It’s February 1, the start of the month of love. In two week’s time, couples will be showering each other with thoughtful gifts and social media will be filled with “Significant-Other-Appreciation-Posts.” Because of this, many single people become depressed about their relationship status. Don’t get me wrong – celebrating the love between two people is a beautiful thing, and I look forward to experiencing it myself one day. But the season that’s meant to be a celebration of love can be twisted into an amplification of self focus if we’re not intentional about seeking ways to serve others.
What if we viewed this Valentine’s season as more than a time for cupid, flowers, chocolates, and romance? What would it look like if we considered Jesus’ example of love in John 13 instead of focusing solely on the romance of the season?
Finding true love in unexpected places
Imagine that you are one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. You’ve walked miles and miles as you’ve followed Jesus and watched Him perform miracles and teach the crowds. You’re about to celebrate your third Passover in Jesus’ presence. John records the event as happening like this:
“Now before the Feast of Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:1-5
Jesus demonstrated His love for His disciples through an act of service – washing their stinking, grimy feet. This was considered to be so demeaning a task that it was left for the servants to do. For whatever reason, the servants didn’t complete this task on this specific evening. So Jesus humbled himself and washed His disciples’ feet Himself.
This was a display of true love. It wasn’t self-serving. It wasn’t conceited or self-absorbed. Jesus humbled Himself and became like a servant. He sacrificed and gave of Himself. And this was only a sneak peak into the greatest offering of love in history that was soon to come.
Loving the unlovable even when it’s hard
If this kind of sacrificial love and servanthood is imitated in a relationship, the results are radical. But we are called to this kind of self-giving love in more than just our romantic relationships and friendships, but also to those who are difficult to love.
John goes on to write in verse 12, “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” John 13:12-15
Jesus washed all of the disciples feet, even though he knew that Judas Iscariot would betray Him. Judas had pretended to be Jesus’ friend and devoted follower for years, but he would soon play the part of the backstabber and forsake Him. Jesus knew this full well, but He still washed Judas’ feet. If Jesus served even His betrayer, what does that mean for us, 2,000 years later?
To be honest, I have a hard enough time swallowing the idea that I’m called to serve my friends and family. But I’m also called to serve the one who’s hard to love, the enemy, the betrayer? Jesus’ command is for us to follow His example – and this includes loving those who are hard to love.
Serving others to serve Him
As I’ve spent time reading this passage and praying through it, God has brought to light some areas of my life where I’ve been resisting. My heart has been stubbornly refusing to be a servant in some of my relationships. But if I’m going to follow Jesus’ example and wash others’ feet as He has washed mine, I need to die to myself and ask God for a servant’s heart.
We all have those people in our lives who are difficult to love. You know who I’m talking about – It could be a co-worker, or an in-law, or a so-called friend. Something inside our stubborn hearts bristles at the thought of serving these people. But Jesus asks us to follow His example in loving those who make our lives difficult. God can work through these people to bring about our sanctification and to make us more like the image of His son.
Imagine that you are sitting with the disciples at dinner. Jesus has finished washing your feet and you see Him wash the feet of all of His disciples, including Judas. Then Jesus holds out the basin and towel to you. Whose feet is He calling you to wash?