I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Being a Servant Leader Like Jesus
Gary Ingrid, in his book A Call to Excellence, gave a wonderful illustration on biblical servanthood from the life of the evangelist Dwight L. Moody. He wrote:
A large group of European pastors came to one of D. L. Moody’s Northfield Bible Conferences in Massachusetts in the late 1800s. Following the European custom of the time, each guest put his shoes outside his room to be cleaned by the hall servants overnight. But of course this was America and there were no hall servants.
Walking the dormitory halls that night, Moody saw the shoes and determined not to embarrass his brothers. He mentioned the need to some ministerial students who were there, but was met with only silence or pious excuses. Moody returned to the dorm, gathered up the shoes, and, alone in his room, one of the world’s most famous evangelist's at the time, began to clean and polish the shoes. Only the unexpected arrival of a friend in the midst of the work revealed the secret.
When the foreign visitors opened their doors the next morning, their shoes were shined. They never knew by whom. Moody told no one, but his friend told a few people, and during the rest of the conference, different men volunteered to shine the shoes in secret. Perhaps the episode is a vital insight into why God used D. L. Moody as He did. He was a man with a servant’s heart and that was the basis of his true greatness.
But of course Moody was only following both the commands and the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, the One whom he served. As a matter of fact Jesus once spoke to his disciples in Mark 10:42-45, when they got mad at James and John for wanting to be on Jesus' right and left hand in His Kingdom. The Lord told all of them:
"You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles LORD it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus wanted his followers to lead with humility, as He Himself did. And the Lord demonstrated his teachings in many ways, including taking the time to wash the feet of His 12 Apostles.
I. Foot Washing and Servanthood
In the days of Jesus, people wore sandals. And in their journeys, feet became dusty and dirty. You couldn't walk on the streets or in the mountains or valleys without your feet needing to be bathed. It was for that reason that it was common courtesy for a host to provide a servant to his house guests who would wash their feet.
And on one such occasion our Lord gave this most impressive of lessons to His disciples, and to us who read of it 2000 years later. He took upon Himself the role of servant by doing a task that most would have considered beneath them, including the 12 disciples whose feet were about to be bathed by their master.
In this passage, found in John 13:1-17, Jesus and his Apostles were about to partake of the Last Supper together before He was to be crucified a short time later.
The Lord took the basin and the towel and physically showed them what he wanted all of those who would follow him to do to each other, as well as all that they encounter in their lives and ministries. Then after doing this humble act, here is what He tells His disciples:
“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:12b-17).
But this wasn't the first time Jesus showed a servant heart. Our Lord, in coming to earth to be born as a man, to live a perfect sinless life and finally to die for our sins, displayed the ultimate act of servanthood. (Philippians 2:1-11), His whole life on this earth was an example to us that the way to greatness is by being servant of all (Mark 10:44).
However, His Apostles, like us today, needed to be reminded. For Him it was a natural thing to do. We, however, have to be taught. And this illustration that Jesus gave that day was a physical demonstration of how we are to behave. The two eternal things in this world are God and our fellow human beings, created in His image. And we show our love for God by the way we serve our fellow men.
II. The Servant's Feet
And when talking about Jesus' servant heart, we can't help but realize that he wasn't afraid to get His own feet dirty, going out into the highways and byways of life. He often associated with those who would not be considered "worthy" by many in society. An example of this is found in Mark 2:13-17. It tells us this:
"And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eats and drinks with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he said to them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
The type of people Jesus spent time with, we tend to shun today as well. I'm wondering if we would make them feel comfortable if they darkened the doors of our churches . But the honest truth is that most won't come to our Sunday services. We have to get our own feet dirty and go to them.
A wonderful example of what Jesus taught His disciples comes from William Booth (1829-1912), the founder of the Salvation Army. He and his wife Catherine displayed servants hearts with dusty feet. And by the year 2005 the Salvation Army was in 111 countries, working with those who were most needy.
William Booth is quoted as saying of the organization that he created:
"It was for the wife beaters, cheats and bullies, boys who had stolen the family food money, unfaithful husbands, burglars and teamsters who had been cruel to their horses."
He and his wife started the Army to go into the inner cities with compassion and caring for the least in society. And they daily left the security of their own home to go out and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to those in the streets of the world's greatest cities. Booth had a well known saying that he was famous for:
"Go for souls, and go for the worst."
C.H. Spurgeon once said that: "If the Salvation Army were wiped out of London, five thousand extra policemen could not fill it's place in the repression of crime and disorder."
It had and continues to have, to this day, a profound affect on our world for Christ All because of one man, and his wife, who were willing to get their feet dirty, like the Master that they loved.
III. The Response of Those Served
We all need to be ready to serve the Lord and get dirty. However, we must also know that not all of our encounters with those served will be positive. Those we wish to serve may object. In Jesus' washing of his Apostle's feet the idea that their Master and Lord would stoop to do such a menial task probably embarrassed them all. But Peter was the one who spoke up about it. When Jesus came to wash his feet, he said:
"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." (13:7-8)
Peter had failed to grasp the symbolism of what Jesus was doing. The Lord was not only demonstrating servanthood in general but was giving a physical demonstration of the spiritual cleansing that He was going to do on the cross of Calvary. This was Jesus' ultimate act of servanthood which was shortly to take place. He who knew no sin was ready to become sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21).
