The modern world’s version of love is often narcissistic, self-focused, and manipulative. It views others as a means of self-gratification. Relationships between selfish people usually do not last. In sharp contrast to that self-centered kind of love, the Bible teaches that the essence of love is self-sacrifice. Instead of pursuing its own good, it pursues the good of others (I Cor 10:24). First Corinthians 13:4-8 is the most sublime description of love ever penned. That kind of love requires humility! Humble love is demonstrated perfectly in the passage before us, as Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.
First, Jesus’ love is stated (13:1-2). This was the last divinely authorized Passover. From here on there was a new memorial, recalling not the lamb’s blood on the doorposts, but the blood of the Lamb of God “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). During the Last Supper, Jesus, celebrating with His disciples, formed a transition from the old covenant to the new.
Jesus’ hour had come (13:1). The purpose for which He had come into the world was at hand. He was in control of everything that was happening. He was not a victim of men’s evil schemes. “He loved His own unto the end,” meaning He loved them to perfection or completeness. The love of God towards His own is sacrificial, perfecting, eternal love that passes all human understanding.
Next to the sacrificial love of Christ is the selfish betrayal of Judas. Jesus washed Judas’ feet. What a contrast between humble service and selfish greed. Judas’ personal ambition had opened the door to the devil’s influence. Although Satan inspired Judas to betray Christ, Judas was fully responsible for his heinous act.
But then we see Jesus’ servanthood is demonstrated (13:3-11). John stresses the power, status, and exaltation of Jesus while revealing the depth of His humility by the task He took on, a task left to the lowest of slaves, which even Jewish slaves were not required to perform. The disciples had walked through the dusty streets of Jerusalem in sandals. Reclining at a low table with soiled and smelly feet would make the meal offensive. With no servant to perform the chore the disciples should have volunteered to wash one another’s feet but they didn’t! Jesus’ admonition, “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt 23:11) had fallen on deaf ears.
To the shock of the disciples and in a stunning display of humility, Jesus removed His outer garments, girded Himself with a towel, filled a basin of water and washed His followers’ feet. Peter objected (6) but the Lord overruled. Jesus’ reply first corrected Peter and the disciples’ misunderstanding of His messianic mission. In His first advent, Jesus came not as the conquering king but as the selfless sacrifice for the sins of His people. Second, His reply clarified that those who had been cleansed in salvation did not need to get re-saved every time they sinned. Those who have bathed (10) do not need to take another bath just because their feet get dirty. Similarly, the complete cleansing of the redeemed at salvation never needs to be repeated, although we do need the daily cleansing from worldly defilements. Cleansing is necessary for fellowship and communion with the Lord. (8)
Jesus made one last appeal to Judas who was to betray Him. “Not all of you are clean” (11). Jesus was not surprised by Judas’ treachery. He had said, “Did I myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” (6:70) All aspects of Christ’s death, including this, were part of God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:23).
Finally, we see Jesus’ lesson is explained (13:12-17). In this passage, Jesus taught His humiliation in His first coming, and the once-for-all cleansing of justification versus the daily cleansing of sanctification, important theological truth. But the primary principle Jesus wanted the disciples to learn was the importance of humble, loving service. While the disciples fought over who would be the greatest, the Lord of Glory humbled Himself to the role of the lowest of slaves. How could the disciple do any less? “Why do you call me, ‘Lord,’ ‘Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46) Some have argued that foot washing should be an ordinance along with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Notice Jesus said, “I gave you an example” (15). Foot washing was necessary in that day, but it isn’t today. Making foot washing an ordinance would miss the lesson Jesus taught – humbly serve others!
In conclusion, Jesus admonished, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” Then, notice the sequence in this passage; humbleness (4, 5), holiness (8), happiness (17). They are inseparably linked. Don’t question the Lord or try to change what He is doing (8). He is God and He knows what He is doing. In summary, submit to the Lord, keep your life clean and serve others.