Self Care: Serve with love

Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. Rembrandt sketch

One of the best ways to practice self care is to serve someone else with love. When we get the focus off of ourselves, and onto another, we find our own lives blessed and cared for as well.

This month, April 2021, with Cannon Beach Community Church, the congregation where I serve as Lead Pastor, we are emphasizing Serve with love, as part of the 5-fold BLESS way of life exemplified in the life of Jesus. The B.L.E.S.S. way of life spells out: Begin with prayer, Listen with care, Eat together, Serve with love, Share God’s story. We spread these five ways across five months, January through May, every year, seeking to grow deeper and wider into the BLESS way of blessing others with God’s love.

This month, seek to serve with love. Find ways to help others. Demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus Christ—to yourself, to your family, to your neighbors.

Follow in the footsteps of Jesus who showed us how to serve with love by bending low, and washing the feet of his followers, as found in John 13. My wife and I had this passage read at our wedding on July 5, 1981, forty years ago, and have sought to practice this way of serving with love over the past four decades of married life.

Here are a few reflections on John 13, as an encouragement to learn to Serve with love:

John 13:1. It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

  • Just before the Passover Festival, John marks the timing of God throughout this Gospel by this phrase, “the hour had not yet come”.
    • “the hour had not yet come:” John 2:4 to his mother at the wedding at Cana;
    • “the hour had not yet come:” John 7:6,8 to his brothers about revealing himself in Jerusalem;
    • “the hour had not yet come:” John 8:20, no one seized him to kill him because his hour had not yet come;
    • Finally, in John 12:23, we hear, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
  • Jesus was very clear about God’s purpose and timing for his life.  There is a completeness and fullness in God’s purpose/timing for each one of our lives.  We discover more and more of this purpose/timing of God the more we come to know Christ.
  • Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
  • This is Jesus’ purpose: to reveal the AGAPE love of God to people in the world.
  • An interesting phrase in the text here: He loved them to the full extent (GREEK: eis telos.)
  • Telos: (Like teloscope) GREEK for maturity, completion, or full extent.
  • Christ loves us, his followers “to the fullest extent, completely.”
  • Jesus never stops loving us; will keep loving us to the end of time. 
  • Jesus loves us fully, perfectly, with fullness of maturity.
  • Jesus loves us into full maturity, gives God’s love to us until we are whole, perfect, fully mature in love.

John 13:2-5. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Verse 2           during supper

  • Supper was already underway. In the B.L.E.S.S. way of life, the letter E—Eat Together, comes before the letter S.
  • 13:2. the devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus.
  • In John 13:27,30 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him, as soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out.  And it was night. 
  • Dark terrible undercurrent within this tender story of a last meal together. The Devil prompting Judas to betray Jesus, then possessing Judas. “It was night,”  a night that in includes spiritual darkness. 

Verse 3           

  • John reflects upon Jesus’ place with God; Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  
  • John reminds us of the first chapter of his Gospel, that great prologue of John, a poem of beginnings, of God’s holy purpose being worked out through the coming of the Word become flesh. 
  • Our truest authority and deepest identity will be found in Jesus Christ.
  • When we sort out the authority and identity of our lives through Christ, we can freely live for God as ambassadors of AGAPE love, laying down our lives for others in Jesus name.             

Verses 4-5

Finally John gets to the action of Jesus:           

  • Jesus got up from the meal,
  • took off his outer clothing
  • wrapped a towel around his waist
  • poured water into a basin
  • began to wash his disciples feet
  • drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus gets up from the supper

Jesus specializes in revealing God’s amazing love in everyday events of life, in homes, at a meal, in common place settings of our lives. Jesus moves most often among us quietly and in the everyday places. Where do you see God’s presence most in your life?  Look in the ordinary, at family mealtimes, when kids are washing up for dinner, driving in a car, out for a walk. Look at the extraordinary love of God: Jesus gets up to stoop down. The Lord and Teacher stoops lower that a common household servant, does what not even servants were expected to do, washes the dusty-road travelled feet of 12 men. Humility: Humus—good earth.  Jesus is not afraid to quietly touch our lives where we are most embarrassed, ashamed, privately protective. 

