitious, proud men (Lk. 22:24), who were more interested in ruling the kingdom than in serving in the world, who did not grasp that greatness is measured in terms of serving, not ruling, Jesus loved them to perfection. Despite Judas being a traitor, “The devil having already put it into the heart of Judas…to betray him” (2), Jesus loved them to the end.
Everything about Judas was the antithesis of Jesus. John here sets the two in stark juxtaposition: Jesus’ love and Judas’ hatred. Everything about this man was the exact opposite of servanthood and humility. He was driven by greed and notoriety (see 12:4-6 re his greed). He was bent on profiting from his association with Jesus, even if it meant betraying Him. And Jesus even washed his feet too! Why does John include this remark about Judas here? Because this reference to Judas makes Jesus’ deed stand in its true greatness. No wonder John could say “He loved them to the end / to perfection.”
For Jesus, loving “to the end” meant laying down His life for people who didn’t know him and didn’t care about him. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). But Christ gave His life for us when we were His enemies: “Perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8). Christ’s love was a sacrificial love: “By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16).
The greatest of all love is to give one’s life for another. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). In His grace He left the riches of heaven to come to the poverty of earth. In His grace He became flesh and dwelled among us and took the “form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). In His grace He manifested the love of God to us by dying on the cross so that we might be “rich” through the gift of eternal life.
Conclusions (Point I):
True servanthood finds its roots in (1) the confidence that comes from knowledge; and (2) the motivation that comes from love. In this, the servanthood of Jesus was both revealed and magnified because the great events before him did not totally occupy his attention. He knew what lay before Him and He could have been totally preoccupied with that prospect. He “knew his hour had come”. He could have focused only on what was ahead but He set all that aside for this moment of devoted and humble service, because He didn’t have to demonstrate such humility, for He knew that He was God’s only begotten Son; He knew that He was going back to the Father; He knew that the men to whom He displayed his love were the most undeserving. They were more concerned about their own welfare than His. They were more interested in power than in service.
Jesus’ servanthood is the pattern, the model, for our practice - a pattern of love for those He served and confidence in God for the future.
Remember that confidence for service comes from God, not ourselves. Ulrich Zwingli, the great Reformer, once said: “Our confidence in Christ does not make us lazy, negligent or careless, but on the contrary it awakens us, urges us on, and makes us active in living righteous lives and doing good. There is no self-confidence to compare with this.”
And remember that motivation for service comes from love, not ambition - love for God and others. Jesus loved His own to the “uttermost”. “So” John says, “we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 4:16). How is your love level for the people of God? Perhaps you don’t want to serve others because you’re too busy, or because you don’t feel it’s your responsibility, or because someone in the church hasn’t been very nice to you. Remember that Jesus served in spite of being busy, and in spite of knowing that one of his disciples was a traitor.
Or, perhaps you don’t want to serve others because you think you’re not good enough or you think that you’re inadequate or unqualified. Some people think they have nothing to offer in service to the Lord. But many Christians who consider themselves unfit and feel that they have nothing to offer have, in fact, great potential for ministering to others.
Final challenge: May the example of the Lord Jesus Christ spur us on to greater acts of sacrificial service for him and for others. And may we act in the full knowledge of who we are in Christ and where we’re going and in the power of love that serves regardless of the cost. That’s true servanthood.
So, we’ve seen in vv. 1-3 that “We must understand the basis of true servanthood.” Now we see that …
II. We Must Demonstrate The Character Of True Servanthood (4-11)
“Don’t just stand there, do something!” That’s a saying we’ve all heard. Perhaps we’ve even been the object of the injunction. That’s what Jesus is saying here. It isn’t enough just to know and agree with the notion of servanthood or to recognize the need for servants. Jesus is teaching that we must do it! Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just try to recruit others. Just do it!
