2. Jesus knew His incredible stature, infinite authority, and eternal position in the heavenly realm (v. 3). He served from those strengths. Christ-following leaders also possess an identity, origin, and heavenly calling that enable service with strength beyond our natural limits. “Chosen from the foundation of the world,” “more than conquerors,” “I am with you always,” “Feed My sheep,” and “You shall be My witnesses” are just a few biblical statements of our identity and describe the power available in that.
Military leaders bring gifts of training, education, experience, and influence within their areas of responsibility for use to accomplish the mission—and to serve those under their charge. Scheduling events while considering subordinates’ family needs, interceding when red tape frustrates a junior airman’s legitimate personnel requests, and taking the extra time to encourage and coach a new young leader are ways to use those giftings God has provided. As we consider the Spirit’s further enabling of believers walking in their calling, we see that we come to the table of service empowered with resources well beyond what is humanly visible. Our prayers for God’s wisdom and power, witness of Christ’s character, and encouragement of His promises are for the Christ-following leaders’ use every day.
3. Jesus knew that action was necessary (vv. 4-5). The need for washing feet was two-fold. After a full day of walking dusty paths shared by people and animals alike, the disciples’ feet were filthy. But beyond clean feet, Jesus’ followers most needed a heart transformation. For three years they had been shown how to serve, and now this final lesson was meant to be etched deeply inside every disciple.
Christ’s directive in verse 15, “For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you,” foretold the effect His service was to have on their future mission—soon sent out as Jesus’ own hands and feet to the world. He was serving them for both that day’s need and their long-term ones. Because today’s military leaders rarely have the same subordinates for more than two or three years, selfless commanders have short-term and long-term views of how to serve them. Such leaders will consider paying the cost of subordinates’ short-term availability if it also benefits their long-term development.
4. Jesus knew that even simple acts of service can foster the redemptive work of the gospel profoundly in others. That work may seem purely physical or emotional, but such work reflects God’s gospel heart manifest in His compassion and care for His people. In Peter’s case, it opened a momentous dialog that turned his view of leadership upside down after first objecting to the Master’s humble service. Works of service can elicit probing questions, open despairing hearts to hope, and lead to an opportunity to share truth “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
5. Jesus knew that service may require releasing impediments to serve effectively. As Lord of all, Jesus didn’t “count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6). Neither did He clench the trappings of His rabbinical office. Never relinquishing His authority, Jesus rid Himself of the garments signifying His rabbinical stature, dressed as a servant, and washed the feet of the disciples He created.
Military leaders don symbols of their position, authority, and responsibility. Insignia of rank, gestures of military courtesy, staff to assist, and deferential treatment by subordinates are some of the necessary elements to provide for order, discipline, and effectiveness within the profession of arms. They are not meant to be barriers to the mutual respect, care, consideration, and service God calls military leaders to manifest, especially Christ-followers.
Jesus knew His love for the disciples. He knew His service was to meet their needs and He knew the lofty resources He brought to meet those needs. He knew action was required, and He shed the symbols of His office to serve in powerful humility.
Impotent or powerful? Service in the world’s pattern, or service with the mind of Christ? Jesus’ servant leadership resonates through His disciples of that day and those of us centuries later. Will we serve in Jesus’ mode?