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A Sovereign Serves

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:3-5 NIV

We learned about logical connectors in school.  And from what they taught us, “so” would not have been the first choice to connect these two sections of this scripture.  Because they are clearly contrasting, right? The first section paints the picture of a powerful being, one who knows his power originates from an unquestionable source, from God himself. And the second paints the picture of a servant, the lowliest of servants, the kind who washes the dusty feet of lowly men. “but” would be a better fit here, I think.

Jesus knew his power well, knew God had made him the ruler of the universe, but he stooped to the lowly place of a servant, and washed his disciples’ dusty feet. That flows better, I think, if the point being made is Christ’s humility, who though he was Lord of all, rather than sit back and wait to be attended, chose instead to serve those infinitely below him. He set aside his authority, his power, and served. And it would be a big point, an important lesson to all who wield power and authority – be humble enough to serve, notwithstanding your authority, your perceived place in society.

I think a different point is being made though, one which explains the connector the writer/translator chose (yes, this is still about that two-letter word, “so”). I think the point being made is that service flows from strength, the strength of being secure in your identity. I think the writer here is intentionally de-emphasising humility as the prerequisite for service, and emphasising security in one’s identity instead.

Jesus knew his identity well, knew that he was from God, knew that nothing could threaten his place in the universe. He was secure in who he was, and that strengthened him to serve – first his lowly disciples by washing their dusty feet, and later, more profoundly, sinners given to sin, by dying a most humiliating death on a Roman cross.

Service requires humility, for sure, requires a setting aside of one’s authority and power, requires the appearance of weakness. But service is enabled by strength, by being secure in one’s identity in Christ, by knowing that in serving, one loses nothing of who they are, because it is conferred to them by God. So, follow in the example of Christ then, and serve, though you be a leader, a person in authority, a husband, secure in the knowledge that who you are in Christ is not threatened by your service.

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