Q: Who cares for your feet?  You. Occasionally, we let a spouse or friend rub our feet. Feet are strangely private, untouchable places in our lives. They tickle, they come in all sorts of odd shapes.  We keep them hidden behind shoes and socks, except in very informal settings or family. Jewish culture of the 1st century. Feet: dirt, filth, unpleasant, unclean. Sandals, no pavement, dust, sweat from walking long distances, dirty unpleasant feet; at a meal who wants to smell such.

This is the 2nd story of footwashing, the first by Mary of Bethany, who washed Jesus’ feet with very expensive perfume, drying his feet with her hair.  Now, Jesus takes the role of the servant, humbling himself to wash our feet. Common to offer a wash basin for guests to wash up, hands and feet.  Servants would offer this.  Jesus offered this, but more: he offers himself as the Footwasher.   

John 13:6-11. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

  • Simon Peter reveals a common human trait: resistance to being served.  Call it human pride, embarrassment, awkwardness at overlooking the needs of others…many reasons why we feel uncomfortable with others serving us.

Verse 7 Jesus knows about our feelings, and offers us gentle invitation into the mystery of God’s love. You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand. It is okay not to understand God’s love at work in our lives. Later on, we’ll look back and have a clearer picture of God’s wonderful radical love in washing our feet.

Verse 8-10 In these verses we see more resistance from Peter and responses from Jesus. Jesus is glad to hear us out when we don’t understand, and even when we resist God’s grace in our lives.  Argue with God.  Go right ahead.  Don’t be afraid to tell God your fears, embarrassments, resistances. But there comes a time when we need to yield our lives to God, let go of our need to be in control of everything, let Jesus be the authority in our lives. One of the greatest movements of faith in our lives is simply allowing Jesus to stoop down low into our lives and wash us in places where we don’t want anyone to help us, where we are ashamed, embarrassed, afraid, alone.  AGAPE: God’s self-sacrificing love: a series of loving actions–get up, take off our power, wrap ourselves with a heart of service, pour our lives out, wash people, dry, teach. 

John 13:12-17, 34-35. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. . . . A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Verses 12-17

  • Jesus’ pattern in ministry: Act & Teach; Show & Tell; Walk & Talk. 
  • Same is true in John’s Gospel, chapter 13.  
    • 13: 1-11. ACTION. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet;
    • 13: 12-17. INSTRUCTION. Jesus teaches them about the meaning of this act.  These two aspects of Jesus’ life are married, in harmony.  To divorce our walk from our talk is to become hypocrites.  Do you understand what I have done for you?

Jesus’ Teachings on SERVE WITH LOVE: several lessons we can learn.

  1. Jesus is our Teacher (didaskalos) and Lord (kurios): Jesus asks to be our Primary Authority, THE source for our instruction, obedience-submission. Faith: placing the trust-care of my life into Jesus’ hands.  Becoming a follower of Jesus: of his teachings, of his commands. 13:13
  2. Jesus calls us to serve with love, to love the way he loves: to wash one another’s feet; I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 
  3. How many creative ways are there to “wash one another’s feet”?
  4. Jesus calls us to serve as Jesus serves us, to love as Jesus loves us.
  5. Christian ethics rooted here: Jesus loves us, we love one another as he loves us. 
  6. Jesus promises to bless us when we live AGAPE love among one another.
  7. Jesus assures us that when we love others like he loves, people will discover who Jesus really is through our acts of love. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Below are words from Francis Fenelon, a French Christian devotional writer and archbishop from the 17th century, writing on radical service in the everyday of our lives. (1651–1715) Fenelon was archbishop of Cambrai, France, a popular devotional writer, widely recognized for his wise spiritual advice. He was connected to the court of Louis XIV, and he sought to encourage his colleagues there toward a life of godly simplicity. This excerpt comes from two of his letters to Christians seeking counsel.

