Others First

As we come to the final part of our conversation about how to love like Jesus, this morning we’re taking a look at one more example of Jesus’ love so we can understand it better. We know that loving like Jesus is important. We know that it requires both grace and truth. But how exactly do we get the one another part right. This story answers that question. Thanks for tuning in this week. Next week we’ll kick off a brand-new series looking at just what exactly followers of Jesus believe called You Believe What?

Others First

I like getting what I want. Don’t you? That’s just a sign things are going like they should be going. You’ve perhaps had those days before when everything was falling into place just like you envisioned it would go. Those are good days. You know what I don’t like? Not getting what I want. Anyone with me? Have you ever not gotten what you wanted? That’s more of the rule for how life goes than the other way, isn’t it? What really creates a conundrum for us, though, is when you getting what you want and me getting what I want are mutually exclusive outcomes. In that kind of a situation, what are we most likely to pursue? Well, if we’re being honest, it’s probably going to be our own interests. Why? Because we want what we want more than we want what somebody else wants. If we wanted what somebody else wanted, it wouldn’t be what somebody else wanted, it would be what we wanted and there would be no problem. But when it’s not? Well, that’s where things can get tricky.

So, why am I thinking about this today? Because for the last few weeks we have been talking about love. One of the things about trying to love someone else is that what they want and what you want don’t always coincide. Ladies, if you are married, can you remember the last time (other than a few seconds ago!) when you did not want the same thing as your husband? How about you, guys? Students, do you remember the last time you wanted something other than what your parents wanted? Parents? That’s one of love’s great challenges. When we set out to love someone else and their wants don’t fall in line with ours, we have a challenge sitting before us: do we grab hold or give in? Sitting in church we perhaps know what the answer is supposed to be, but theory and reality are often two very different things. If we are going to love like Jesus, though, the others in our lives have to be given a position that doesn’t always fall in line so easily with what we want. This morning I want to show you how to fix that.

This morning we are in the third and final part of our February teaching series, Love Like Jesus. All this month we have been talking about love and how we can do it better. The whole idea that has been driving our conversations has been the fact that our culture could use just a little—or a lot—more love than we see and experience on a regular basis. By God’s grace we’re never as bad as we could be, but we’re a far cry from where we want to be. Love is the thing that can bridge that gap. But not just any love will do. Human love just isn’t going to do the trick. Our love fails. Jesus’ love, doesn’t. If we could get our hearts and minds around how to make our love more reflective of Jesus’ love, it’s hard to imagine what we couldn’t accomplish together.

So far, we have talked about just how important a thing for followers of Jesus this is to get right. By Jesus’ own admission this is central to everything we profess to believe. The only way anyone is ever going to know we are His followers is if we love one another. Followers of Jesus are to be known by love alone. We’ve also looked at an example of Jesus’ love in hopes of better understanding it when we can actually see it in action. That’s what we did last week, and I’m grateful once again for your bearing with our doing things just a little bit different. We had a wild few days in the Waits household! The big idea, though, as we dug into the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, was that Jesus’ love was marked by being full of both grace and truth. If we want our love to look like His, we’ve got to be willing to commit ourselves to the same thing. Loving like Jesus requires grace and truth.

Still, though, while that is vital for us to understand, this tension remains when loving someone with grace and truth isn’t what we want to do in the moment. And while if you would claim the title of “Jesus follower” for yourself, you perhaps know how this should play out, seeing it in action can still be something pretty powerful to behold. Whether you would or not, though, this morning I want to set before all of us one more example of what Jesus’ love looks like so that we can get our minds a bit more fully around just what the “one another” part of loving one another really looks like.

In order to see this, we are going to go back to events that took place on the evening Jesus gave His famous command. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you, find your way to John 13. We’re going to pick up right at the beginning of the chapter when Jesus started systematically blowing the disciples’ minds completely out of their heads.

Look at this with me: “Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” With those two sentences, John officially transitions his entire attention to the final events leading to the cross and the empty tomb. Do you see how he frames everything that happens next? It’s all an act of love. Every single part of it. And while the language here makes clear that this love started with those who were closest to Him, as we will see in just a bit, Jesus was equally clear that it wasn’t to stop with them.

John tells us that this all was taking place before the Passover Festival. Jesus and the disciples were celebrating the Seder meal in that upper room together. The story about what happened during the meal—the Last Supper—was told by the other Gospels writers. Knowing that and writing 30 years later, John skipped ahead to what happened just after the meal had ended.

Verse 2: “Now when it was time for supper, the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, that he had come from God, and that he was going back to God. So he got up from supper, laid aside his outer clothing, took a towel, and tied it around himself.”

Now, there’s a good chance you know what comes next. Let’s talk context for a second. In first century Judea, you either wore sandals or you went barefoot like a hobbit. The weather was warm most of the time and shoes were expensive. Also, the number one mode of transportation was attached to the end of your legs. I should also add that nearly all of the roads were made of dirt. Put all of that together and you have the makings of some really nasty feet. Because of this, one of the basic courtesies a host would extend to a guest was to wash their feet. The cool water and removal of caked-on mud was a welcome reprieve from the world outside.

