I hope you read or listened to last month’s Chariot of Fire on knowing and loving Jesus. In that issue, we saw how the apostle Paul concluded from his life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that to know and love members of Jesus’ body is to know and love Jesus Himself. How thrilling and inspiring it is to know that when we love each other, we are loving Jesus. If you missed that one, I hope you’ll check it out by clicking here. That way of looking at and relating to each other was also taught by Jesus in His last hours with His disciples. This month, let’s take a look at John 13 and His conversation with Peter. It will help us understand better how we can live to love with Jesus.
We’re told in the first verse of John 13 that Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the very end.” That’s enough to let us know that what was about to happen was about Jesus’ great love for His own—His body.
As Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He knelt by Peter to wash his feet. Perhaps Peter put a hand on Jesus’ shoulder while withdrawing his feet as he posed this question, “Lord, do You wash my feet?”
Jesus answered, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” How could Peter understand? He didn’t know then that he was a part of a new creation—a new body—whose Head was in heaven and whose body members were on the earth. He thought of himself as an individual, separate from Jesus and the other disciples sitting around the table. So Peter declared, “Never shall You wash my feet!”
Jesus’ response stunned Peter. “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Because we are living in what Jesus called the “hereafter,” we know what Jesus meant. When He served His disciples by washing their feet, He was loving His body “parts”—the members of His body. This statement again makes the point of Paul’s and Jesus’ perspective: When you love a member of Jesus’ body, you are loving Him.
Each member who has been washed by the blood of Jesus Christ has “a part” in Jesus. When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, He washed all of His body so that they are entirely cleaned, as if they had taken a bath. They only need their feet to be washed (that part of the body that makes contact with the dirt of the world). This amazing truth was signified by the broken bread and the wine He was about to share with His disciples.
Back to the narrative. Peter, not knowing these things, replied, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and head.” Jesus then referred to Peter’s (and your) union with Him and participation in the work of the cross when He stated, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” It seems that everyone in the room but Judas had a part in Jesus. It makes us wonder if Jesus washed Judas’ feet. We don’t know. If He did, He would probably tell us that that act was an expression of how He loves His enemies, but that’s not the point of the story.
The point is made clear where Jesus explained what He had done. “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.” Now we understand what He was saying! When Jesus washed their feet, He was loving His body. When we serve and love each other, we are serving and loving Jesus’ body.
This is the perspective of the body of Christ that we need so we can live to love with Jesus. When we love each other, it is Jesus loving His own to the very end through us. Like Jesus, we are to see the members of His body as washed and cleansed of their sins. All they need from us is daily forgiveness and encouragement. That’s what we need from others, is it not? As long as we walk in this world, we get our “feet” dirty. Our minds get sullied with the lies and values of this world, resulting in actions that misrepresent Jesus and can be offensive. When that happens, we are to humble ourselves like our Savior and Lord, and “wash one another’s feet” through our acts of forgiveness, patience, forbearance, and love. When we do these things, we are living to love with Jesus as, through us, He washes all those who have a part in Him.
The apostle Paul certainly understood what Jesus taught His disciples, both by washing their feet and then by eating the bread and drinking the cup together. He wrote to the Corinthians, “But let a man examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [have died]. But if we judge ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:28-31). Paul’s point was the same as Jesus’ point: There’s a new way to know and love Jesus. It’s by recognizing that every member of the body has a part in the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus, and therefore we are to forgive and love them as if we were loving Jesus Himself. To think of ourselves as separate from them rather than united with them in Christ is to judge the body of Christ wrongly and makes us liable to being disciplined by the Lord (1 Cor. 11:32). We must take this view of knowing and loving Jesus seriously, because these things are from God and are vital to our expressing His love.
If we are to live to love with Jesus, we must see people like He sees them and not as they appear on the earth in the flesh—still clothed in weakness and covered with the dirt of this world. It is our privilege to unite with Jesus in loving His own to the very end of history. Love everyone, everywhere, all the time, but especially recognize that when you love one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters, even the least of them, you are loving Him (Matthew 25:40).