A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).
Consider this rather heady but helpful paragraph concerning abstraction:
Abstraction “has the effect of removing from consideration the specific, the particular, and, perhaps most important, the material elements of anything about which we might be thinking. Abstraction therefore tends to eliminate from our thinking the limits, the boundaries that confront us in everyday experience. The beautiful sunset upon which we are gazing embodies beauty in a concrete, specific material way. The word “beauty”, in contrast, floats free of any such specificity, and such limits. And, because abstract thinking tends to float free of any specifications, it can easily and quickly become difficult to understand by anyone who is himself a concrete, particular, materially embodied person living in a concrete, particular, materially embodied, world. If you have ever taken a philosophy class, you know just how quickly discussions of such abstractions as “being” and “essence” can become entirely incomprehensible (taken from Joyce A Little, “Words, Words Everywhere—and Not a Thought to Think” in The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 3-24.
It is one thing to be told to love one another. It is quite another to see it expressed concretely. It is often easier to understand what it means to love one another by seeing it, than by hearing about it. Which is precisely what Jesus does. He loves them to the end, demonstrating it by washing their feet, before he tells them to love one another, then trusting they will be able to figure out what that means for them—concretely.
Dave Sable said it this way in a recent email: We Christians at times like to live in the abstract – “We should love everyone.” Jesus has none of that and moves it to the concrete. “Wash one another’s feet.”
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here (John 14:30-31).
The devil did not put Jesus on the cross. It was the will of the Father. Jesus is too clear—the prince of this world has no claim upon him, no hold on him. Neither did Pilate (John 19:11). On the cross, Jesus simply fulfilled the will of the Father, doing exactly, and willingly (even if not eagerly) as His Father commanded. Let this be a lesson on the weight we give the devil’s hand in the tribulations that befall the believer. Satan is no doubt involved in suffering and trial (after all, Satan entered Judas before Judas betrayed Jesus), but at the bottom we find the will of the Father. Jesus’ suffering was an opportunity to glorify the Father by showing the world that he loved the Him. Satan has his purposes in the tribulations of the people of God. But so does God.
But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).
The better I get to know Peter in the pages of Scripture, the more I appreciate him. He has great zeal for Christ, but he is still learning, learning who Jesus is, and learning who he is. Peter’s response to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is a good example.
Peter’s first response to Jesus washing his feet is to reject it: “you shall never wash my feet.” His response is entirely understandable, for Peter knows that Jesus is the Christ, the coming king, and with the rest of the disciples calls him “Lord and Teacher” (John 14:14). Much like John the Baptist, who was uneasy about baptizing Jesus, Peter feels it inappropriate that Jesus should wash his feet. After all, a servant is not above his master.
Jesus responds that he must wash Peter’s feet: “if I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” At this point, Peter changes his mind entirely. If that is the case, let Jesus wash him entirely! Peter is apparently jealous of his share with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t deny that Peter needs a thorough washing, but assures Peter that it has already been done. He is already clean, and washing his feet will be enough. For his feet are dirty.
Two things we must remember if we want a share in Jesus. First, we must be washed. No one—no one—comes to Jesus clean. That is a hard word for many to hear, but it is essential if we would have any share in him. As always, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:4; 1 Peter 5:5). Not only that, but we must allow ourselves to be washed. Secondly, cleansing is an ongoing process. We might wish that, having been washed completely once for all, we would therefore have no further need for cleansing. But the need remains. This is to be expected. That Jesus’ disciples continue to deal with sin does not mean that they are not his, or that they have not been cleansed. But it does mean that we, as always, are dependent upon Jesus’ work in us that only He can do. In the end, only Jesus can take the basin and the towel and do for us what we need.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit (John 15:2).
Cynthia read the following poem by George Herbert at our gathering last night. I pass it on to you, with her comment to notice the manner in which Herbert prunes his words as he proceeds. It is a very wise and beautiful meditation.
I Bless thee, Lord, because I GROW
Amongthytrees, which in a ROW
To theebothfruitand order OW.
Can blast my fruit, orbring me HARM,
While the inclosureis thine ARM.