So many things get done and nobody knows who did it - no recognition; no publicity; no fanfare. They just do it. That’s how servanthood should be demonstrated. Teaching about it is good. Training people to do it is good. But actually doing it is best. That’s what Jesus is teaching here.
John’s account of this Upper Room scene is so informative. He describes fully the basis of Jesus’ servanthood (1-3) as:
1. Jesus’ confidence for servanthood. Confidence in the knowledge of who He was, where He had come from, and where He was going.
2. Jesus’ motivation for servanthood. Motivation for His sacrificial love - love that was directed towards “His own”.
Now, Jesus acts out this wonderful parable for his disciples - a parable of his humiliation and suffering for their cleansing and redemption. This enacted parable has two parts to it:
1. Jesus demonstrates his servant character by washing their feet
2. Jesus teaches the ramifications of servanthood for them to follow
This passage teaches us that our service to one another must be modelled after Jesus’ perfect servanthood. Jesus has shown us the basis for true servanthood. Now he demonstrates the character of true servanthood.
1. The Character Of True Servanthood Is Demonstrated In The Way We Present Ourselves To Others (4).
The washing of feet would naturally and normally take place at the beginning of supper. After walking from Bethany, their feet would have been dirty. The host would normally see that the feet were washed by a servant. It was a menial task. But here there is no servant and none of the disciples was willing to do it. They were all too proud and one was too greedy. All the supplies were ready (the basin, water, towel), but no one was willing to administer it. Each evidently hoped that one of the others would move first. But such was not to be. So, “Jesus rose from supper and laid aside His garments and took a towel and girded himself” (4). Jesus lays aside his outer, flowing garment (tunic and belt) so that he is wearing nothing but a loin-cloth and a long towel tied around his waist. The picture John paints here is the dress of a slave!
Jesus took more than just the dress of a slave. For he “emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant…and... humbled himself” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus voluntarily gave up His personal and official glory and He became a bondservant of God, taking on the likeness of men. And He paid the ultimate price for his servanthood, even death on a cross. Jesus presented himself in such a way as to be wholly a servant to men and to God. He even removed any clothing that would get in the way of serving others.
In this way, we must present ourselves so as to better serve others, whether that means stripping off the outer “garments” of pride, ego, selfishness that focus on self not others. Or, whether that means judging favouritism that serves one person but not another. Or, whether that means getting rid of character flaws such as envy, jealousy, covetousness, resentment, bitterness, discontent, vanity. We need to get rid of those garments that hold us in bondage - those chains that bind us and stop us from serving Christ. “Let us lay aside every weight” (Heb. 12:1). Let us cast aside anything that weighs us down and prevents us from serving God and others. Let us demonstrate our servanthood in how we present ourselves to others. Not as someone who is superior to others; not taking the top spot in the pecking order, but at the lowest place. Not seeking to be served but to serve. Not participating in only the things that bring reward and recognition but in the things that are unseen, unrecognized, unrewarded.
The character of true servanthood is demonstrated in how we present ourselves to others. And …
2. The Character Of True Servanthood Is Demonstrated In The Things We Do For Others (5).
“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” (5). Not only is he dressed as a slave but he now performs the duty of a slave.
That Jesus would perform the task himself must have been most astonishing. But the lesson is obvious: in the kingdom of God the roles are reversed. “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Lk. 22:27).
Someone has said: “We must realize that the symbol of Christianity is not a beautiful polished cross, but a lopsided, crude, splintery cross over which is draped a towel – not the plush kind of towel we buy for our guest bathroom, but a dirty old rag, wet with the sweat and dirt of men’s feet.”
If we are going to be the kind of servants that Jesus was, we must mould our behaviour accordingly. This means that we will have to behave like a servant by doing what a servant does - washing people’s feet; doing things for others that we find repulsive.
True servanthood is demonstrated in the things we do for other . One whose actions reflect the love of Christ to those they serve. One whose service for others reveals the power of God in their life. One whose pride and attitude doesn’t get in the way.
