In John 13, we see the beautiful place of humility the Son of God took before His own disciples. The passage reads,
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
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. 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” (John 13:1, 4–5, 12–15, NIV).
In the Asian culture, it is difficult to even grasp this kind of event taking place! A master stooping down to wash his servants’ feet?! Only slaves do that! Yet here we see the Creator of the universe, the Lord of lords and the King of kings who became the Son of Man, bending down to wash the dusty feet of His disciples.
Everywhere you travel across this world, you will find people driven to exalt themselves, some in a blatant manner and some in subtle ways, but all somehow driven to be recognized and known. But in John 13, we see the exact opposite happening. The One who, above all else, should be exalted, here is stooping low. And not low before powerful kings and rulers, but before ordinary men— His own disciples—men rough around the edges, feet worn and dusty from days of travel. All for one reason: “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15, emphasis mine).
In the early years of my serving the Lord, I struggled with this inner desire to be recognized and esteemed, as I’m sure many of us do, even in Christian service. However, this should really have no place in the life of the child of God.
When we behold Christ and realize the example He has given us, our lives and our pride should immediately bow—not just because of what was done, but because of who did it! If the Son of God could humble Himself before His disciples, how can I not humble myself in dealing with my brothers and sisters?
Every situation that comes in our lives in which we feel that inner urge to fight for our way needs to be seen as an instrument of God to shape us into a humble servant. As we choose to bow low, just like Jesus, we begin to mirror Him. And each day becomes more and more, “He must increase . . . I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Consider the position that 1 Peter 5:5–6 (NIV) tells us to take: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
Oftentimes when we read this verse, we think the part that says, “He will lift you up” automatically means positions, titles, degrees or recognition. But this is far from what Christ meant. Humility cannot be used as a stepping stone to personal promotion. It is a dangerous thing for those in the Lord’s service to live with the secret desire to be recognized, feel important, “climb the ladder” or be esteemed and rewarded by men.
Humility allows Christ’s life to be perfected in us. But pride, the opposite of humility, works death in us. To be exalted, honored and recognized was the desire of Lucifer. He was not content with what God had chosen for him so he decided to exalt himself: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14: 13). Because of this Lucifer fell, rejected by God because of the pride in his heart. All sin originated in pride and self-exaltation. But our salvation originated in Christ humbling Himself by His death on the cross.
Philippians 2:3–4 tells us, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
How does that translate into our lives? We can say with our lips, “I am small,” but in our minds we are big. We have our education, our position and our possessions. We can look at someone and say, “This person is more important than I am” all we want. But we must live that out, demonstrating humility, if we are to be changed.
In dealing with others, it helps if we realize that we could be in another’s situation. If it weren’t for the grace of God, that beggar on the street could be me.
In the late 1960s when I was in Rajasthan, we would hire three-wheel rickshaw taxis to get us around. The passengers would sit on the back seat with their luggage, while the rickshaw driver would sit on the front seat and peddle. For two hours of peddling, a driver would commonly receive about 10 rupees (equivalent to about 20 U.S. cents).
One day, I was riding in a rickshaw on my way to a meeting. It was the middle of summer, and the heat was overwhelming. As I sat in the back seat of the rickshaw, I watched my driver. He was an old man, all skin and bones, the veins in his neck bulging from the strain and the heat. He had no shirt on, and sweat poured down his body. “This is terrible!” I thought to myself. Here was this old man peddling so hard to get me up this huge hill, in the middle of the summer heat. Certainly I had much more strength than he. I said to myself, “If it were not for the grace of God, I would be doing this job.”
So I told the driver to stop the rickshaw. He quit peddling and, concerned he had done something wrong, asked, “What happened?” I said, “Nothing is wrong. I just want you to give me the handlebars and you go and sit on the back.” He couldn’t believe it! I got on the front seat of that rickshaw and peddled the rest of the way. When I got to my destination, I gave him a Gospel tract and paid him more money than he deserved. The man was blown away by what he had witnessed and experienced.
Truth is, I never could have done something like that if I thought I was better than that man. It is only in seeing Christ’s humility and esteeming others better than myself that I am able to love my fellow man and walk humbly with him. As we embrace these opportunities, the sweet love of Jesus flows out of our lives, drawing all men to Him.
Again and again, as the disciples traveled with Jesus, they saw His humility, His tears and His gentleness. Anyone could approach Him; there was no high-mindedness in His response to anyone. From the worst in the society to the most refined in the community, all could approach Him. He who knew their every sin and fl aw still embraced them. Each was treated with dignity and compassion. This is the humility of Christ. And He did this so that we might do as He has done.
© 2003, 2004 by KP Yohannan, the president and founder of Gospel for Asia. It was written with the intention of encouraging and edifying the Body of Christ. To learn more about Gospel for Asia or to receive additional free resources, visit Gospel for Asia’s website.