Inclose me stillforfearI START.
Be tomerather sharpandTART,
Then let me want thy hand and ART.
When thou dost greater judgments SPARE,
And with thyknifebutpruneand PARE,
Ev’n fruitfull trees more fruitfulARE.
Such sharpnes shows the sweetest FREND:
Such cuttings rather healthen REND:
Andsuch beginnings touchtheirEND.
From The Temple (1633)
If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).
Hear the words of Octavius Winslow, 19th century Anglican minister:
Love is the great influential principle of the Gospel. The religion of Jesus is pre-eminently a religion of motive; it excludes every compulsory principle; it arrays before the mind certain great and powerful motives with which it enlists the understanding, the will, and the affections, in the active service of Christ. Now the law of Christianity is not the law of coercion, but of love. This is the grand lever, the great influential motive,--“the love of Christ constraineth us.” This was the apostle’s declaration, and this his governing motive; and the constraining love of Christ is to be the governing motive, the influential principle of every believer. Apart from the constraining influence of Christ’s live in the heart, there cannot possibly be a willing, prompt, and holy obedience to his commandments. A conviction of duty and the influence of fear may sometimes urge forward the soul, but love alone can prompt to a loving and holy obedience; and all obedience that springs from an inferior motive is not the obedience that the gospel of Jesus inculcates (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and the Revival of Religion in the Soul (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1960), 43).
The book from which this comes is an old Puritan classic concerning the nature and remedy of drifting from the Lord. It is a book which I heartily recommend.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-10).
What gave Jesus the power to pick up the basin and the towel and to wash his disciples feet? John tells us: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper” (John 13:3).
Jesus knows God. Having come from God, he knew God. And there was something about knowing God, and knowing he was returning to God, that led him to wash his disciples feet. He also knows who he is. On one level, Jesus can take the lowly place of the servant because he knows who he is, and therefore need not be concerned about or controlled by the perceptions of others. There is great freedom in knowing who we are in God’s sight. As Paul would write later, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
But something deeper is going on here. Jesus takes the role of a servant because that is who he is, the Son of Man who came not to be served, but to be serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Whereas we might instinctively think that Jesus came as a servant despite being from God, as if coming from God would somehow mean that Jesus was above taking the “lower” place, it is because he came from God that he takes position of the servant. Taking the form of a servant is what it means to be great, what it means to be from God.
Jesus gives this to his disciples as an example. But unless they too know who they are in God’s sight, they will never be able to grab a basin and a towel and wash one another’s feet. We will learn truly to serve apart from knowing God, and specifically who we are in relationship to Him.
You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, 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 also should do just as I have done to you (John 13:13-15).
Serving is the antithesis of sin. Sin is, in effect, “me, at your expense.” Sin is going one’s own way, seeking one’s own good without reference to God and others. The delight in which we may take in making a joke at the expense of another, or stealing something that belongs to another, or taking out our anger at another, or hoarding what we have to the neglect of another—all are examples of the same root issue, that ultimately I am concerned about me. Righteousness, on the other hand, is “you, at my expense.” In the end, righteousness is conformity to the heart and character of God. He is righteous, and therefore so are those who are like Him. And the expression given here of righteousness is Christ taking the form of a servant and washing the disciples’ feet.
Being a servant is costly. And that is part of the blessing that comes with being a servant. I am always challenged and inspired by the words of King David, as he was seeking land upon which the temple would be built. Having been offered land for free, David rather insisted upon paying for it: “But the king said to Araunah, ‘No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver” (2 Sam. 24:24).
One way to drive a stake through the heart of sin is to learn to serve. Not for what we may receive, but for the sake of blessing another. We are far too slow to learn what Jesus taught us, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” There is blessing, of course, for those who serve, but it is often not immediate, but rather awaits the future, and is apprehended by faith (see, e.g. Matthew 6). But there is also the immediate blessing of unmooring ourselves from ourselves, and becoming free as we seek the well being of others.
As a very practical way of seeking to mortify sin, what is one practical service you can undertake as a way of blessing another, and thereby conforming more closely to the image of the One who came not to be served, but to serve?