So, here was the sovereign Lord of the universe washing His disciples’ feet, doing for them what they would not do for each other. He who had His own feet bathed by Mary’s perfume now assumes the lowest position among them and washes the disciples’ feet.
This is one of the marks of Jesus’ greatness. His greatness was in His person, not just His power. His greatness was in His passion, not just His performance. His greatness was in His manner, not just His miracles. His greatness was in His testimony, not just His title.
If you want to be great for God, it doesn’t come from power, position, or possessions. It comes from your person, your passion to serve Christ.
First, then, the character of true servanthood is demonstrated in the way we present ourselves to others. Second, the character of true servanthood is demonstrated in the things we do for others. And…
3. The Character Of True Servanthood Is Demonstrated In The Manner We Relate To Others (6-11)
How should we relate to others? What does Jesus teach us here?
First, we should relate to others by being courteous to those who oppose us (6-8). Only Simon Peter’s reaction is recorded here. Perhaps the others were perplexed or, at least, ashamed that Jesus was doing for them what they should have been doing for each other. Peter, as usual, could not keep quiet. “Lord, are you washing my feet?” (6). He sees the abnormality of what is happening and he is shocked. The Lord of glory on the one hand and Peter’s dirty feet on the other. It was bad enough for him seeing his Master wash the feet of the others, but the idea of Jesus washing his feet was intolerable. Such an act of humiliation for Peter’s physical comfort was too much. Perhaps he is also embarrassed to admit his need and so he resists, unwilling to submit to Jesus’ better judgement. In any event, by objecting to what Jesus is doing, Peter displays his ignorance. He fails to understand that what Jesus is doing has a deeper significance. He doesn’t see that Jesus is teaching them that the servanthood He is displaying is exactly what they must practice in order to live together as believers. That foot washing is symbolic of the daily sanctification that they need. That daily sanctification comes only through His blood shed on the cross.
“What I am doing you do not know now, but you will understand after this” (7), Jesus says. Jesus saw the whole picture; Peter didn’t. “You do not know now” means “you can’t figure it out mentally at the present time. “But you will understand after this” means after Jesus’ death and resurrection; after his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. “Then, you will understand the significance of this foot washing and, indeed, of my entire work of humiliation,” Jesus is saying.
Peter bluntly responds to Jesus: “You shall never wash my feet” (8a). Peter sees the incongruity of the Master washing the disciples’ feet but he does not see the incongruity of a disciple telling his Lord what to do. Jesus had contrasted between their not understanding “now” vs. their understanding “after this”. To this Peter replies: “I don’t care when that time of understanding arrives, you will never wash my feet. No, not in all eternity! Never in a million years, Jesus!” Peter doesn’t stop to think about what he is saying or who he is speaking to. He is absolutely sure he is right and yet so absolutely ignorant. He is so totally unaware of his pride and self-righteousness. If only he had known what he was objecting to – i.e. the whole notion of true and proper servanthood; his innate need for daily, spiritual cleansing through the work of Christ.
Notice Jesus’ courteous rebuke: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me” (8b). Peter’s feet needed to be washed not only to be socially acceptable for dinner but also for his personality to be symbolically washed and fit for the kingdom. It was intended to make the disciples fit for Jesus’ presence, to wash them from the defilement of the world and to draw them parabolically into His humiliation and suffering.
Our attitude towards others reveals our heart. Negative attitudes hold us back from serving Christ – be it cynicism (the contempt of others); scepticism (distrusting everyone and everything, suspicious, thinking that only our opinion has value); pessimism (never seeing any hope, future, or anything positive in life); criticism (putting others down in order to puff ourselves up); harshness, bluntness, insensitivity to the feelings of others.
Positive attitudes motivate us to be like Christ; to walk as Jesus walked in unselfishness and humility; in contentment with your lot in life; in courtesy towards those who argue and oppose us; in patience with those who rub us the wrong way. The only way we can effectively relate to others as Christ did is to be a consummate servant.
