Exploring Spiritual Disciplines: Service

Seth Garcia   -  

When I graduated from undergrad at Harding University, our professors had a small ceremony for the graduating class. Each student was presented with a personalized framed message from one of our professors, and my message from Dr. Dale Manor is currently on my desk in my office. Every student was also given another gift: a small handcrafted bowl with a wrapped piece of cloth. This resides on my side table near Dr. Manor’s message, and while it is a bit more abstract, the point was clear.

With this gift, our professors alluded to one of the most moving moments in the ministry of Jesus. A moment that ministers (and all Christians, for that matter) are meant to emulate.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Washing feet was the job of the slaves and servants in Judea. The grime and dirt of the road would be caked on to the feet, made into mud with sweat, and the lowest people would be tasked with washing the feet of guests in a home. In this moment, Jesus is making himself like the lowest of all. Washing the feet of men who have continually been arguing who is the greatest, who would never stoop so metaphorically and literally low to wash each others feet. But Jesus shows them what servanthood looks like.

There is a difference between serving and being a servant. We are called to both by Jesus. But when our service is found apart from servanthood, it is almost always self-serving. A service that expects a reward or return is not real service it all. It is bribery. Those who would pray to God as if God is a vending machine, who act as if their love and devotion to God requires a blessing from the heavens have entirely missed the point. When we serve from the position of the servant, we never expect a reward. The return on investment is the flourishing of the Kingdom of God, not the flourishing of our personal life, emotional state, or financial situation.

Just like in our discussion of submission, we must also realize that servanthood does not mean intentionally degrading ourselves. Instead, it means that we are seeing the image of God in all humanity, an image that is worth serving. It is with that in mind that we can humble ourselves to everyone around us and live a life of service.