Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that His hour had come that He would depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And 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 handed all things over to Him, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper and laid His outer garments aside; and He took a towel and tied it around Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began washing the disciples’ feet and wiping them with the towel which He had tied around Himself.
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“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.” (John 13:1–5, 34–35 NASB)
Growing up in a Missionary Baptist church, I am sure the first song I learned was “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” It was taught to me as a very young Sunday School attender. I sang it during our Sunday School meetings and in front of the church during those programs loved by parents and grandparents, and a few extroverted kids.
The love of Jesus is a given for us, at least cognitively. We are so comfortable with the idea that Jesus loves us – which, yes, is true – that we may even take it for granted. While definitely good doctrine, Jesus’s love isn’t merely cognitive; it is a matter of selfless sacrifice, as was his entire life and ministry. The week leading up to Easter is called Passion Week, because the word “passion” stems from a Latin word which originally meant “to endure suffering.” Also called Holy Week, it is the seven-day run-up to the excruciation of the cross for Jesus, his humiliation that led to our redemption. The cross and all its horrors cast a shadow over this entire week, during which Jesus was in the city he would come to die in. And, of course, the love displayed in selfless sacrifice yet and still exudes from his person, his actions, and his activities.
Jesus was so full of love and wanted to hammer home how deeply he expected his followers to love one another, so he provided a display. Jesus demonstrated the kind of love that led him to the cross, the kind of love he wanted us to have for one another. The foot washing at the beginning of John 13 points to the new commandment near the chapter’s end. Jesus first demonstrated the love then said, “Do likewise.” All the while, his death – and his taking on the sins of the world – hung over the entire situation, looming incredibly near.
And in his call to us to love one another the way he did, we are told in this passage what he was thinking. His act of service came from his knowledge as well as his heart. We read that Jesus knew two things: 1) that his hour had come – in other words, he knew that he was about to die – and 2) that the Father handed all things over to him and he was going back to the God he came from. And we read that Jesus felt a tremendous love, having loved his own until the end. In light of this knowledge and this love, Jesus knelt down and served his disciples by washing their dirty feet.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, he calls us to know and to feel as well, because love is a decision and an action as well as a feeling. Peter was aware of this, encouraging the church in his writing, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22 NIV).
Christian love for one another involves knowing our God and his love for us and for all who are made in his image. Christian love for one another involves knowing who we are in Christ and appreciating all he has done for us. Christian love for one another involves loving both God and others from the heart and as a matter of the will.
Christian love is good doctrine, but more than that, it is beyond a cognitive act. It is meant to be true warmth, selfless invitation, familial fondness, and intentional action. Where Christian love exists, service will be present, service that is preceded by heart and posture, will and intention – serving one another as Jesus did, in the humblest of ways. Christian love is the atmosphere that dominates the presence of the Kingdom.
Sacrificial service is not just about the act but the knowing and feeling, which set the stage for the act. Sacrificial service points beyond ourselves, beyond those who are serving and being served, to direct attention to the One who calls, who sets in motion the opportunity, who provides the gifts and resources, whose love is the source of the service. Jesus knew exactly who he is; therefore, he could serve humbly and sincerely, without pretense.
It is one thing to verbalize love, to proudly declare that love as sound biblical doctrine. And it is another for that love to manifest itself in humble and faithful service that comes from the heart, to have a posture of service toward one another that comes from godly, Christ-like love. That is what Jesus seeks to shape his followers to become, people who love one another from the heart and by their will and thus serve one another selflessly.
How does the sound doctrine of the love of Christ manifest itself in our active, sacrificial acts of serving one another in love?
—Written by Wayne Stapleton, VP of Cross-Cultural Engagement and Emerging Leader Engagement