The church needs those with the attitude of second violin players. Those who work behind the scenes, in lowly positions. Those who are willing and happy to serve unseen and unpaid. Those who act in obedience to God expecting nothing from man in return. Those who relate courteously to others even when they oppose us.
How, then, should we relate to others? We should relate to others by being courteous to those who oppose us. And…
Secondly, we should relate to others by being patient with those who don’t understand us (9-11). “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head” (9), Peter responds. Peter had completely misunderstood the symbolic meaning of foot-washing. In typical fashion, he goes from one extreme to the other, just as he did when he went from walking on water to sinking beneath the waves; from a glorious confession of Christ to rebuking Christ; from vowing to lay down his life for Jesus to denying him ; from embracing the Gentiles at Antioch to separating from them.
The amount of physical washing isn’t the point. The external washing symbolises something inward. And so, Jesus patiently explains: “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet” (10a). Notice the distinction between “bathed” and “washed”. The literal meaning is this: When a person leaves home having already had a bath, upon arrival at their destination he or she does not need to have another bath. All that is needed then is to wash their feet after the journey.
The symbolic and spiritual meaning is this: The one who has been cleansed by Jesus’ blood (i.e. “bathed”) is fully forgiven, washed whiter than snow, regenerate, born again, renewed by the Spirit. This only occurs once at the moment of new birth, the beginning of the Christian life. There is nothing more to be done. They are clean all over except for the need of daily sanctification (i.e. foot washing), except for the daily cleansing from the defilement of this world.
Just as in the custom of actual foot washing, so also in the symbolic sense, only the feet need to be repeatedly washed. We don’t need a new birth over and over but we do need washing from daily sin. Thus, John says: “If we confess our sins…faithful…to forgive us…cleanse us” (1 Jn. 1:9). And Jesus declares: “You are clean…” (i.e. “you are redeemed”) “but not all of you. For he knew who would betray him. Therefore he said, You are not all clean” (10b-11). Judas was not spiritually clean.
Look what Jesus’ patient explanation has taught us:
1. That we never have to repeat the process of being born again. Once we are truly saved we are always saved. We never have to worry about losing our salvation if we are truly born again.
2. That the washing of feet symbolizes the need for daily cleansing. The washing away of sins in the blood of Christ is a once forever experience (1 Jn.1:7). Then believers need only to be cleansed from the daily defilement of the world. This is His continued sanctifying work on our behalf. This is the “washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26).
How much dirt have you picked up recently? Just as the first century roads were dusty and dirty, so our world is a dirty place; it is spiritually corrupt and defiling. We live in a dirty, corrupt world where, every day, we see and hear things that defile us and affect our walk with God. Perhaps you’ve been to places on the internet you shouldn’t have been. Perhaps you’ve watched a movie you shouldn’t have watched. Perhaps you’ve seen something on TV you didn’t turn off when knew you should. Satan wants to rob us of our enjoyment of Christ by defiling our thoughts, trapping us in sin, attracting us to “the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16).
We need to acknowledge our sins to God as soon as we’re aware of them. We need to keep short accounts with God. We need to be aware of what sin is before God and deal with it immediately, whether it be short patience, a wrong attitude, unkind words, disobedience etc. We need to take time to let the Holy Spirit cleanse our minds, hearts, consciences and lives. We need to allow Him to sanctify our “spiritual feet” so that we are cleansed anew each day; so that our communion with God continues unbroken; so that we have the promise and the sense of Jesus’ presence daily with us.
Conclusions (Point II)
1. True Servants Present Themselves So That They Demonstrate Jesus’ Servanthood
The true servant takes the low place to serve others in their highest interest. The true servant isn’t ashamed to present himself as a servant. Taking the low place isn’t objectionable to him. Humility doesn’t challenge his or her self esteem. Pride doesn’t get in the way. The true servant is prepared to present himself in whatever way it takes. Anything that would hinder acting in Christ-like service is set aside. Paul says: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win the Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under law toward Christ,) that I might win those who are without law; to the weak became I as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake” (1 Cor 9:20-23).