We see this fact even more clearly in the response of Peter and Jesus' answer to him. Peter goes to the other extreme and says:
"Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!"
But 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."
The Lord was making it clear in this act that if the Lamb of God doesn't cleanse your sins, your sins will never be cleansed and you can have no part in Him.
Peter's response was one of not feeling worthy to be served. We will have those like this whom we will encounter. But like Jesus, we must explain why we want to help and gently let them know that the Lord loves them and desires to help both their physical needs and their spiritual ones as well. And we must tell them that we are doing this, not only for them but also for the Lord.
Sadly, we will have others in our ministry who may be there and, like Judas, aren't grateful and aren't honest. Judas was out for himself and all that He could get from Jesus. And in the end, if it served his own agenda better, Judas was willing to betray his Lord to get what he wanted. We see this in verse 17 where it states:
"For He (i.e. Jesus) knew who was betraying Him, for this reason He said: 'Not all of you are clean."
What we should learn from this is that, even though we won't always get a good response, it shouldn't stop us from serving. There are those who need God's love and they will accept what we have to offer. We just have to remain faithful and trust God to lead us to them.
IV. Examples of Service
And there are many ways in which we, as Christ's servants can minister today. One modern day example of going out into the world Jesus loved is right in front of most of us as we drive to work, school or church. With today's economy, there seems to be an over abundance on the streets of most American cities those people who have signs saying something like: "Homeless, and hungry. Will work for food." While I realize that there are some scam artists out there, I can't help but think that many of them are legitimate. We must ask ourselves: "What would Jesus do?"
Maybe we can offer to give them work around our house for food, or a few dollars. And maybe we can actually make an offer to buy them a meal at a restaurant.
But we don't have to go to the streets. We can simply walk across the street of our home and meet our next door neighbor. It is interesting how few people even know the families that live in their very own neighborhood, let alone have any idea of their needs. We have to stop being afraid of reaching out to them and start getting involved in their lives. Let us not miss an opportunity to be like our Lord.
Maybe we'll find that there is a single mother that needs a babysitter near us. Or possibly a widow who has to have something repaired at her house, her grass mowed, or her driveway cleared of snow.
There are also countless fatherless children in our broken society that need a good male influence in their lives. Maybe a few men can take the time to mentor these young lives.
We might even find an older person, living alone, who is looking for someone to take them to a doctor's appointment.
These and many other small tasks are available to the servant of the Lord who is looking out for an opportunity to get their feet dirty.
It was Elizabeth Elliot that said:
Does God ask us to do what is beneath us? This question will never trouble us again if we consider the Lord of heaven taking a towel and washing feet."
Part of the problem with the Church of Jesus Christ today is that our own feet are too clean. We sit in our comfortable home and varnished pews and wait for the world to come to us. And then we ask them to be dressed in their Sunday best and to look, think and act like we do.
If they have an odor, have dirty clothes, or don't talk like they have at least a high school education, we tend to treat them differently than everyone else.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was and is a servant leader who was not afraid to allow Himself to interact with the world He came to save.
He didn't become a part of it. He was in the world, but not of it. He calls us to do the same. Let us not be afraid to go out and emulate His example.
I'd like to conclude this short study by saying: May we all be accused, by the world and by our fellow Christians, of having dusty feet. Because we're never more like Jesus, than when we serve!
© 2014 Jeff Shirley
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on July 28, 2020:
Thank you Jeshurun. It's good to have you in the family of God. Take care!!
Jeshurun from Nellore AP India on July 27, 2020:
Dear Bro. Thanks for mentioning the leborious gasple servant Bro.DL Moody from his spiritual life we learn more, elobarative explaining about servant hood. We have been got salvation
from Hindu Family...
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on October 14, 2014:
You're welcome MsDora. And thanks for stopping by.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 14, 2014:
GodTalk, you're loud and clear. Being comfortable among those whom we consider clean provides no opportunity for service. We need to look again at the example of Jesus. Thank you for this powerful reminder.
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on October 06, 2014:
Thanks sheilamyers for stopping by. You are right. Every time we walk out the door, there is a potential for ministry. We just need to be open to the Lord's leading throughout the day. God bless!
sheilamyers on October 06, 2014:
This is a great reminder of what part of our "job" as Christians is to be. I can't say I intentionally walk out my door to perform service, but I do it whenever the opportunity presents itself and that happens almost anytime we leave our house. God can and will use us wherever we go. All we have to do is open our eyes to the opportunities he lays in our path.
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on October 06, 2014:
Thank you Bill. I appreciate your kind words. And may the Lord continue to bless your ministry for Him.
William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on October 06, 2014:
Your conclusion alone was powerful. The line, "We have to stop being afraid of reaching out to them and start getting involved in their lives" says so much. Thanks Jeff, for a thought provoking hub that must be acted upon. Voted up! and shared.