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To Serve or Be Served: That’s the Question

We often believe serving is the ultimate expression of showing God’s love. But there is merit in allowing others to aid us. Jesus provides an example of both:

The room goes hush; the playful banter ceases. The twelve put their bread down mid-meal. All eyes follow Jesus as He gets up from the table, takes off His outer clothing, wraps a towel around His waist, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash His disciples’ feet. (see John 13:4-5) In this way, He serves them.

Jesus makes His way around the room. First John. Then Andrew. Philip. Thomas. The disciples absorb this unexpected action—this menial task meant for servants—performed by their Teacher, too stunned to react. 

Then Jesus bows at Peter. “No.” Peter disrupts the silence. “You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8, NIV).

A few months ago, my church hosted a ladies’ mini-retreat which culminated in a foot washing. While preparing for the event, many expressed their opinion about this activity. A few were excited, having had amazing experiences in the past. But several hesitated. “I don’t want anyone to touch my feet.” “My feet are ugly.” “I have a thing about feet.”

Maybe you have similar feelings. You are not alone. Peter objected, too. 

But I don’t think Peter rejected Jesus’ attempt because he was embarrassed or his toes tickled when someone touched them. I believe Peter understood Jesus was all powerful. Jesus was Deity, and Peter’s rightful place was serving Jesus, not the other way around. Peter appears to exhibit humility. 

But maybe he displays pride too. 

Peter thought he knew how to best serve and be served, but Jesus had more to teach him. Peter needed to let go of his pride so Jesus could minister to him.

Don’t we get proud when we serve? We think we have the answers. We run ahead of Jesus, making our plans, rushing into a project before stopping to ask God where He wants us. Or we think we can manage the task on our own and don’t ask for help. But Jesus has more to teach us.

Foot washing requires a vulnerable posture. We must lower ourselves into a stance in which the person we are serving could hurt us physically. As we let our guard down by kneeling to the floor with our eyes focused downward, we can feel unprotected. 

The same is true when we symbolically wash someone’s feet by meeting their needs. We purposefully place ourselves underneath them, into a position in which we can be emotionally hurt. We let go of control. We, in essence, grant that person power over us. 

But when our hearts are right, we actually release control to God. We recognize God’s omnipotent power. We surrender to Him.But when our hearts are right, we actually release control to God. We recognize God’s omnipotent power. We surrender to Him. Click To Tweet

Submitting to God and others can be difficult, especially if we’ve lowered ourselves in the past and been hurt. As a mom, I’ve served my children over and over. I have put myself in that vulnerable position, yielding to their needs, only to be stepped on emotionally. I have taken those punches, forgiven those beautiful humans God placed in my home, and served again, only to be knocked down again. And it happens in the church, too. 

We can continue to serve only by God’s power. When we assist others out of love for them and a desire to show them God’s love, we say, “I care about you. I am here for you. I see your needs. I want to know who you are at your core.”

While serving, pause and view others how God sees them. 

I’ve learned over the years the presenting problem, the surface issue, isn’t usually the real issue. A person’s anger may be masking pain. Someone’s defense may be hiding fear. Take some minutes to discover the individual underneath the exterior. 

And though washing other people’s feet is a tough task, I believe allowing someone else to wash mine is even more difficult. 

How about you? Are you reluctant to let someone help you?

Part of my problem is that I’m a perfectionist. If I let you wash my feet, not only am I allowing you see my dirt, my ugliness, I’m also pretty certain you won’t wash them properly. So, I’ll just do it myself. Thank you very much. 

Some of us have been taught that asking for help or accepting gifts is weak. Therefore, allowing someone to wash our feet–to serve us–is unheard of. But, like Peter, we need to let Jesus into those crevices of our heart. And sometimes that means opening up those places to others. 

Ironically, letting others aid us also requires vulnerability and relinquishing control. It requires humility and admitting we have a need. When someone sits at our feet, washing them, we feel as if we have handed over some power and control to that person. And, in some real sense, God asks us to transfer power to Him. 

God uses people to show His love to us. To tell us He is here and will meet our needs.God uses people to show His love to us. To tell us He is here and will meet our needs. Click To Tweet

Jesus said, “Wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14, NIV). He didn’t put more importance on the washer or the washee. He illustrated that we need each other and are to serve each other. 

There are days God wants me to attend to others–my husband, my children, my church, my friends, my co-workers, the community. Their “skin” may be clean and smooth–the feet of a young person beginning their walk with God. Or they may be the rough and worn, those of someone who has traveled far and is weary. No matter who it is, God uses those acts to refine me, as well as the people I help. 

Then there are times God wants me to let someone else come alongside me, wash my feet, meet my needs, and speak truth into my life.

God teaches me through those acts, also. 

Have you washed someone’s feet lately? Have you assisted someone in need?

Have you sought help for a necessity you have and allowed someone else to serve you?

Let’s remember Jesus’ final words on the subject, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17, NIV).


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