All Scripture is authoritative. But not all Scripture affects our souls with the same weight.

We read the stories of Bezalel building the tabernacle, Jabez praying for God’s blessing, and Benaiah killing a lion on a snowy day. We read biblical narratives with interest. We learn from them, see aspects of the gospel, and watch them pointing to Jesus. There’s weight in these stories. They are part of the Bible’s grand narrative to instruct, reveal God’s mercy, and display God’s glory.

Yet reading Jesus’ teaching weighs much heavier on disciples’ attention for application. That doesn’t lessen the importance of other portions of Scripture. Instead, they provide a backdrop to the central focus of God’s Word concerning Jesus Christ as the culmination of God’s revelation. Furthermore, when reading the words and teaching of Jesus just before he goes to the cross, disciples pay much closer attention, knowing that every word uttered at that stage of his earthly journey bears eternal significance. We don’t want to miss anything.

In those last hours, for instance, Jesus tells the disciples about preparing an eternal place for the redeemed, the indwelling Holy Spirit revealing Christ, and recognition of his disciples by love. That’s critical to understanding the nature of how the redeemed live.

At the start of the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus does more than teach the practical way we’re to live as his followers. He exemplifies it. We’re to follow his example in serving others. That’s not redemptive but expresses the experience of redemption in following Jesus. He considered service essential for living as his disciples. Without humble service we fail to resemble Jesus.

John Sets the Stage

John 13:1–4 provides a long introduction to set the stage for Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. John could have just plunged in and told about Jesus washing feet. But he knew the importance of considering what Jesus consciously understood about himself before stooping to wash a dozen sets of dirty feet.

The key phrase, “His hour had come,” points to everything told by the Gospel writers at that point (and the Old Testament) had come to an earth shaking crescendo (John 13:1 NASB). Jesus understood he was God in the flesh, had come forth from the Father, and with his mission soon to culminate, he would return to the Father. He knew Psalm 2, 110, and Isaiah 53 were finding fulfillment in Him. “The Father had given all things into His hands” (John 13:13). He understood God’s promises: the woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), Abraham’s descendant would bless the nations (Gen. 12:3), and David’s son would reign forever (2 Sam. 7:16). Jesus understood the Old Testament was about Him (John 5:39).

The whole creation aimed for this moment when the Son of God would become sin-bearer for the redeemed. And he knew, he had “loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Such inexpressible love kept Jesus focused on the cross where he would bear our sins before the wrath of the Father, but not before he washed dirty feet.

Three Identities of Jesus

After washing the disciples’ feet and returning to the table, Jesus asked, “Do you know what I have done to you?” (John 13:12) Staggered, they didn’t understand. So, he explained by identifying himself in three ways. “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am” (John 13:13). As “Teacher,” we listen to what Jesus teaches. He has the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). God has fully manifested himself in Christ as the Word made flesh (John 1:14). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me,” Jesus assured (John 10:27). Those who continue in his word, he declares to be true disciples (John 8:31¬–32).

“You call Me . . . Lord,” Jesus also said. As Lord, we follow where Jesus leads. We belong to him; we’re his to command. We pray to be conformed to the image of Jesus and for Christ to be formed in us (Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:19). “Lord,” is not merely a title. It’s a call to a life devoted to Jesus, bent on living daily to his glory, and finding joy in pleasing him.

Jesus confirmed, “And you are right, for so I am” (John 13:13). But he gives yet one more identity that affects how we practice the Christian life toward others. “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 the one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:14–17).

Imitate how Jesus serves, he tells us. It’s critical that we listen to what Jesus teaches, follow where he leads, but also imitate how Jesus serves. None of his identities is to be left out, as though following him is like picking and choosing in a cafeteria line. Service like Jesus reorders disciples’ lives.

Reordering Life Through Service

Washing feet was not high-profile practice in the ancient world. It didn’t draw attention and recognition as teaching or leading might do. But Jesus commends service to one another as following his example. Jesus calls us to delight in the mundane for his glory and to reflect his heart to serve. How does service reorder our lives?

  • Service moves away from centering life on ourselves.
  • Service fights self-centeredness.
  • Service seeks the good and welfare of others, revealing love for others.
  • Service intentionally causes us to be relational. It refuses to avoid interaction with others or to think only about personal interests (Phil. 2:4).
  • Service shows Jesus’ indwelling life to others. The reality of Christ living in us is put on display in the way we love, care for, show compassion, and minister to others.
  • Service adds to our joy by expressing love to others in tangible ways. Jesus Christ’s indwelling love overflows in serving others.
  • Service humbles us to take Jesus’ path of lowliness, otherness, gentleness, and generous love.
  • Service battles sins of pride, stinginess, and self-importance.
  • Service gives opportunity for us to follow Jesus Christ’s example. We’re like Him when we serve generously to the glory of God.
  • Service to others following Jesus’ example contains a hidden beatitude: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17, ESV). The ones putting knowledge into practice through humbly serving others manifests lives blessed by Christ.

If you tend to think menial acts of service are not too worthwhile, then consider the humble example Jesus gave. The greatest Teacher and exalted Lord humbly served others. He calls disciples to follow His example. Be like him; serve for his glory. His promise of blessing in serving the Jesus-way brings great joy.