John 13:1-17 : The Volunteer’s Mandate


This Easter will mark my eighth year at Christ Church and I’ve been reflecting on how the ministry has evolved in recent years. When I came, the ministry team basically consisted of me, the two Wardens, Phil and John, the two Readers, Anne and Enid, Margaret, the secretary and Jane the director of music, and a few house group leaders.


In the first five years, some of the most significant developments included building the Church Centre, growing the Sunday school, forming Advisory Groups, starting Community Bible Study and employing an assistant pastor, David Gibbs. These initiatives took us to a new level and the Lord blessed us as a church. But in the last three years we’ve developed a more coherent vision and five year plan. We’ve focused on expanding our ministry through people, paid and volunteer. The servant leadership team has expanded to include James our assistant pastor, an expanded Team of singers and musicians led by David, Peter and Jane, an Operations Team led by Bruce, an administration team led by Nancy, a new student team led by Paul, a youth leadership team led by Mark & Megan and a Pastoral Care Team led by Scott. Representatives of each of the Action Teams now meet monthly to help implement our vision.


So many more of you are serving in the right places for the right reasons I give thanks to God every day for his blessings and for the privilege of serving alongside many of you. And in the year ahead, we are just about to press the ‘go’ button to raise the funds to expand our facilities in what will be the biggest development on this site since the church was founded in 1838. Its going to be an exciting year ahead.


Which is why I believe this new four week teaching series called “The Volunteer Revolution” is so strategic. Its based around a new book by Bill Hybel’s. I urge you to buy from the bookstore and read it between now and Easter. It will change your life. Bill Hybels says,


“Imagine what would happen if people in our world - by the masses - took up serving towels, draped them over their arms and willingly (even joyfully) served other people in their everyday lives. Such attitudes and actions would change our world. I believe a volunteer revolution can happen and that the church should set the pace and energetically lead the way. In my view, people are never closer to living out the teachings of Christ than when they are adding value to someone else’s life. And people who are far away from God are rarely more impacted than when they see 21st Century Christ-followers behaving as Christ behaved.”


Reading the book has helped me appreciate that the Church is not going to realize its full redemptive potential through employing more full-time staff or by more inspiring sermons or by building larger facilities. The Church is the only hope of the world and we are only going to reach our full redemptive potential as a church when every one of us rolls up our sleeves, places a towel over our arm and get in on the action - until each one of us moves from being a spectator to being a servant.


Think about it for a moment. If you have the choice, which would you rather be - an observer or a participant? Take sport for example. Would you rather watch fisherman or hold the rod yourself? Would you rather watch a game or play in one? I know in myself I would rather get the golf clubs out and play a nine hole round of golf with Joanna than watch the best pros from behind the rope on the 18th.
I’d rather kick a ball around the garden with Michael than watch world class football on TV. “Spectating never compares with the thrills and chills of being in the middle of the game.”


It’s the same in the Church.  Every one of us has a choice to make. You can park your car in the usual place, make your way to a comfortable seat… watch a good service, chat with friends over a coffee, and then go home. That choice makes for a nice, safe Sunday morning experience. Or you can throw yourself into an adventure by rolling up your sleeves, “joining a team of like-minded servants, and helping to build the local church God has called you to be a part of.”[i]  Bill Hybels says,


“The satisfaction most people are looking for comes from being in the middle of life’s action, not on the sidelines. Following Jesus is something people do, something that takes time and burns calories and stretches capacities as individuals and entire churches roll up their sleeves and activate their faith by serving others. It takes commitment and perseverance. Intentionality and selflessness. But nothing can match the rewards for those who find their place to serve and jump in…” 


Please turn with me to John 13 and let us allow Jesus to teach us this morning three lessons in servanthood. We are going to discover first of all - the full extent of loving service; secondly, the primary purpose of loving service and thirdly, the ultimate proof of loving service.


1. The Full Extent of Loving Service 13:1-5

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. 2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:1-5)


Lets get the context for this dramatic act of Jesus. In a country as hot and dusty as Palestine, where people wore open sandals, it was the custom to eat at low tables so that your feet were not far from the faces of other guests, the custom was for a servant to be at the door of the house to wash the dirty feet of guests as they entered. According to the Jewish "Midrash Mekicta" commenting on Exodus 21:2  "Foot washing" was not even required of a Hebrew slave, it was the task of a foreign slave. On this occasion there was no one to do it. The foot washer had not shown up. Imagine the scene.


“The first disciple enters the upper room and discovered there’s no foot-washer. Suddenly, for him, its decision time. Does he wash his own feet? Does he take off his outer garment, go and get the water and wash everyone else’s feet? Look into his eyes. He’s thinking. Not me. That’s not my job. I’m not a slave. I’m no foot-washer. He tries to size up where Jesus will sit and chooses an advantageous position at the table. The second disciple enters, realizes there’s no footwasher and sees his friend already seated at the table. Well, he thinks, if he’s not going to stoop to the level of footwasher, neither an I. And he heads toward the second-best seat in the house. All the disciples do the same thing. They file in Walk past the water basin. Choose the best remaining seat at the table. Recline. Stick their dirty feet in each other’s laps.