2. True Servants Behave Themselves So That They “Walk As Jesus Walked” (1 Jn. 2:6).
Sometimes acting as servants of Christ means going out of our comfort zone, finding ourselves in situations that are embarrassing or instil fear. But the true servant considers serving others as service for the Lord. Donald Whitney, in his book “Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life,” writes, “Beyond the church walls, serving is babysitting for neighbours, taking meals to families in flux, running errands for the homebound, providing transportation for the one whose car breaks down, feeding pets and watering plants for vacationers, and – hardest of all – having a servant’s heart” (110-111).
3. How We Relate To Others Indicates Whether We Have Jesus’ Servant Heart
It’s hard to be courteous to those who are argumentative. It’s hard to be patient with those who just don’t get what we’re saying and who outright oppose us. But when we demonstrate the attitude that Jesus had, we can win their hearts and in so doing we serve Christ.
Final challenge: Do you have a servant’s heart? Are you willing to serve? More particularly, are you actually serving others without recognition? Don’t just give lip service to it. Don’t say you’re willing if you won’t do it. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22-25). A true servant is one who not only has a heart for service but one who is actively engaged in service.
In this textual study so far, Jesus has shown us that…
I. We must understand the basis of true servanthood (1-3). The basis of true servanthood is (1) the confidence that comes from knowledge; and (2) the motivation that comes from love.
II. We must demonstrate the character of true servanthood (4-11). We demonstrate the character of true servanthood in (1) the way we present ourselves to others; (2) the things we do for others; and (3) the manner we relate to others.
Now the third lesson in this passage…
III. We Must Imitate The Nature Of True Servanthood (12-17)
Now, Jesus resumes His former position among the disciples and begins to teach them the implications of what he has just enacted. This enacted parable teaches us that our service to one another must be modelled after Jesus’ perfect servanthood.
To most people the connotation of “servant” is negative. It connotes lowliness, downtrodden, menial tasks, no future, low pay. Our culture looks up to those who make lots of money, have prominent positions. In our society those in leadership are regarded as powerful, prestigious. But the Bible paints a different picture of what effective Christian leadership really is. It indicates that the most effective leaders have the attitude of a servant.
The words “servant” and “leader” don’t go together in the contemporary mindset. It rubs us the wrong way. In one way, it doesn’t make sense. And yet in another way we fully understand it. For example, when someone does an heroic act (e.g. saves a person from drowning) the world honours that person. Why? Because they risked their life for someone else. They put the other person’s interests above their own and they took leadership, initiative. That, in fact, is the definition of a servant even though in that context we don’t think of it that way.
Taking the initiative to serve others in their highest interest is true “servant leadership”. We may understand what servanthood is and we may try to demonstrate it, but how do we know if what we are doing is right? How do we know if we are demonstrating the proper attitudes and behaviour?
So much of our behaviour and attitudes are learned. Have you ever stopped to think how much of what you do and think is based on imitating someone or something else - such as parents, teachers, pastors, friends, TV, newspapers, books?
The only way we can be sure that our servant attitude and behaviour is correct is by imitating Jesus Christ. How, then, do we imitate the nature of true servanthood?
1. We Imitate The Nature Of True Servanthood By Remembering That The Lord Is Our Master (12-13,16).
“Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus asks (12). “Do you know that this isn’t about washing actual dirt from your feet? Do you grasp the practical teaching of what I have just done?”
Jesus has become a slave, taken the lowest place, a picture of what he is about to do at the cross. They too are to take the low place in identification with Him and in serving one another. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for that is what I am” (13). They were right in addressing him as “teacher” and “Lord” (7:15, 46; Matt. 7:29). That was who He was and that was who they served – the Lord God.
