John 13:1-35, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
There used to be a show on basic cable called Dirty Jobs. Each episode would investigate all of the terrible professions no one wants—jobs like camel milker or owl-vomit collector. Seriously. The show described one job as “worse than vomit”: making jelly beans that smell like feet!
In John chapter 13, Jesus taught us that servant leaders aren’t afraid to get dirty. After eating dinner with His disciples, Jesus took a towel and a bowl and then knelt down to wash his friends’ feet. And people’s feet were really dirty in those days. Think about it. There were very few paved roads, lots of animals around, and everyone walked everywhere. Washing dirty, stinky feet was the kind of job reserved only for the lowly.
But Jesus embraced it.
And when He had finished washing His disciples’ feet, He put His robe back on and asked the men, “Do you know what I have done for you?” (v.12). They must have been silent, because our Savior immediately explained, “You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are speaking rightly since that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet” (vv.13–14). Jesus didn’t just teach His disciples; He gave them a model of servant leadership, from which we can observe at least two things.
First, servant leaders need Jesus. We cannot serve others until we see that Jesus first served us. We need our Savior to wash us and cleanse us from our rebellion and brokenness. Jesus didn’t just show us how to do the dirty work. He demonstrated His love for us by laying down His life for our sake; “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (v.1). Now, He gives us His Spirit, who makes us able to serve others and love them, even when it’s intensely difficult.
Second, we see that servant leaders must follow Jesus’s example by embracing dirty jobs. Don’t tell your friends, spouse, or kids, “I’m a servant leader!” if you aren’t willing to do difficult things. Jesus laid down His life for us, an unimaginable sacrifice. Now He calls us to sacrifice for others too. God may not ask you to milk camels or collect owl vomit, but He does ask you to do hard things every day—things like standing up for the fair treatment of the vulnerable and oppressed; setting aside your own needs at the end of a long day to serve your wife; or silencing your fear of rejection to share your faith with a friend. That’s practical servant leadership, and it’s the way of our Servant Savior.
Written by Jared Kennedy