For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only [use] not liberty for an occasion (= bridgehead) to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
In the previous study we saw that the liberty into which we have been brought is not for us to indulge ourselves in the the flesh, but rather it is for us to serve one another. The greatest example, of course, is the Lord Jesus Himself, and the incident of the washing of the disciples’ feet illustrates His life of service.
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
A5.1 No favourites
The first thing we can notice is that Jesus treated all the disciples the same: there were no favourites. Just think of it! In a few short hours all the twelve were to forsake Him, one was to deny him three times, another was to betray him for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave, the others just fleeing. Yet Jesus washed all their feet. What must they have thought? Now we can be certain that neither Peter nor the other ten had any incline as to what they would do, but the traitor certainly did, for the Devil had already put it into his heart the plan of betrayal.
What did Jesus think as he came to each in turn, bearing in mind the events that were to unfold ? Jesus knew what would happen, for he said that Peter would deny Him, He said that He would be forsaken by all, and that one would betray Him (Mtt.26:31 Jn.13:21; 37-38). We are not told as to His thoughts, so speculation is pointless, but the fact is that He served all twelve equally knowing what they were about to do. What service of love is this? Despite His own sufferings, which He was to face, the Son of God served all twelve equally and loved His own unto the end, even though they, at this point didn’t, indeed could not, reciprocate that love.
The lesson for us? Jesus said that he had left us an example to follow, that we should do as He did ( vv.13-16) So our first lesson is to treat all equally. In our service, even if we know that others may let us down, or worse, then we are still to serve them without favouritism to anyone. Partially is in fact spoken against in the clearest terms:
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
Clearly in the assemblies to which James was addressing there was an issue that needed to be faced – partially. In James’s day those who had the richer clothing were favoured as to their seating in the assembly. By showing such partiality they were becoming judges, and had set themselves up as to who is worthy of attention or not. In general if we are partial in our service to others the we too become judges, such behaviour is not becoming of love.
Everyone who is a part of the Church is of equal value, and we should treat everyone the same. There should be no favourites at all. No one is superior, or inferior to anyone else. We are exhorted to love one another as Christ loved us. He loved us to the end, He loved us whilst we were still His enemies. Could it be any clearer? We are to love and serve one another equally with the love of Christ.
A5.2 No reputation
In order to serve Jesus removed His garments and put on a towel, the garment of a slave, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. The washing of the feet was the custom of the day, because people wore sandals and the roads were dusty it meant that the feet would be dusty and dirty. When they sat for a meal people were reclined, and not upright as we are, so it is clear that the feet needed washing! So Jesus took it upon Himself to do the obvious and necessary thing, albeit unpleasant in some eyes. This action alone is a great picture of the Lord becoming a man.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery ( = a thing to be seized/retained) to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When Jesus became a man He did not grasp at His Deity, He knew that He was from God and was going back to Him. He was secure in His Father’s will so much that His own reputation was of no consequence. So He humbled Himself in order to serve us, and accomplished the great plan of redemption. In the washing of the disciple’s feet we see this played out on a much simpler level. Jesus, not bothering about the popularity of the crowds, nor the great works He had done, simply made Himself the servant in doing this menial task, this service to His disciples; the one whom they called ‘Master’.
Now here is our example of service of love to each other. If we are secure in God’s will for our lives, then such humility will be natural for us. Whatever our so called ‘ministry’ is we will find it easy to lay it aside, not seizing what we think is our ours, and to humble ourselves in order to serve, as a slave if necessary, others. To do the menial tasks no one else does, to do the obvious but very necessary things. Not to be bothered with our reputation, indeed putting it to the cross in order to serve one another. To do the simplest tasks to the brethren with no fuss or recognition.
The way of the flesh is to grasp and hold onto our rights, the way of the Spirit is the opposite. The way of the cross is to consider others and to deny ourselves.
In Summary then we see two of the lessons of Christ’s example, they are: not to hang on to our reputation, and not to show partiality. There is an interesting passage in which we are told how to treat our enemies:
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul says simply that we are not to render evil with evil, but rather do good instead and heaps coals of fire on on those who wrong us. If this is what we are to do for our enemies then how much more to the brethren? Jesus showed us and left us an example; but it was motivated by love: having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. We as born again believers have the Spirit of God, and so have His love shed abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), love is the great motive for our actions and by loving we do indeed fulfil the law. Paul shows how this issue of serving one another works out in practice in Ch. 6 , but the key here is that we serve each other by the same love Jesus showed to us Eph.5:2