How can I offer my common daily actions to God . . . visits received and paid, dressing . . . reading . . . the business which comes upon me on behalf of friends and relations, amusements, shopping . . . and the like? I want to learn how, by some kind of prayer, to offer all these things to God.

The most unimportant acts cease to be so, and become important, [as soon as] they are done with the intention of conformity to God’s will. Indeed, they are often better and purer than what may seem more religious acts; first because they are less self-chosen, and more according to the order of God’s providence; secondly, because they are simpler, and less exposed to self-complacency; thirdly, because if performed in moderation, and with a right intention of heart, we may find more means of self-abnegation than in actions where excitement or self have a larger part; and lastly, because these trifling matters are continually recurring, and furnish a constant opportunity for unobtrusively serving God.

We do not need great efforts, or much thought, to offer these actions which we call unimportant. The offering may be made with a momentary uplifting of the heart to God. Whatever He wills us to do, whatever belongs to the ordinary course of duties appertaining to our state of life, may, and ought to be, offered to God; nothing is unworthy of Him save what is wrong. When you feel that any given action cannot be offered to God, you may conclude that it is not suitable to a Christian; at all events, it is suspicious, and you should investigate the matter.

I [would] not make a formal act of prayer about each separate thing; an uplifting of the heart at the moment will suffice. The practice may be easy and simple if it is to become habitual. As to visits, shopping and the like, as these are liable to be pursued with self-indulgence, I [would] add a petition for grace to be moderate as a caution. . . .

We are bound to seek our sanctification in that state wherein Providence has placed us, rather than to build castles in the air concerning great possible virtue in positions we do not fill. . . . We need very diligent faithfulness to God in the smallest things.

Most people spend the best part of their life in avowing and regretting their habits, in talking about changing them; in making rules for a future time which they look for, but which is not given them; and in thereby losing time which ought to be spent in good works and in setting forward their salvation.

You should treat all such notions as very dangerous. Our salvation ought to be the work of every day and every hour. No time is fitter for it than that which God in His mercy accords to us now; and that because today is ours, but we know not what tomorrow may bring forth. . . . The uncertainty of life ought to make us realize that we should prosecute this undertaking with all our energies, and that all other pursuits are worthless, since they do not bring us nearer to God, the rightful End of all we do—the God of our salvation, as David continually calls Him in the Psalms. . . .

Make a habit of frequently adoring His holy will by humbly submitting yourself to the order of His good providence. Ask Him to uphold you, lest you fall. Intreat Him to perfect His work in you, so that, having inspired you in your present state of life with the desire to be saved, you may actually work out your salvation therein.

He does not require great things for success. Our Lord Himself has said, “The kingdom of God is within you” [see Luke 17:21]; we can find it there when we will. Let us do what we know He requires of us, and [as] soon as we perceive His will in anything, let there be no drawing back, only absolute faithfulness.

Such faithfulness ought not merely to lead us to do great things for His service and for our salvation, but whatever our hands find to do, or which appertains to our state of life. If one could only be saved by means of great deeds, [only a] few could hope for salvation. It depends, however, in fulfilling God’s will. The smallest things become great when God requires them of us. They are only small as regards themselves; but they forthwith become great when done for Him, when they lead to Him, and serve to unite [us] with Him eternally.

Remember how He has said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much, and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” [see Luke 16:10]. I [would] say that a soul which sincerely longs after God never considers whether a thing be small or great; it is enough to know that He for whom it is done is infinitely great, that it is His due to have all creation solely devoted to His glory, which can only be by fulfilling His will.

This excerpt is taken from Fenelon’s Letters to Men and Women, ed. Derek Stanford. Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1957, pp. 53–55, 124–125.