Last, Jesus enters. Watch him. He looks at the water. He looks at the filthy feet of the disciples. The smell is apparent. You can see it in his eyes. Three years. Sermon after sermon, illustration after illustration, confrontation after confrontation. Can you see it? It looks a lot like failure. He walks to the table and reclines. He just sits there, silently. Maybe someone will at least have the humility to wash the feet of their Master. But no, nobody moves. Now watch him. He gets up from the table, walks to the water basin and starts to take off his outer garment. Carefully he picks up the towel and slips it through his belt, exactly the way a common servant would.


Then he pours the water into the basin. Now look at the eyes of the disciples. What can you see? Disbelief. Embarrassment. Then as Jesus begins to wash the feet of the first disciple, you see something deeper in their eyes: agony, regret, maybe tears. What is the matter with me? How did I miss this? My whole world revolves around me. Its bad enough I wasn’t humble enough to wash the brothers’ feet. But I wouldn’t even wash my Saviour’s feet! How could I have done this? What’s the matter with me? In the silence of that room the careful, deliberate washing lasted a long time. The breathing of the kneeling man became heavier as the minutes passed, and his hair fell over his forehead. 


The Lord of glory was on his hands and knees cleaning his disciple’s feet because none of them was willing to stoop that low to serve.  So the Lord of glory became their servant.  The full extent of loving service is servanthood.  In the next few verses Jesus leads us to understand the second lesson - about the primary purpose of loving service.


2. The Primary Purpose of Loving Service 13:6-11

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.” (John 13:6-11)


Jesus gradually circles the table and comes to the feet of Peter. Peter resists. Peter is so emphatic, he uses a double negative, “No,” … “you shall never wash my feet.” Perhaps it was the fisherman's zealous determination not to be done a service that made him cry out in protest. Maybe it was the humiliation that he did not offer Jesus this simple act of hospitality himself.  I can only think of two people who ever wanted to wash my feet.  My mother and father. Why? because they loved me. Someone once said, “It is possible to give without loving but impossible to love without giving.” Service is an act of loving.  This was what Jesus is communicating so graphically here. Through surrendering our pride to the hands of Christ, by identifying him bent over the bowl scrubbing us clean like little children, that is how our salvation comes. "If I don't wash you", said Jesus, "you have no part of me."  What ever it was for Peter, his feet exposed his independent pride. Peter would rather wash the feet of Jesus than let Jesus wash his feet. Later Peter would insist, he would rather die for Jesus than let Jesus die for him.  


And that was the lesson he was beginning to learn.  Many people today still misunderstand Jesus just as Peter did. Service for a Christ-follower is not optional. Its not something we can refuse. But neither is it a right we can demand. I had someone come to me recently who said in effect, unless I serve in a particular role, I resign. I had to remind them that servants don’t get to dictate.  I had someone else come to me and complain that because they’d been in the church a long while they felt they ought to be able to serve in a particular role. I had to remind them that service is not a reward either. Its not a right or a reward but a response of thankfulness. As the beautiful Easter hymn puts it:


"When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride." 


The person who has not yet learnt to count in this way cannot cope with this image of Jesus and servanthood. Do not be surprised when some friends and family make excuses when you invite them to a special service or church based event. They like to pretend they don't need a wash, they're clean enough already.  “I know I don’t go to Church but…” But what?  We can do nothing for Jesus until we have been washed by Jesus. Then you won’t be complaining about your place of service because your eyes will be on him not yourself.


“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” (John 13:9-10)


Its important to understand what Jesus is saying to Peter. We must not question the Lord's will or work, or try to manipulate him.  He knows what He is doing. Peter had a difficult time accepting Christ's ministry to him because Peter was not yet ready to minister to the others.  It takes humility to serve others, and the first step is to allow our pride to be humiliated to the point that we repent and are broken.  Let me ask you, have you allowed Jesus to wash your soul?  The invitation is here, the choice is yours.

Just remember what Jesus said to Peter, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." (John 13:8). The ultimate purpose of all our acts of loving service, if they are to count for eternity, will be to lead people to Jesus to be made clean as we have.  Christ Church is not primarily a club, a choir or a charity. We are a community of servants, serving a loving Lord by serving others. We should evaluate all our activities by this criteria, by this standard. The full extent of loving service = servanthood.  The primary purpose of loving service = salvation. The third lesson?


3. The Ultimate Proof of Loving Service   13:12-17

I recently attended a celebration at Lambeth Palace. Besides the archbishop, there were many other bishops present and guests from all around the world. All there to honour a frail 90 year old gentleman who had them all in awe. Kenneth Cragg is the leading scholar in the world today on Islam and interfaith dialogue.


