The text I am commenting on is quite lengthy – John 13:1-17. This being the case, I will make the commentary brief and divide it into three sections. Following the commentary, I will suggest one main implication from the text.
Christ Humbles Himself in Service (vv.1-5)
Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (John 13:1-5)
John shows three things that were on Christ’s mind when He stooped down with a bowl of water. First, He knew that His hour had come. In the waning hours before Judas’ betrayal, Christ was fully aware that He was about to die. Second, He knew that the Father had given all things into his hands. This refers to His exaltation as Lord (cf. Phil 2:5-11). He was fully aware that everything is His to do with as He desires. Third, He knew that He had come forth from God and was going back to God. This is His Messianic identity. Christ was fully conscious that He is the Messiah, sent by God’s will to be a propitiation for His people. With these three things on His mind, Jesus stoops down to wash the disciples’ feet.
Christ Cleanses Us of Sin (vv.6-11)
So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” (John 13:6-11)
Peter was thinking what you probably are: “Lord, do You wash my feet?” The roles seem a bit reversed. Jesus’ foot-washing was a shadow of the cross. He would cleanse us of sin and win for us righteous robes. This washing is necessary to have a part with Christ. Notice how quickly Peter’s disposition changes when He realizes this. When Peter thought that Christ was serving him as a slave, he immediately objected. Are we not His slaves? However, when Peter realized that Christ was serving him as a Redeemer, he immediately pleaded for it. To be with Christ, Peter was willing to let go of pride and allow Christ to serve Him. We too must be humble before the cross.
Christ Commissions Us to Serve (vv.12-17)
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
The immediate cleansing is with a bowl and towel. The foreshadowed cleansing is with the cross. Both scenes are applicable here, as Christ commissions us to serve in light of His service. Our response to Christ’s service is: “You also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Christ’s death was more than an example, but it was not less. While I cannot redeem people from sin and death, I can certainly mirror the sacrificial love of Christ and serve them.
First, recognize who Christ commands us to serve: the church. John 13 is a Great Commission in its own right because it calls for the highest level of service among members of Christ’s body. Second, recognize how Christ commands us to serve: as He served us. The standard for inner-church love is not how well we are treated but how graciously Christ treated us.
Third, recognize why Christ commands us to serve: the cross. This is the great implication that I take from this passage. Why do I serve my brethren? If I am wronged or mistreated by someone in the church, what is my motivation to forgive them? I think this principle slides naturally from the text: we serve one another not to receive something, but because we have received something. The basis for inner-church service is not “Hey, I’ll get something from that” but rather “Christ gave me redemption on the cross.”
So here I come to the second reason why I love the church (you can read my first reason here) and specifically my local church. I love my local congregation because Christ loves me. What determines how I treat these brothers and sisters of mine is not how well they treat me but rather how well Christ has treated me. The cross is my motivation. Whether it is cleaning up after Potluck, watching kids in the nursery, leading worship, or forgiving injustice – all of my love for the church is motivated by the Savior of the church. It is from a joy in Christ my Savior that I love the fellow Christians I am in covenant with.
I am under covenant to serve my local church. This covenant is not bound by the deeds and decisions of my brothers and sisters. Rather, it is sealed by the blood of Christ. When His blood loses merit, I shall be released from my covenant. Until then, I love the church.