This is the continuation of last week’s blog post in which we saw that the traits of love are relational. We also noted that meeting those characteristics of godly love requires at least two factors: an inner transformation that only God’s Spirit can bring about in us; and spending time with others in situations where love is required.
We learn character and relational skills (like love) by observing others as they model these skills and coach us in developing them. We read John 13:1-17, in which Jesus showed us how to love like this through His example of washing His disciples’ feet. This act of love was particularly notable because it occurred just hours before Judas betrayed Jesus.
Last week, we began analyzing Jesus’ example of how to love each other and I introduced the first three of six characteristics of Jesus’ example for loving others. Here are those first three again:
- Love others especially when you’re prone to focus on self.
- Being confident of who we are in the Lord frees us to love and serve others humbly.
- Love often finds its greatest expression in small, simple acts.
So, let’s consider the final three characteristics of Jesus’ example on how we are to love each other.
4. Love is never wasted on those who refuse it or fail to appreciate it.
The text is clear that when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples Judas ultimately refused His love and Peter failed to appreciate it at first. But that didn’t stop Jesus from serving them. The fact that His love was rejected reinforces that Jesus demonstrated to them “the full extent of His love.”
It’s amazing to me that Jesus washed Judas’ feet knowing that he would betray Him that very night. Jesus extended His love with no strings attached. With shame I can think of times when I have withheld my love and service from others because I felt unappreciated. Jesus’ love transcends rejection and that’s how He wants us to love. Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15) He wants us to love others without thought for how they will respond to our love.
Judas refused Jesus’ love—completely. Had he embraced Jesus’ love, even after betraying Him, there would have been as much hope for him as there was for the other disciples who denied Jesus and abandoned Him. But Jesus walked away from supper that night knowing that He had genuinely extended His love to Judas just like everyone else. He had loved all His disciples to the fullest extent and to the very end. Not one of them was disadvantaged.
We have a difficult time believing that love is never wasted on those who refuse it or fail to appreciate it. When our attempts at love are rejected, refused, or simply unnoticed by others, we find it easy to become angry or cynical. We need God’s grace in such situations. We must follow Christ’s example and trust Him with the results. We must be faithful to Christ in our love for others.
5. Love others by allowing them to serve you.
A fifth lesson from Jesus’ example in John 13 is to love others by allowing them to serve you. Many who delight in serving others struggle profoundly with allowing others to serve them. Giving Peter the benefit of the doubt, he may have thought he was responding to Jesus in humility by rejecting His offer to wash his feet. Peter initially refused Jesus’ act of love. Jesus responded to him, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” In other words, Jesus urged Peter, “Let Me serve you now and shortly you’ll understand why.”
Yet Peter refused even more strongly saying, “No, You shall never wash my feet.” To which Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.” (John 13:7-8) Only then did Peter relent and let Jesus wash his feet.
When Jesus finished washing His disciples’ feet, He explained to them that He, their Lord and Teacher, had performed this humble act of love as an example for them. Now they should do the same for each other. Jesus’ example obviously requires that we allow others to serve us as well, otherwise we could not do the same for each other.
Our unwillingness to receive love and be served by others (and God) is deeply ingrained in many of us and stems from pride. Some time ago, about a dozen of us in our church family stepped up to meet a significant financial medical need for one of our families. But the family said they didn’t want a “hand-out.” I urged this family to reconsider and challenged them to exercise love in receiving this gift.
We had not known that their inability to accept love and service from others had stolen their joy for many years. God began working in their hearts and revealed to them the veiled pride that their attitude projected. In the end, they humbly accepted the loving gifts of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Their loving act of receiving others’ love changed them profoundly and demonstrated for them the love of God in ways they’d never known. When we refuse to allow others to serve or love us, we deny them a great privilege and much joy. Jesus teaches us to love others by allowing them to serve us.
6. We learn to love others in the context of community.
The sixth lesson we glean from Jesus’ example is that we learn to love others in the context of community. Jesus specifically chose this opportunity to demonstrate love with all His disciples present. He wanted all of them (even Peter and Judas) to experience His loving act and His example of how to love. In this context of community Jesus said, “I have set you [plural] an example that you [plural] should do as I have done for you [plural].”
Jesus was leaving His disciples (and us) very clear instructions on how to coach and model love for others—the same way He had done for them. We learn to love others in the context of community. You and I cannot learn to love each other apart from spending time with each other and placing ourselves in situations where love is required.
We learn to love others in the context of community. Love is contagious! When we experience others’ love for us or watch a brother or sister in Christ extend love for someone else, they model love for us. And love begets love.
In 1 John 4:11-12, John writes something profound. “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us.” (NLT, emphasis added) When we genuinely love others, “God’s love is brought to full expression in us!” This is amazing! What a privilege! God wants others to see Him in us. It’s part of His divine plan to demonstrate the full expression of His love through us. Wow!