We must always remember that we are powerless to disciple on our own, especially the way Jesus acts to disciple through us. To disciple His way we need courage to go against our own self-interests and desire to be liked by others. We also have to go against both our natural and Christian culture that will tell us it is wrong, even unchristian to say hard things to others. When we give in to such thinking we are actually disobeying Jesus and acting in unloving ways. Of course love is always as gentle as possible, even when it must be as truthful as necessary.

Once He washed His followers' feet, Jesus resumed His place as the head of the Passover table. At that point He asked His men, "Do you know what I have done to you (vs. 12)?" Then He tells them that if He, their Lord and Master, has washed their feet, they must do the same for each other (vs. 14). That's the whole point of this event.  Many times this passage is reduced to such "servant" things as doing humble tasks like pouring coffee for others or setting up chairs for meetings, which are good things to do, but not what Jesus called for in John 13. He wants us to do for our disciples what He did for His:  wash their feet as His agents to cleanse them from sin through the loving act of holding them accountable for their attitudes and behaviors.  We do this so our disciples don't miss the fruit bearing opportunities He has for them. This is the essence of discipleship, slave discipleship, the most powerful posture possible.

Never forget the fact that we are powerless to assume the posture of serving our disciples the Jesus way, especially when it requires Christ's kind of love. I always feel fear when I must love this way and must seek Christ's power to submit my will and desire to be liked to God and His purpose. Sooner or later as slave disciplers we will have to face some selfishness and fear in ourselves because the flesh always resists loving this way. In those moments only the Holy Spirit can overcome our wills and empower us to love Christ's way.

Remember John 13:17:  "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." Rarely does a passage convey a special blessing for those who obey it.  What could be more important than such an encouragement? Becoming a slave discipler brings a unique blessing, the blessing of becoming Christ's hands in the lives of our disciples. By becoming as powerless as Christ we experience His powerful impact through us when we depend on Him to free Peters from sin so they can bear His fruit for them.

Bill Lawrence is the President of Leader Formation International, Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Adjunct Professor of DMin Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where he served full-time for more than twenty three years (1981-2004). During this time he also served as the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Leadership for twelve years. Bill is the author of two books: Beyond the Bottom Line—Where Faith and Business Meet, Moody Press and Effective Pastoring, Word Publishing. Bill served twelve years as founding pastor of South Hills Community Church, San Jose, CA (1969 to 1981). He has also been the Interim Pastor of Northwest Bible Church, Dallas, TX, on two different occasions.

Original publication date: September 30, 2009