Serving Others, Serving Christ

The following message was delivered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on April 16, 2012.  It presents the importance of service and leadership in the local church, based on Jesus actions of washing the disciples’ feet, John 13.

What if you were asked to work as a bus boy?  Everyone knows it is not a very glamorous job.  You clean up peoples’ messes.  You do the dishes.  The tips are not for you.  You are just to “clean up.”  Yet, if you take that roll out of the picture, the place is mess!  How many times have you walked into a restaurant, have found the table that you want, only to find that it needs to be cleaned and cleared!?  A bus boy holds an important and well-needed job!  Could you be a bus boy?  Could you be a bus boy if God asked you?

Probably the first century’s equivalent to being a bus boy was a household slave.  You job was to show hospitality, among other duties, to guests, which included washing their feet upon their entrance to the home.

With this in mind, I would like to encourage those of you being installed today, as you will be serving others by taking an active role in the ministries of our church.  This morning, I’d like to briefly discuss service and leadership with you from John 13.

Our context this morning is at the Passover meal where Jesus is eating with His disciples.  He has revealed that He will go to the cross and give His life.  He has talked of His Father’s kingdom and of His return.  Now He does something most unusual and unexpected.  He gets a towel and basin and begins washing their feet.

Now washing feet in the first century would be different from washing one’s feet in the 21st century.  It was a pedestrian society.  You walked everywhere.  If you wore shoes, they weren’t Sketchers, they were sandals!  It was a much dirtier scene.  I wondered how long it would take Jesus to wash 12 peoples’ feet.  Each person has two.  He probably spent several minutes at each person.  It was the job of the house slave.  Moreover, it is an intimate situation.  Feet hold no secrets.  There are calluses.  It’s germy.  It stinks.  Here is the Son of God, the Lord of the universe, doing the work of a slave.  It is the attitude that nothing is beneath Him.  There is no work that is too menial.  There is no task too demoralizing or too difficult.  In this action is an attitude of humility and willingness.

Peter, being rather impulsive, reacts to Jesus beginning to do this task.  He states: “You shall never wash my feet!”  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!”

Why is Jesus adamant about washing the disciples’ feet?  Foot washing is a picture of a couple of things.  It is a picture of cleansing, possibly related to baptism.  Jesus spoke of being clean.  Baptism signifies our being made clean and forgiven by the blood of Christ. It might also be an allusion to Jesus’ husband like role toward the church, as we are told in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

But what cannot be denied is that Jesus takes on the roll of a servant.  Being a common form of hospitality in the first century; kind of like serving appetizers when you go to someone’s home for a meal, only servants would wash the feet of their master’s or the household guests.[1]  Jesus states in verse 12:”Do you now that I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, 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.”  The example is that of a servant.  One commentator states: “The humility of Christ is a patter for His disciples.  Instead of aspiring to dominate, they must be eager to serve.”[2]  These were the leaders of the church.  Part of being a good leader is a willingness to do anything for the success of the organization.  There’s no job too menial or too simple.

Those of you in leadership, you are the ones washing our feet, by your planning, your organizing and your valuable input.  You are not serving to advance your own personal interests; you are serving to advance the cause of Christ.  You are working as unto the Lord, as Paul instructs slaves in Colossians 3:22, that they were to do their work: “…with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

What became of the original disciples?  Peter was the apostle to the Jews.  He is thought to have preached in Asia Minor and Italy, assisting Paul in planting the church at Rome.  John was an early opponent of Gnosticism and was banished to the island of Patmos.  He eventually died in Ephesus.  Bartholomew went and preached in India.  Andrew preached in Achaia and was eventually crucified for his faith.  James the son of Alpheus preached in Jerusalem eventually stoned.  James the son of Zebedee preached in Judea and was killed with the sword.  Simon the Zealot served as bishop of the church in Jerusalem and preached to the people of Edessa.  Thomas went to India and planted churches.  Matthew translated the gospel into Hebrew and died in Parthia, modern-day Iran.  Philip preached in Phrygia.  All of them resigned themselves to poverty and persecution.  Most of them gave their lives for the sake of the gospel.

This church is only as good as we take on the role of a servant for Christ.  Whether we are praying for it, serving in it, God is at work in and through all of it.


[1] The New Geneva Study Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995),1689.

[2]Ibid.

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