But because feet were generally so nasty, this was not a job any host would do by himself. He would assign a servant to do it. Specifically, he would assign this duty to whoever happened to be the lowest servant in the household. It was widely understood to be the worst job in the world. After all, who wants to wash somebody else’s nasty feet. That’s just how the social pecking order worked. When Jesus got up from the table that night and did what He did next, He wasn’t just breaking protocol. He was smashing it into a bazillion pieces, incinerating those, and then scattering the dust in the wind. Verse 5: “Next, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around him.”

The gang would have watched in shocked silence as Jesus went from one man to the next performing this truly menial task for them. They would have been embarrassed and feeling incredibly guilty for not having already taken care of making sure His feet had gotten washed. Notice the wording there. They would almost certainly not have planned to do it themselves. They were far too good for that. And yet here Jesus was doing it for them. This was something beyond what they could process. This was not how things were supposed to work.

More than this simply being another good chance to rock their world, it becomes clear as you read the text that this was an intentional act of love on Jesus’ part. Understanding how that is will help us better understand how to love like Jesus.

For starters, as I said a minute ago, this whole thing was presented as an act of love on His part. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus was washing His disciples’ feet as an act of love for them. He wanted His love for them to be demonstrated in a way they couldn’t miss or deny. This was it. And again, what made this thing so shocking to them—shocking enough that at first Peter refused to participate—was that it was Jesus who was doing it. His position was such that no one would have ever expected Him to do something like this. In fact, in some ways, His doing this would have been offensive. Such outright rejections of the social order are not tolerated well by those committed to maintaining them. But what Jesus wanted to help them see was that He was not doing this in spite of the position He held. He was doing this because of it. “Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, that he had come from God, and that he was going back to God. So…” Jesus’ knowledge of who He was and what was happening was the explanation for His actions.

There’s something else here too. John goes out of his way to mention that all of this happened before Judas left the group to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities. In other words, Jesus washed Judas’ feet right along with all the others. He didn’t deny the heinous nature of what Judas was about to do and in fact acknowledged that it was going to result in his separation from Jesus. But He washed his feet anyway. Jesus’ love isn’t conditioned on anything about the other person. His love was a reflection of the Father’s love. There’s no one who isn’t covered by that reflection. We’re not loved because we are lovely. We are loved because God is love. Jesus’ love doesn’t just come alongside us to walk with us as our equal, it comes up from underneath us to elevate our standing beyond what we could obtain on our own. In other words, His love empowers us.

And in the end, it doesn’t expect anything in return. Jesus’ love is not conditioned on our response to Him. He didn’t wait for the disciples to turn around and wash His feet. That wasn’t His goal. He wasn’t trying to get something from them, He was giving something to them.

So then, what are we to make of all of this? Well, Jesus tells us. Rather, He told them, and we get to listen in. Look at v. 12 now “When Jesus had washed their feet and put on his outer clothing, he reclined again and said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done for you? [To which they responded, “Um, yes. You washed our feet.”] 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 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 for you.’”

And as He said that, something had to finally click for them. He wasn’t talking about washing feet anymore. He was talking about this act of love He had shown them. They were to love one another after this same pattern. They were to treat one another—and all the other one anothers they encountered in their lives—with the same love Jesus had just shown them. They were to elevate them, serve because of their advantages, love even those who hated them, and do all of this expecting nothing in return. In other words, they were to treat their one anothers as if they were more important than themselves. They were to put them first in all things. Loving like Jesus means putting others first.

This, then, forces us to ask a really challenging question: Who are the others in our lives and how can we do more to put them first? And listen: This only works when it is driven by love, that is, by this intentional decision to see the people around us become more like Jesus. If we put others first and ourselves second for reasons of duty or guilt or self-hatred or some other reason other than love, it’s not going to work or accomplish what we hope it will. It’ll leave them feeling entitled and us feeling overburdened and bitter, always wondering when it’s going to be our turn. That’s a recipe for disaster. When we are driven by love—that is, when we are trying to reflect Jesus more fully by helping them reflect Him more fully—that’s when things really start running on high. Loving like Jesus means putting others first.

Whatever it is that you want—I’m not talking about genuine needs, but wants—before you seek to see that fulfilled, look around to see how you might leverage the advantages that allow you to have that for the sake of someone else who doesn’t have such advantages. When your desired outcomes come into conflict with someone else’s desired outcomes, voluntarily give yours up for the sake of seeing theirs achieved. Now, will some people take advantage of this and use your generosity to get what they want? Maybe. Probably. But God’s got you covered. The more likely outcome is that as you become known for this kind of others-first love, folks are going to want to know what drives you and now you’ve got a Gospel conversation happening. Loving like Jesus means putting others first. Imagine if just the followers of Jesus in our culture started getting this right consistently. Things would never be the same again. No one would have any doubts about whose we are ever again. Loving like Jesus means putting others first. Let’s get to it. 

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