The night before He died on the cross, as Jesus spent time talking with His disciples (John 13–16), there were two commands He gave them about how they were to live in relationship with each other—only two—but each is significant. He began by washing their feet—an act that was the work of a slave.
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
Don Carson writes:
…the episode of the foot washing is turned in two directions. On the one hand, it is symbolic of spiritual cleansing (cf. especially vv. 8–10); on the other, it serves as a standard of humble service and therefore as a call to all of Jesus’ disciples to ‘wash one another’s feet’ (vv. 12-17).1
Not by words alone did He command them, but by His own example. And the second command?
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
You may know that the Thursday before Good Friday is called Maundy Thursday. Did you know that it is named for the New Commandment the Lord Jesus gave that evening?
Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”)…2
Again, not by words alone did Jesus command them—and us—but by His own example.
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.
Later that same evening Jesus prayed:
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
In “The Mark of a Christian” I told the story of how a kind and loving sister in Christ gave me the fish pendant above. I also wrote about the sad reality of those times when Christian love is as broken and cracked as the ἰχθύς wheel symbol on the left. You would think that the last two things Jesus commanded on the night before He died would be taken soberly and seriously by His disciples and obeyed. Alas, they are not.
We have lived in different cities and in different regions, and we have seen far too many churches marred by a lack of service—remember that Jesus did the service of a slave—and a lack of love: unkindness, jealousy, arrogance, coldness and apathy to the needs of others. Not just the people, but the leaders have had the same ideas about being great and being first that the disciples had when they squabbled about prestige and power in the kingdom of God. Rather than take the Scripture seriously about how to live and care for one another, far too many in the church draw their template from the surrounding culture. The ironic thing is that even some within the business community recognize the importance of authenticity, generosity and kindness. We should not be churches of the ‘be warm, be filled’, who are rife with favoritism, but too often we are.
If the church is in any doubt as to what it means to love one another, Jesus gave us His example, and Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, describes love with attitudes and actions we can see and recognize, that obviously flow from a mind and heart changed by the Lord Jesus.
I once expressed to another Christian the loneliness and lack of compassion I had recently experienced, and she said to me, “I guess you can’t make people be friends with you.” As I later thought about it, I realized, no, you can’t, but Christians aren’t given the leeway of shutting out fellow believers because they don’t want to be friends. While we will find those whose companionship we easily enjoy, love for all lived out in deeds is not an option.
The name of this day bears the mark of His command. Isn’t it time our lives were marked by it as well?
Servant by Esther K. Augsburger. On the plaque is Matthew 20:28, “Whosoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” Photograph by Billy Hathorn. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Ichthus (the ΙΧΘΥΣ) Wheel in Ephesus: public domain.
The wheel is an overlay of the uppercase letters, ΙΧΘΥΣ. The fish has been a Christian symbol since the early years of the church. The Greek word for fish is an acrostic; each letter is the first letter of one of the five words of the phrase: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. ͑Ιησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ ͑Υιός Σωτήρ.
1D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1990) 458.
2Wikipedia, “Maundy Thursday.”