They recognized in Him a paradox. On the one hand, they had seen Him perform miracles and heard Him speak words of warning, words of hope, life, comfort, and love, all of which was poured out in a life of service. On the other hand, they had seen his life of service that, paradoxically, confirmed His lordship and authority.
In serving we must remember: The Lord is our Master. That is what He is, “Lord”. Whether we acknowledge it or not, He is Lord! Seated at the right hand of God in the majesty on high. He is the sovereign Ruler of the universe. C. H. Spurgeon said: “If any man would be saved, he must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and God. You must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that is Ruler and Master. You must cheerfully become His disciple, follower and servant.”
The Lordship of Christ is not an option. Jesus told his disciples that Lordship was His rightful title and position and that they were His “servants”. You don’t decide to make Jesus Lord of your life. When He becomes your Saviour, He also becomes your Lord. John MacArthur says: “Scripture never speaks of anyone making Christ Lord… The biblical mandate for both sinners and saints is not to make Christ Lord, but rather to bow to His lordship” (Gospel According To Jesus).
Jesus is Lord because He is supreme. He is “God manifest in the flesh” – deity incarnate. He is the “firstborn”, the pre-eminent one, the first in rank and priority. There is none greater, no greater Saviour. No one else compares with Him. He is unique – no one else like Him.
Jesus is Lord because He rose from the dead. He is supreme in resurrection. He is the first to rise from the dead who will never die: “Behold I am alive forevermore” (Rev. 1:18).
Jesus is Lord of all the universe. All things were made by Him, for Him, and through Him (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16). By Him all things hold together and He existed before all things. That’s why He could heal the sick, give sight to the blind etc. He has power over creation because He created it. He is the Lord of all the universe.
Jesus is Lord of the church. He died to redeem the church of which He is the head (Eph. 5:25; Col.1:18).
The question is: “Is Jesus Lord and Master of your life?” Does He own you? Are you His disciple? Do you serve him? The Bible makes no distinction between receiving Him as Saviour or Lord. He is both and He can only be received as both. Don’t think that you can have Him as your Saviour and not submit to him as Lord. To receive Him is to receive Him for who He is and what He has done. When you receive Christ as Saviour you want to obey Him because He has saved you from your sins, because He has given you eternal life, because He is Lord of your life by virtue of redemption.
“A servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (16). As servants we are expected to obey and follow our Master.
We imitate true servanthood by remembering that the Lord is our Master. Therefore, we must not place ourselves above Him for we are His servants. If it wasn’t below Jesus’ dignity to wash the disciples’ feet, it shouldn’t be below the servant’s dignity. Don’t think that it is below you to do menial tasks for others. It doesn’t matter what your position is in the church or in the world. We are here to serve our Master and servanthood is the required attitude.
So, how do we imitate the nature of true of true servanthood? We imitate the nature of true servanthood by remembering that the Lord is our Master. And…
2. We Imitate The Nature Of True Servanthood By Doing For Each Other What Jesus Has Done For Us (14-15)
“If I, then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (14). Jesus is saying, “If I, the Sovereign of the universe, take the lowest place of a servant (and I certainly have), then you ought also to take the low place.” “For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you” (15).
This is not a command to obey but an example to follow. Jesus is not prescribing an outward rite but an inner attitude - an attitude of humility and service; an attitude that He has acted out symbolically.
Jesus implies here that we have two obligations. Firstly, to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13). Secondly, to minister to one another by cleaning one another’s spiritual feet. Matt. 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him.” Gal. 6:1, “If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a person in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” James 5:16, “Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another.”
If the Sovereign Lord became a Servant and washed and dried their feet, how much more ought we to render such service to one another by stripping ourselves of everything that hinders service; by taking the lowest place in order to serve others in their highest interest. Remember: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). Anyone who wants to be first, “must be servant of all” (Mk. 9:35).
