In my last blog post, we looked at the relational characteristics of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy, boast, nor proud. Love does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking or easily angered and does not keep record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails.”
These relational traits of love don’t take root in our lives by merely knowing about them. And simply trying harder doesn’t work either. Also, these relational traits of love are not just learned behaviors, but must spring from the heart.
Loving each other like this 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. (And of course, love is required in all relationships and situations.)
How do we learn to love like this? We learn character and relational skills (like love) by observing others as they model these skills and coach us in developing them. Jesus demonstrated this approach for learning how to love others in the passage below from John 13:1-17:
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
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!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean.
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.
John introduced this account of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet in John 13:1, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The Amplified Bible further explains the nuances of the original meaning, “He loved them to the last and to the highest degree.” And another rendering reads, “Having loved His own, He now showed them the full extent of His love.”[i]
But how did Jesus washing His disciples’ feet demonstrate “the full extent of his love”? John is not referring to Jesus’ crucifixion here, but to His loving act of humble service toward His followers by washing their feet.
If Jesus washing His disciples’ feet demonstrates “the full extent of his love,” and He tells us that He did this to set an example for us to follow (verse 15), then we need to pay very close attention to what He was doing here! But first, let me say that Jesus’ example here is not ultimately about foot-washing. If we land there, we’ve missed the point.
Let’s analyze this example that Jesus gave us on how to love each other by looking at what Jesus did. Consider the following six elements of Jesus’ example for loving others.
Six Elements of Jesus’ Example for Loving Others
1. Love others especially when we’re prone to focus on self.
The evening in which Jesus demonstrated this act of love is the same evening that Judas betrayed Him, and the rest of His disciples abandoned Him. In only a few hours from this act of love He would be hanging on a cross in agony, bearing the sins of the world. He knew that. John makes it clear in verses 1-3 and 11 that Jesus knew this.
I don’t know about you, but I have to psych myself up just to go to the dentist! Can you imagine the horrors that would plague one’s mind who knew he was about to endure torture and die a gruesome death? Jesus was fully aware of all that. Yet at the very time in which He would’ve been tempted to be preoccupied with self, He directed His attention toward His disciples. This point goes a long way to explaining why His humble act of service demonstrated “the full extent of His love.”
We must follow Jesus’ example and love others, especially when we’re prone to focus on self!
2. Being confident of who we are in the Lord frees us to love and serve others humbly.
This point, like the first one, is also counter intuitive. John 13:3-5 says:
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.
Did you catch that? Jesus, knowing that He possessed all authority and power in the universe, humbled Himself to wash His disciples’ feet. He performed this act of love because of, not in spite of, who He is.
Who are we in Christ? How does God view us? We are His children—but not by birth or by right. We are His children because He chose us, redeemed us, and adopted us. He has given us full standing as His kids, so now we can demonstrate His love to others in the same way He has for us. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us a s a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Like Jesus, being confident of who we are in the Lord frees us to love and serve others humbly.
3. Love often finds its greatest expression in small, simple acts.
When this event took place, foot-washing was a common act of courtesy performed by the servant of one’s host. Walking was the primary mode of transportation and the roads were dusty. Very simply, one’s feet got hot and dirty. Therefore, a gracious host would offer foot-washing to refresh his or her guests.
With foot washing so common and menial, why would Jesus choose it as a means to show His disciples “the full extent of his love”? Precisely because it is a small, simple act.
Love often finds its greatest expression in small, simple acts. Washing the dishes for one’s spouse; generously tipping a server; offering a kind word to someone who is having a tough day; overlooking an intended slight and returning kindness instead. These small, simple acts of love truly demonstrate the full extent of our love for others. Such thoughtfulness and attention to other’s needs is extraordinary. Such is the love Jesus modeled for us. Love often finds its greatest expression in small, simple acts.
Next week, I’ll offer the additional three elements of this great expression of love by Jesus. Meanwhile, let’s look for ways to express love to others in the same way Jesus did.
[i] New International Version, 1984.