He has written 30 books, all of them classics. His words are so distilled you have to read each sentence several times to have any hope of understanding its meaning. After the Archbishop and various Bishops had expressed their appreciation, Kenneth spoke with humility and erudition about his love of the Lord Jesus Christ in a way that was breathtaking. He summed up his long life, his academic studies, his contribution to our understanding of Islam and interfaith relations in one sentence - “Confronted by the love of Christ, we have no choice.”


Confronted by the love of Christ we have no choice. No choice but to serve the one who in loving service gave his life to set us free, who in loving service forgave our sins, who in loving service gave us eternal life. The apostle Paul explains it like this, “For Christ’s love compels us.” (2 Corinthians 5:14) For Christ’s love compels us. Jesus said to the disciples, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (John 13:12). Do you feel compelled to serve because of Christ’s love for you? If not, is it perhaps because like the disciples, you have yet to comprehend the depth of his love for you? Lets look at these verses in a little more detail.


3.1 The Mandate for Loving Service (13:13-14)

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (John 13:12-14)


If we call Jesus our teacher and Lord we have no choice. Loving service is no longer an option. The only question is where and how. We are mandated to serve one another - by washing one another’s feet, bathing one another’s wounds, one another’s sins, one another’s fears. The mandate for loving service.


3.2 The Model for Loving Service (13:15-16)

“15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (John 13:15-16)


An example. Jesus is our example. Supreme example. A Christian not engaged in practical acts of loving service on a regular basis is saying in effect that they consider themselves greater than Jesus. If sacrificial service is beneath you, then so is Jesus.

Jesus has given us the benchmark for loving service and it can only be done by stripping off the outer garment of our pride and getting on our knees. You know the weekly task that challenges me the most? Early Tuesday mornings wheeling the rubbish bins from behind the church a hundred metres to the entrance of our drive way on Callow Hill so that the refuse collectors can take away our garbage… then hauling them back later in the day. And every week I am tempted to think to myself, why am I doing this? Why me?

And every week I remember Jesus has called me to serve as a servant and I thank him for this weekly reminder. Let me give you another example. Want to join the youth leadership team?

Then realize sometimes that also sometimes means getting down on your knees. Last week Mark was ecstatic when he told me they had had a breakthrough. In one of the games, one of the children had drank too much fizzy drink, and sometimes what goes down must come up, and on this occasion it did, all over the floor. Mark and Megan were on their knees clearing up the mess. That’s what servants have to do. If you’re not willing to get on your knees then you’re not ready to lead because we lead by serving, serving as servants. The mandate of loving service. The model of loving service, and,


3.3 The Motive of Loving Service (13:17)

17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)


The purpose of loving service is to bring a blessing. A blessing to others. If we are ever to touch the people around us in any lasting, transfiguring way, it will only be by sharing the humble, sacrificial love with which Jesus loves us. This is how we will create a revolution in Virginia Water. For as we serve one another as Christ has served us, our lives are transformed and the power of Christ is revealed. The full extent of loving service = servanthood.  The primary purpose of loving service = salvation. The ultimate proof of loving service = submission.


As you came into our building this morning, who washed your feet? Didn’t you notice anyone washing your feet? How many times have your feet, or the feet of those you love, been washed already this morning? Or are being washed at this moment? Or will be washed before you leave? Didn’t you notice? Several people served you as you entered the building. One or more of the ushers… the welcomers… the flower team… gardening team… admin team, operations team, the cleaning team… the leader of this service… the readers who prepared to read God’s word… the prayer who will intercede for you… the crèche looking after your baby, Chipmunks your pre-school toddlers, the Scrambler leaders, Climber, Explorer, Pathfinder leaders, the PA team, the musicians, the treasurers who will count the collection after the service, the refreshments team, the prayer team, the wardens who will check the windows and lock up after you have long gone. These are just some of the people who washed your feet this morning. They are wearing their towel around their necks - it says “here to serve”. And they are. What about you?


Nancy will be shortly putting together the names of people on the various serving teams for May-August in the next week or so. Which team or teams will you join? Where is your passion? What annoys you about Christ Church? Maybe that’s the Holy Spirit prompting you to action. You can discover what you were called to do by what you can’t stand.  If God has spoken to you this morning about the full extent of Christ’s loving service, about the primary purpose of loving service, and about the ultimate proof of loving service; If God is asking you to respond, please don’t put it off. Sign up using the 20 essentials leaflet on the back table. Simply return your slip via Nancy or the Collection plate and we will help you find a place of service that matches your gifting, your talents, and availability to serve.  Most of those who already serve don’t want or expect praise or the limelight, and those who do, shouldn’t. They know they are only responding to the loving service of Jesus.


Someone once asked Corrie ten Boom if she had a hard time serving and staying humble.  This was what she said: "When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it even entered the head of that donkey that any of it was for him?" She smiled and went on, "If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in His glory, I give Him all the praise and all the honour."  


All the praise and all the honour. Will you accept the invitation to live beyond yourself? To pour your passion into service, and be a servant of Jesus Christ, and in doing so, to change our corner of the world and start a revolution?  

Lets do it.


[i] Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution, (Zondervan)