14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:14–17, NKJV)
Nothing in the context of this text demands the conclusion that Jesus was instituting a foot-washing ceremony for today (John 13:1-17). Far from it. He was, however, setting an example of humble service that every disciple must follow in our treatment of each other. At this Passover meal, none of His apostles lowered themselves to the menial task of washing the dirty feet of their companions (or even to wash their Master’s feet). In fact, there had been an ongoing squabble among them about who would be greatest in the kingdom (Mk. 9:34-37; 10:35-45). Earlier, Jesus had taught them, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Jesus is great because Jesus served. And so, the Son of God sees greatness when we humbly serve each other (Matt. 20:27). Practicing humble service toward others is crucial. Jesus said the blessing comes when we actually follow His example and become a servant of others. We cannot say but not do, and expect to be blessed. By serving others we remove self-interest and give ourselves over to the welfare of others. That’s the example of Jesus we are called to follow.
31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” 33 But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” 34 Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31–34, NKJV)
Peter had faith in Jesus, but overconfidence in himself led to compromise and sin. As Jesus said, Peter’s repetitive denial of Jesus left him weeping bitterly (Lk. 22:54-62). But, that was not the end of the story. Peter did not remain in the depth of despair. Jesus’ prayer for Peter was answered. He returned to the Lord, strengthened his brethren, and powerfully preaching the gospel. Peter continues to be an important example for Christians. Like him, we are tempted to be overconfident in ourselves instead of humbly trusting Christ to guide our decisions and actions through His word. Loudly proclaiming we would never forsake the Lord can set us up for failure. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” continues to warn us (1 Cor. 10:12). By submitting to Christ’s word and humbling ourselves in His sight, we are prompted to mourn our sins, cleanse our conduct, and purify our hearts. By doing so, we trust the Lord will lift us up (Jas. 4:7-10). Then, with His help, we can humbly resist the temptation to lift up ourselves in our own eyes.
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4, NKJV)
Combative mindsets and contentious conduct permeate society. The works of the flesh (“adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like”) are producing devastating results all around us (Galatians 5:19-21). Look at the contrast in today’s passage with the works of the flesh. Selfish ambition thrives in the arrogant heart that sees others as “less than” we are. Pride feeds the desire to look out for ourselves first – before others. When we estimate others to be better than ourselves it follows that we will not injure and harm them through the works of the flesh. (Look at that list again and see how often our sins invariably hurt others.) By developing hearts of humility we become servants of others instead of users and takers. Living for others instead of ourselves protects us from sin as it spreads the influence of righteousness. Be the salt of the earth by maintaining a humble heart that values others and becomes a blessing in their lives (Matthew 5:13).
16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:16–17, NKJV)
Pride is a most deceptive, sinister sin. It lurks in the recesses of the heart, unwilling to expose itself to the light of truth. Its character is evil, yet it portrays itself to others as confident, self-assured, even boastfully content. In fact, pride threads its way through practically every sin we commit, because its nature is thoroughly selfish. Pride focuses on “me” and what “I” deserve. It is not a giver, but a taker. Pride serves self-interests first, ahead of others. It deceives us into thinking we are more important than we really are (Galatians 6:3). The difficulty of overcoming pride is admitting it. It is a great obstacle to loving God and doing His will. Since God “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” we must “submit to God” to truly be humble and receive God’s grace (James 4:6-7). Pride will pass away along with the other evils of the world. It is eternally better to humble yourself before God, repent of your pride, and draw near to God with pure hands and a clean heart, than it is to obstinately and pridefully lose your soul forever (James 4:8-10).
But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:30, NKJV)
Jesus had corrected the apostles’ implication that only the rich could enter the kingdom of God and have the blessings of salvation and honor (Matthew 19:23-28). All who sacrificially give their lives to faithfully serve Jesus are blessed now and eternally (Matthew 19:29). Jesus summed up this exchange with His apostles by reverting to where it began. Those who seek and expect places of honor from men will not find it in the kingdom of God. Such will not enter His kingdom with that as their expectation. The humble in heart, who do the will of the Father, are “first” (blessed) in the kingdom. Jesus had earlier taught the one who humbles himself as a little child “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). Let us remove every vestige of prideful expectation from our hearts and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Remember, the kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36). We must not expect it to conform to our expectations. Kingdom citizens conform themselves to the king’s will, and are eternally blessed for doing so (Romans 12:2).
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20, NKJV)
We must remember to rejoice in the right things. Jesus had sent out seventy of His followers to the cities where He was about to go, giving them miraculous powers to accompany their preaching of the kingdom of God (Luke 10:1, 9). They returned with joy that “even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus rejoiced with them in seeing the power of Satan being overwhelmed by the power of God as they did His work (Luke 10:18-19). Then, He quickly turned their attention to why they should rejoice. By doing so, He turned their joy away from the potential of pride in themselves (“subject to us,” Luke 10:17) to the humble faith needed to do heaven’s work (“your names are written in heaven”). As you do the work of God and rejoice in the gospel’s power, remember you are not the source of your joy, God is. He is the One who makes your victory over Satan and sin possible. You do not write your name in heaven, God does that when you faithfully do the work He gives you to do (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 20:12, 15).
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12, NKJV)
Jesus gave a warning against the prideful religious display of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-12. This continues to be a trap into which we can too easily fall. In learning to be humble before God and men, we must be cautious against attitudes and actions that suggest we are so proud to be so humble (Luke 18:9-14). At the very moment we are convinced we have mastered the grace of humility, the sin of pride is lurking in the shadows. Those who take delight in asceticism or self-abasement as evidence of their spirituality have seemingly yielded to this temptation, for twice the Scriptures identify such “false humility” that has “no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:18, 23). Let us genuinely put on a heart of humility (Colossians 3:12). A heart of humility does not put on a show for others. It is not concerned with such things. Instead, it shows meekness, longsuffering, forbearance and forgiveness toward others as it lives among men and before God (Colossians 3:12-13). Humility serves, while pride expects to be served (1 Peter 5:5-6).