Washing the Disciples Feet: A Christological Example of Servant Leadership

Washing the Disciples Feet: A Christological Example of Servant Leadership

 Service is integral to the Christian life. Christ set the example, and the apostles walked it; together they made a roadmap that shows every follower how the people of God are to interpret the instruction “… I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”[1] The Lord, as he was about to give his life, set his status as Teacher and Master aside and washed each of the Disciple’s feet; even the Disciple that would betray him. He concluded this act of service with the instructions that emulating his example would result in being “… blessed if you do them”.[2] In using the word do, the Lord was talking about an action; service is something the servant leader does. Kruse elaborates on how action is inherent to the message Jesus was sending in washing the feet of his followers.

Jesus concluded his instruction on this matter with the words Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. In the matter of rendering service to others, as in all matters related to Christian living, it is one thing to know what we should do; it is another thing to do it. The blessing comes, not with the knowing, but with the doing. Jesus’ teaching at the end of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ concludes in a similar vein with the parable of the two builders.[3]

The identity of the Christian is devoted service to God, and Christ’s life set the example, the Apostles carried on the work of service after he ascended by living that example of selfless service; this form of devotion defined the Disciples actions, ministries, and their writings.

Christ the Example

Jesus made service central to his mission while he was on the earth. Allen Michael says that seeing Christ’s work in the context of Christ’s faith is “soteriologically necessary.”[4] Christ’s faith is demonstrated by his faithful execution of the mission the Father sent him to do: “Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[5] Christ’s words here are the context for his instructions to the Disciples, “whoever would be first among you must be your slave.”[6] That word slave would permeate the writings of the most prolific New Testament author, Paul, and would serve as, as Michael Joseph Brown tells us, “… a powerful theological function in Pauline rhetoric …”.[7] Jesus did not just do lip service to this concept of service. The night he was to be betrayed the author of John tells us that Jesus, “… knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands …”[8] washed the feet of his Disciples. Being fully aware of these things, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, “including the feet of the betrayer.”[9] Kruse elaborates,

There is yet something else we need to understand: Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God. It was knowing God had given him power over all things, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, that Jesus performed the foot washing. Knowing this did not make him think he was above carrying out menial service. Knowing full well who he was, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.[10]

Jesus’ dedication to the work of his Father was exemplified in this act; he served even those that rejected him.

Service in the Lives of the Apostles

The Disciples, including Paul, were taught by Christ.[11] Understanding how they interpreted the actions and instructions of Christ would be a first-hand method for learning to apply Christ’s intent today. As Christ ascended he left a great commission, make, baptize, and teach, he told his Disciples.[12][13] As the Disciples grew into the role of Apostle, the Disciples learned that service, as exemplified by Christ in foot washing, is a divinely appointed means of continuing sanctification.[14] As the new Apostles set about church planting they did not forget the example of service; for at least some time they even waited tables and saw to all the administrative needs of the new church.[15] In the Act 6 account, the Apostles appoint new men to fill this role of service, and they picked only the best men to do it “… of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom …”[16] The two insights gained are, that service is not the lowly role for the weak new believer, rather it is the role for the strong, wise, and Spirit-filled; moreover, this role is to be passed on. Training the new Christian for service is discipleship.

Service in the Writings of the Apostles

As Michael Joseph Brown introduced previously, Paul used this concept of service throughout his writings.[17] In Romans and Philippians Paul introduces himself as doulos[18]  Christos[19] Iēsous[20]; in the NASB (New American Standard Bible) the word doulos is translated bond-servant[21] which according to Morris means, “… the term conveys the idea of complete and utter devotion”[22] Paul was not the only Apostle that used this word servant (doulos). James in his book introduced himself as doulos theou (servant of God).[23] Both James and Paul are connecting service to their identity. James and Paul are hardly alone; this concept of service can be found throughout the writings of most of the Apostles.

How Should we Then Live?

Francis A. Schaeffer wrote a work called How Should We Then Live?, which “appeared in print in 1976 and brought together Schaeffer’s entire intellectual and cultural project.”[24] However, that question was asked long before Schaeffer by Ezekiel.[25] Jesus answered that question once and for all. His devotion to the service his Father sent him to do lead him to wash the feet of the man that would betray him. That act of service along with all his acts drove the Disciples to connect service to their identities. They became servants of all just as their master had become; they acted in service, lead and appointed others to service, wrote and taught about service. The Apostle’s witness is such that interpreting the actions and words of Jesus Christ leaves the Christian with one conclusion; the Christian identity is to be one who is fully devoted to the service of Christ and by extension the service of others.

 

 

 

[1]. Matthew 5:44; all quotes from the Bible are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.

[2]. John 13:17

[3]. Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 281.

[4]. Michael Allen. “‘From the time he took on the form of a servant’: the Christ’s pilgrimage of faith.” International Journal Of Systematic Theology 16, no. 1 (2014 2014): 6

[5]. Matthew 20:28.

[6]. Matthew 20:27.

[7]. Michael Joseph Brown, author. “Paul’s Use of ΔΟϒΛΟΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟϒ ΙΗΣΟϒ in Romans 1:1.” Journal Of Biblical Literature no. 4 (2001): 728.

[8]. John 13:3.

[9]. Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, (2003), 281.

[10]. Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, (2003), 276.

[11]. Galatians 1:12.

[12]. Matthew 28:19-20.

[13]. The text of Matthew 28:19-20 is often referred to as the Great Commission.

[14]. Annang Asumang, “Washing One Another’s Feet as Jesus Did: Revelatory Activities and the Progressive Sanctification of Believers.” Conspectus (South African Theological Seminary) 15, (March 2013): 2.

[15]. Acts 6:2.

[16]. Acts 6:3.

[17]. Michael Joseph Brown, author. “Paul’s Use of ΔΟϒΛΟΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟϒ ΙΗΣΟϒ in Romans 1:1.” Journal Of Biblical Literature no. 4 (2001): 728.

[18]. Doulos (δοῦλος) a noun meaning: born bondman or slave.

[19]. Christos (Χριστός) a noun meaning: anointed.

[20]. Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς) the word translated: Jesus.

[21]. Romans 1:1; NASB.

[22]. Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, (1988), 36–37.

[23]. James 1:1.

[24]. Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, ed. Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, and Allen C. Guelzo, Library of Religious Biography. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, (2008), 167.

[25]. Ezekiel 33:10.

 

Bibliography

Allen, Michael. “From the time he took on the form of a servant’: the Christ’s pilgrimage of faith.” International Journal Of Systematic Theology, (2014).

Asumang, Annang. “Washing One Another’s Feet as Jesus Did: Revelatory Activities and the Progressive Sanctification of Believers.” Conspectus (South African Theological Seminary), (2013).

Brown, Michael Joseph. “Paul’s Use of ΔΟϒΛΟΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟϒ ΙΗΣΟϒ in Romans 1:1.” Journal Of Biblical Literature no. 4 , (2001).

Hankins, Barry. Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, ed. Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, and Allen C. Guelzo, Library of Religious Biography. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.:: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, (2008).

Kruse, Colin G. John: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 4 Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, (2003).

Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, (1988).

Posted in Blog, Theology.