Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bible Study John 13:1-17 Servant Leadership - Real Meaning of Feet-Washing

Chapter 13 to 16 recorded the events and discussion of Jesus with His disciples in the upper room. It began with the supper.

Q1 How much did Jesus love His disciples? How can you tell?
He loved them completely, to the uttermost, or to the very end. 13:1
Jesus knew His time for the cross is near and yet it did not consume His whole attention. His attention was on His disciples. He was leaving them and yet they were not mature.

Some weeks earlier, in Mat 20:21-23 they were asking to seat on Jesus' right and left hands in His new kingdom. In this supper time, when there were no servants, none of the disciples bothered to wash their feet. "During the meal" v4, Jesus got up to wash their feet.

Q2 What is the teaching of this washing of feet by Jesus? How could we apply it today?


Let's observe the following facts:
  1. Feet need to be washed before entering the room.
  2. Washing of feet was the job of the lowest rank servant.
  3. None of the disciples offered to wash feet. Everyone considered himself at least equal with others if not higher in rank.
  4. Much time was given for them to realize this and no one did. So Jesus, in the midst of the meal, got up and washed their feet.
  5. The washing of feet physically at this time was not necessary as they already started their meal.
  6. Jesus got up and washed their feet.
  7. Peter objected first (we will come back to Peter's response in next question)
  8. Jesus explained to them that:
    1. Jesus, as teacher and Lord, did the act as a teaching.
    2. The teaching is about doing the lowly but needful task of washing feet of one another.
The Meaning of Washing Feet in Today Context:
  1. No needful task is beyond the dignity of anyone, even the Leader, Boss or CEO.
  2. Task has no ranking (high honor or low esteem) only useful(needful) or not.
  3. Anyone who sees the need should just do it without considering one's rank or waiting for another to do it. 
  4. The Lord Jesus had sat the example to serve His disciples, and hence Leaders must serve their staff. He would is greatest must be the servant of all. (Matt 20:26) It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.
  5. The teaching of modern management is about serving the employees to serve the customers better. Happily served customers will be loyal and will reward the owners of the company.
  6. Such modern discovery of right management confirms Jesus teaching of 'If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them [John 13:17]'
Secondary Teachings that are not according to context:
  1. There are many commentators who see washing of dirt as cleaning away of sins and hence interpreted this as confessing of sins. 
  2. Washing of feet is interpreted as daily confessing of sins. We daily encounter the dirt of the earth and committed sins that we need to confess and wash.
  3. The whole body need not be washed because the body had been saved and cleaned by Christ already.
  4. Personally, I don't agree with such interpretation. Such over-spiritualisation of things will cause one to miss the main teaching and frequently creates misunderstanding and distortion. We need to stick to the context. Even though in v11 Jesus said 'not all of you are clean' to refer to the sin of betrayal of Judas Iscariot.   The main teaching is about 'no one want to wash feet' and Jesus as Lord and teacher show them the example of serving by washing their feet.
  5. There are people who practice washing of feet as ceremonies. They say it encourages humility. Personally, such for show things defeat the purpose and distort the teaching of humility. Humility is about doing things quietly and not about showing-off. Doing something unnecessary to show that one is humble is ridiculous.  A bit like the some of the rich giving to charity to show that they are loving but actually they are doing it for their popularity.
Jesus was able to be humble because of who he is and what he already know. He is secured. 13:3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God.

Q3 Explain Peter's discourse with Jesus
  1. Peter first refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet because it was against his belief of "the junior must serve the senior" and so how could Jesus, his teacher, wash his, his student's feet. This wrong mental attitude was what Jesus wanted to change.
  2. Jesus explained to Peter that if he does not accept the washing, i.e. the right way of Jesus' disciples behavior, then Peter cannot be His team of disciples. Disciples must do what their Teachers do.
  3. If washing feet means relationship with Jesus, then Peter wanted more of that relationship and hence wanted the whole body to be washed.
  4. Jesus was happy that Peter wanted more of relationship but Peter really did not understand the point He was making. One needs to understand the real needs and not be confused about the real issue. It was not about bathing but about no one wanting to do the needful thing of washing feet after walking on the streets.
Q4 What have we learned from Jesus in this feet washing incidence?
We learn the following 2 things:

1. Greatness is about Serving others & It is measured by how much and the impact that you benefit others.

2. Teaching is by doing first and then explaining.

Humility lesson cannot be taught but by doing first. It is leading by example.
The most effective form of teaching is modelling the right behavior. Children are good at following their parents behavior rather than what they say.

Or Leadership is about serving and leading by example.
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