Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Recently I read the above verses from the gospel according to John in which Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, a vivid reminder that Jesus ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:28]
The passage left me asking this question. On Sundays, when we go to a church ‘service’, who is doing the serving?
Going to church is something that reflects, not our virtue, but our need. It is something we primarily do, not because we have so much to give but because there is so much we must receive.
Some might say that we serve God in our praise and worship. Our church services should of course include praise as part of our worship but I am not sure that God is served by such.
Our praise is drawn out of a realisation of who he is and what he has done. It is initiated in response to one who is entirely self sufficient. God does not need our praise – rather we need to praise him in order for our joy in him to be complete. C.S. Lewis wrote “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation….The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”
Paul says to the men of Athens at the Areopagus that God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. [Acts 17:24-25]. And as Martin Luther said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbour does.”
There is a sense then in which we are God’s hands and feet in a needy world, but we serve as those who serve by the strength that God supplies. [1 Peter 4:11].
There is no neediness in God. We do not serve God as one who is in need of our help. Church services are, I think, more about receiving from God so that we are strengthened to have the very great honour of being his instruments in the world during the rest of the week.
On Sundays we are drawn, summoned even, by our loving Heavenly Father. We gather as his people, the people of God, to receive from our loving Heavenly Father who ministers to us through his word and the sharing in communion. Each week we have the very great privilege of being served by God, no less so than the disciples when they had their feet washed by Jesus. It is a privilege we should not neglect in order that, as we are served, we might also serve others by our encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the day drawing near. [Hebrews 10:25]. We need to be changed by our going to church and leave praying that we might be sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit to live and work to God’s praise and glory.
Amazingly, church services are special times when God graciously serves us. We make a mistake if we make church services more about the quality of our singing than the qualities of the one to whom we sing, more about our commitment to him than his commitment to us, more about our always less than perfect love for God, than his always perfect love for us.
‘He must increase, but we must decrease.’ [John 3:30]