We live in a self-serving world. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes. They do their own thing. Everyone looks on his own things, not on the things of others (see Phil. 2:4). It’s a “dog-eat-dog” world. Nobody cares about anyone else. It’s a narcissistic, hedonistic world. Men are egocentric not theocentric. They are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4).
If you want to be great in the kingdoms of this world, then reach for the top, tread on people on the way up, be ambitious, just like the disciples who argued about who would be the greatest. But if you want to be great in the kingdom of God, do for others what Jesus has done for you - take the lowest place in serving others in their highest interest.
God does not deal in hierarchies. The corporate ladder of success means nothing to God. Jesus defined greatness in terms of sacrificial service: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25). The one who “loves his life” is the person who is self-centred, selfish, greedy. He is the one who desires to be served and in the end he will lose everything – everything he has ever attempted to gain for himself in this world. The person who “hates his life” is the one who puts others first. He is the one who desires to serve others at the basis of their need. He is the one who abandons self-advancement in this world to gain advancement in the kingdom of God and, in the end, this person gains everything – eternal life!
Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Anyone can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Richard Foster puts it into perspective: “In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’ call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the gospel, than His word to wash feet. Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance of glorious martyrdom. But in service we are banished to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial” (Spiritual Disciplines, 110).
So, how do we imitate the nature of true of true servanthood? We imitate the nature of true servanthood (1) by remembering that the Lord is our Master; (2) by doing for each other what Jesus has done for us. And …
3. We Must Imitate The Nature Of True Servanthood By Practising What We Preach (17)
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (17). It isn’t enough to teach these things or just to give mental assent to them. We must go out and “just do it!” Happiness is found in being “doers of the Word” not just “hearers”. Happiness results from doing what Jesus did, not just learning about it. It isn’t enough to hear and agree; you must do it. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). “The man who hears these words of mine and does them is like the wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24). “Faith without works is dead” (James 1:22-27; 2:14-26).
Modelling truth far outweighs preaching it. God hasn’t called all of us to be preachers, but He has called all of us to be servants. We can preach all we want about the Word of God and the Christian life but if we don’t practise it why would anyone believe what we say? When we practise what we preach, we receive God’s blessing. Not necessarily in this world but certainly in the next where it really counts. Not necessarily in material blessings but certainly in spiritual blessings.
Conclusions (Point IIII)
1. The Underlying Lesson Here Is This: “Jesus Is The Example Of True Servanthood, So Our Service To One Another Must Be Modelled After Him.”
Through servanthood we assist others in their Christian life. Through servanthood we demonstrate to unbelievers what the love of God is like.
2. When We Imitate Jesus’ Servanthood, Like Him We Will Be “Servant Leaders”
Jesus did not merely wash the disciples’ feet, but by doing so He also taught them, mentored them, led them by example. In providing for their needs and attending to their highest interest they could do nothing else but follow Him.
3. When We Imitate The Nature Of Jesus’ Servanthood, Others Will Want To Follow Us Too
By serving others in their highest interest we so model the love of Christ that others will want to follow. Jesus’ model of servanthood is the most effective form of leadership there is, whether it be in secular employment, in the home, or in the church.
Are you a servant leader in your office, home, church? The only way to be truly a servant leader is to imitate Christ’s example. He alone was the perfect servant and He not only performed great miracles and demonstrated great power, He also washed His disciples feet. That’s what true Christian leadership is all about – leading by serving. And we only properly serve when we remember that we serve our Lord and Master; when we do for each other what Jesus has done for us; when we practise what we preach.
Final challenge: Don’t think you can be a true servant by doing it your own way!
Christian servanthood isn’t modelled on Frank Sinatra’s premise: “I did it my way”. The only way to be a true Christian servant is to imitate the servanthood of Jesus in what we do and what we think. And if we do, we’ll be happy in the service of Christ without reward and without recognition.
