People who enjoy God enjoy serving others. They are always eager to mow someone’s lawn, help someone move, change someone’s oil, or watch someone’s kids. A lot of their things are missing because they have lent them out and not gotten them back. They would rather they did have them back, but it causes them no grief. At least they are being used. They probably would have given them to the friend (and almost everyone is a friend) if they had asked. They take Matthew 5:42 fairly literally, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
You never really feel as if you are putting people out who enjoy God and enjoy service. You don’t feel as if it is a ministry for them. It doesn’t seem a cross they bear. They act as if they really do enjoy it. It seems to work for them—finding life by giving it away ( Matthew 10:39). For some reason, this does not make you want to take advantage of them, although you may fear people will want to take advantage of you if you adopt this philosophy. Quite the opposite, they make themselves so vulnerable that you almost want to protect them from being taken advantage of. On the other hand, you sense they really do not mind. They really honestly do want to help.
I think of my friend, Wayne Berryhill. You have probably never heard of Wayne, but you know someone like him in your church. I feel sure that many famous servants of God will line up behind Wayne on the Judgment Day. Helping is a way of life for Wayne. He is not interested in controlling; he is interested in helping. Whether it is driving six hours one way to deliver children to camp and paying his own way at the hotel, or changing the oil in a van or running a piddly errand, Wayne is glad to help.
I think of people like Dr. and Mrs. Commander, an eighty-year-old retired minister and wife, who still make twenty visits a week to elderly shut-ins! While many take the attitude that they have served their time and they will let someone wait on them, they keep serving. Why? Because they have learned that real joy in God is in knowing Him and serving Him. And they will let no one take their joy from them by serving them and not letting them serve.
This is not an issue of spiritual gifts. People with gifts of service will serve differently from people with gifts of administration or teaching. The issue here is attitude. It is service. It is willingness. Dads do not have to have the gift of diaper changing to change diapers. You don’t need a particular gift to help with the lawn.
People who enjoy God do not live just for the reward in heaven. The reward is in the serving itself. Oh yes, they look forward to that day, but they enjoy the act of washing feet.
Notice how tight the relationship is in this passage between obedience, love, and joy: (John 15:9-12 ) “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
A towel is probably a better symbol of Christianity than anything else. Perhaps we should all wear a towel around the arm, ready to serve. It was with reference to the towel that Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” ( John 13:14)
Foot washing was not a ritual. It was not a religious ceremony, as some have made it. Several centuries earlier Alexander the Great had come through to conquer the known world—not only militarily and politically, but socially and culturally; he loved the Greek culture and wanted to make the world Greek. This is why the New Testament is written in Greek, even though the world was dominated by Roman rule at the time.
In the expression of Greek culture, Alexander built libraries and gymnasiums and public baths with elaborate hot and cold tubs. So, in Jesus’ day, the people would go to the public baths to bathe. With open sandals and dirt roads, their feet would grow uncomfortably dirty in travel. It was a courtesy, therefore, to have a slave ready to wash people’s feet as they entered a house, much as we place rest rooms at the entrance of restaurants for people to wash up. We make our children wash their hands before meals. We think of washing our hands; they thought of having someone wash their feet.
At the disciples’ last meal together, this courtesy had been forgotten, and everyone knew it. The issue of foot washing seems to us an unusual interruption, but it was not to them. It was the conscious predominant thought of everyone there.
Suppose the youth of the church decide to put on a formal appreciation dinner for their parents. It is a black tie affair. They decorate, dress up, and fix a fine dinner of salad, rolls, prime rib, and all the extras, a seven course affair. They even have a souffle for dessert. It is a sit-down affair where the students serve their parents. After the meal, there is a guest speaker.
The youth, however, forget one little courtesy. They don’t realize that it is proper to remove the plates from one course before the next is served. As the courses come and go and the plates of uneaten food begin to stack up, there is hardly a place for the dessert plate. If a parent stood up and began helping the youth by removing the plates, no one would wonder why they were doing it. It would not be a surprise that someone did it, only that a parent did it—since it was all supposed to be served by the youth.
In the same way that the dirty dishes piled high was an obvious reminder of a courtesy left undone, these men’s dirty feet were an obvious reminder of a neglected task, and everyone knew it. The only question was, who would do the courtesy.
We need people to serve on committees and all. But much more, we need people to wear towels.
When Jesus told us to wash one another’s feet. He was saying to do the most mundane, dirty, lowly tasks. Everyone in that day knew this. We have high and mighty concepts of service. People serve the church by being elected to sit on some board. The emphasis is on sitting. The emphasis of serving begins when the sitting stops. Not that these things do not need to be done. And I am not saying that these are not examples of service, or that I am not grateful that people do them. But people who enjoy God never confuse honorific positions with foot washing. Foot washing is washing dishes and changing oil and driving children to camp and visiting shut ins and (here is the kicker) no one knows but the people you serve. In fact, if you see to it that others have to know what you do, all the benefit, in terms of reward, is lost (Matthew 6:1 ). We need people to serve on committees and all. But much more, we need people to wear towels.