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John 13:1-20 Study Guide: Serving One Another

Community Group Study Guide — Serving One Another
John 13:1-20

Study Information:
Have you had someone wash your feet before? It is really awkward and humbling, especially if you’re seated in a chair and they are physically lower than you doing what seems like a humiliating task. Why would Jesus take a towel and basin? We logically think that everyone should be serving Jesus, right? But one of Jesus’ last actions with s disciples purposed to give them a physical picture of how he served them and how they ought to treat one another. 

John chapters 13-17 is the longest stretch of teaching from Jesus in the gospel of John and often referred to as the “upper room discourse.” Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the passover meal in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem. In ancient homes they’d have bedrooms downstairs and the main living room or gathering area would be upstairs; it would be the largest room in the house. Jesus was intent on preparing his disciples for what was coming next. They would witness his betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back to heaven. These events would be a spiritual rollercoaster for them. Many of them would abandon Jesus, and later be restored and empowered by the Holy Spirit to minister as they faced persecution and rejection. Jesus prepared them in the upper room discourse by teaching about the Holy Spirit, the expectation of suffering, God’s work through them and in his prayer for their unity and witness to the world in John 17’s high priestly prayer. 

How did Jesus kick off this teaching time? By giving them a physical picture of how he would serve them and their call to serve one another as they imitate Jesus.

Foot Washing
John 13:1-11
Jesus’ hour has come and he was committed to loving his disciple to the end. He showed this faithful commitment to them through his humble service in washing their feet. Behind the scenes, Judas had it in his heart to betray Jesus; Jesus knew this and referenced it a few times in his teaching, but notice he still shows this act of kindness to Judas. How would Jesus treat his followers and even his betrayer? Jesus did not forget that he was God and yet he humbled himself conscious of his coming betrayal and exaltation as he picked up the towel. 

This celebration would often begin with a servant washing the feet of the dinner attendees, and if not a servant then it would be the person esteemed the “lowest” among them. This is something out of the ordinary for our culture, but in the ancient world they would eat at a low table just slightly off the ground, often reclining, and the dirt streets and animals would make for some smelly and gross feet. If you had bathed the only part of you to get really gunky would be your feet so before a meal like this they’d wash their feet. It would certainly be an undesirable job to have! Who was the greatest and who was the least among them? The disciples often argued about rank and greatness and on at least two occasions Jesus taught them that to be last is to be first and to be great is to serve. Jesus decided to cement this into their minds by putting into practice what he taught. It was without dispute, Jesus was the greatest among them and so it would have been unexpected when he got up from supper and took off his robe or cloak and grabbed a towel and water basin and one by one washed the feet of his followers. 

When it was Peter’s turn he says what was likely on everyone’s mind “Jesus, what are you doing?!” In Peter’s mind the lesser existed to serve the greater. He did not say that word for word, but you can see it in how he responded to Jesus and Jesus’ teaching when he explained what he did (John 13:13-14). Peter was fine with Jesus washing his whole body - feet, hands and head; because that was less embarrassing. However, to be a follower of Jesus you need to receive his service. Jesus was adamant that if Peter would not allow Jesus to serve him by washing his feet then Peter had no share in Jesus. 

Jesus was concerned with more than dirty feet, he was concerned with giving them an image about what he was going to do for them in laying down his life at the cross and the call to a humble service of one another. To have a share in Jesus is to be in fellowship with him (John 13:8). It is to be united in Christ through faith and to receive his service which is often humbling and humiliating to us. We are all in need of what only Jesus can provide. Jesus’ death on the cross for us tells us that we are not enough, we cannot do enough, we are not good in and of ourselves and need Christ to make us clean from sin. To be in Christ is to humble ourselves and receive what only he can do. Jesus pointed to that in his washing the feet of his disciples, to be in Christ is to receive this service from Jesus through faith. 

Following the Example of Jesus
John 13:12-20

How do you respond to the idea of serving one another? Many of us are challenged when we feel like we are being inconvenienced. Maybe some of us are ok with serving as long as we get noticed or as long as it is in our “gifting.” Yet, what Jesus modeled for his people was a grimy, sacrificial and humbling form of service. When we are able to serve in sacrificial ways, without fanfare and applause we are able to grow in humility and imitation of Christ. It is a kind of service that puts the other first. 

The disciples struggled to understand Jesus and what he was doing here. This was why he wanted to get this in their memory through this radical picture of service (John 13:12). We are more than our service and our service does not earn us favor with God, but notice the point Jesus is making… If the king of kings, and the one by whom and for whom all things were created, served them so too were they to serve one another. It is easy to build your life in such a way so that you expect people around you to serve you but that is not Christ-like faith. Jesus calls us to imitate his example and the point is simple, if Jesus can take up the towel and washbasin so can we. To not serve one another is to make yourself above your master Jesus. 

To be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ is to receive his love in how he served us in taking our sin to the cross and in turn that develops humility that expresses itself in how we serve each other. Have you received that kind of service from Christ and how is God developing your humility through service? 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read John 13:1-20

Why would Jesus begin his teaching during the upper room discourses by washing his disciples feet?

Can you sympathize with Peter’s objection? Why was Peter uncomfortable with Jesus washing his feet? How does this foot washing picture Jesus’ serving us in providing a means of salvation and is that similarly uncomfortable to receive? (See Mark 10:35-45, specifically verse 45).

Jesus example was meant to be taken seriously, we are to serve one another in the church. What are some ways followers of Jesus imitate Jesus and his teaching today?