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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 to you? You call me Teacher and Master [Lord], and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Master 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, fortunate [blessed] are you if you do them. 18[1]

Source: John 13:11-17

What is God’s goal for us? Our job is to be a servant of God. That is, it. There is nothing else to it. Jesus made that clear in his example of how he lived his life. Jesus was only here to do what God had in mind. Here is the problem. We like to be served and not be a servant. I love a great meal and the wonderful service of an amazing restaurant. So … I’ve got a problem, don’t I.

What is the outcome if we act on what Jesus commanded? We will live a blessed, more than happy, life. [Note: the Greek word translates better as fortunate rather than blessed] We will have that life in the here and now. God-Service leads to happiness. I haven’t always understood this. As I gain more experience, it is becoming a reality.

What is the challenge? I need to understand why to serve. I need to get it. I need to change my mind (aka repent). Do I? I must admit that some days I don’t. I go right along with my life, not caring what it is that God has in mind for me right now. Today is the day I can focus on the God-servant way of life. Jesus challenges me to.

John 13:17 is the key to our life as followers of Jesus —“ If you know these things, fortunate [blessed] are you if you do them.” The sequence is important: humbleness, holiness, then happiness. Aristotle defined happiness as “good fortune joined to virtue … a life that is both agreeable and secure.” That might do for a philosopher, but it will never do for a Christian believer! Happiness is the by-product of a life that is lived in the will of God. When we humbly serve others, walk in God’s paths of holiness, and do what He tells us, then we will enjoy happiness.

Jesus asked the disciples if they understood what He had done, and it is not likely that they did. So, He explained it: He had given them a lesson in humble service, an example for them to follow. The world thinks that happiness is the result of others serving us, but real joy comes when we serve others in the name of the Messiah Jesus. The world is constantly pursuing happiness, but that is like chasing a shadow: it is always just beyond your reach.

Jesus was their Master, so He had every right to command their service. Instead, He served them! He gave them an example of true Christian ministry. On more than one occasion during the previous three years, He had taught them lessons about humility and service; but now He had demonstrated the lesson to them. Perhaps the disciples remembered His lesson about the child, or the rebuke He gave James and John when they asked for thrones. Now it was all starting to fall into place.

The slave is not greater than his master; so, if the master becomes a slave, where does that put the slave? On the same level as the master! By becoming a slave, our Master did not push us down: He lifted us up! He dignified sacrifice and service. You must keep in mind that the Romans had no use for humility, and the Greeks despised manual labor. Jesus combined these two when He washed the disciples’ feet.

The world asks, “How many people work for you?” but the Master asks, “For how many people do you work?” In Kenya, African believers have a proverb: “The chief is servant of all.” How true it is that we need leaders who will serve and servants who will lead. G.K. Chesterton said that a really great man is one who makes others feel great, and Jesus did this with His disciples by teaching them to serve.

However, it is not enough just to know this truth; we must put it into practice. James 1:22–27 makes it clear that the blessing comes in the doing of the Word, not the hearing. Wuest translates the last phrase in James 1:25, “This man shall be prospered spiritually in his doing.” Even studying this section in John’s Gospel can stir us emotionally or enlighten us intellectually; but it cannot bless us spiritually until we do what Jesus told us to do. This is the only way to lasting happiness.

Be sure to keep these lessons in their proper sequence: humbleness, holiness, happiness. Submit to the Father, keep your life clean, and serve others. This is God’s formula for true spiritual joy.[2]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 13:11–18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 346–347). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.