So we have looked at: A. The principle; B. The paradigm; C. The paradox, and D. The Practice of Servant Leadership. Finally, let’s look at…
E. The Purpose Of Servant Leadership
“The purpose of servant leadership is to serve those you lead”
Servant leadership runs contrary to the world’s paradigm for leadership. And yet, in recent years the corporate world has recognized that the old management method of “the boss” telling people what to do (i.e. “lording it over them”; top down management) doesn’t work because it de-motivates, strips people of respect and self worth, destroys initiative etc. That’s why, a few years ago, self-managed work teams became the buzz word and ideology adopted by many corporate management teams. Through a sort of “bottom up management” they found that people were happier with their jobs (because they had a sense of self-control and control over their destiny), and that better decisions were made (because the people actually doing the work had a better job knowledge of what needs to be done, how to fix it etc.).
The purpose of servant leadership is that the leaders serve those they lead. The servant leader does everything he or she can to make the work of their followers more productive, more rewarding, more fruitful. The servant leader’s job “is to work hard to provide others with the resources and working conditions they need to accomplish their ministry goals. They make others feel more important than themselves. They have others’ best interests at heart.” (Malphurs, Dynamics, 46-47).
How do you do this? You do this by...
(1) Making their jobs easier, more efficient, and more fulfilling.
(2) Treating them with dignity and respect (i.e. “esteeming others better than yourself”).
(3) Giving them a sense of importance and self-worth.
(4) Motivating them to take self-responsibility for their work and to do their work with excellence.
(5) Treating them as co-equals before God and members of a team.
(6) Generating in them a desire to also serve others.
(7) Sharing the burden with them (cf. Gal.6:2).
(8) Including them in decision-making.
(9) Providing opportunities for professional development of their skills.
(10) Setting the example in the leader’s own work and work ethic.
The servant leader paradigm sees the leader as “the coach, not the general manager, and certainly not the team owner (Gangel, Feeding & Leading, 57). Gangel quotes the Chinese philosopher Dao Teh Ching, who, five hundred years before the birth of Christ said: “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey him and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you; but of a good leader, who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’” (Cited in Gangel, 56).
Now, let me bring a little balance to what we have been talking about. “Servant leadership” does not imply an absence of authority. Church leaders are, after all, “overseers” who “manage” the flock, just as a husband and father “manages” his family, his household (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Scripture enjoins us to:
“Remember those who rule over you...” (Heb. 13:7)
“Obey those who rule over you and be submissive...” (Heb. 13:17)
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honour” (1 Tim. 5:17)
“We urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labour over you in the Lord and admonish you and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess. 5:12-13)
“The elders who are among you I exhort...to shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers ...” (1 Pet. 5:1-2)
“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28)
Servant leadership refers to the attitude of the leader – i.e. “not as being lords over those entrusted” to them (1 Pet. 5:3), not dictators, but rather they are “to be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5b; Acts 20:19). Remember: The position is leader; the attitude is servant.
Summary Of This Four Part Series On “Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership.”
1. Transformational leaders in God’s kingdom are “shepherd leaders”, shepherding the flock of God through ...
- Caring spiritually and practically by…
... treating others with tenderness, warmth, and compassion
... treating other with dignity and respect
... giving others a sense of self-worth
... treating them as co-equals before God
... encouraging them
... with nutritious and life-giving spiritual food
... with opportunities to serve the Lord in the church
... with teaching and training so that others can exercise their God-given gifts for the benefit of all
... providing them with resources for the development of their gifts
... helping them to be more fulfilled in their ministry
... from spiritual harm and danger
... with vision and courage
... sharing the leadership burden with others
... including them in decision-making
... generating in them a desire to serve others by setting an example yourself
2. Transformational leaders in God’s kingdom are “servant leaders”, serving the people of God sacrificially
… by taking the low place so that others can have a higher place
… by giving up personal ambition so that others may receive a promotion