Arts of Gospel Neighboring (John 13)


Today is Valentine’s Day. The origins of the holiday are based on legend.[1] One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death, around the middle of a February date. Those who remembered Valentine did so with love and joy.

Photo by Gabby K on

By the middle of the 18th Century, it was common for friends and lovers to send tokens of affection and handwritten notes. By the 1900’s, preprinted cards were developed and became an easier way for people to express their sentiments to others. Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 145 million cards are sent each year, second largest holiday of the year, only to Christmas.

I’m also remined of the “Peanuts” cartoon strip about loving humanity in general is undemanding but loving specific individuals can be tricky and tough.

In our passage today, we continue to reflect on the Arts of Neighboring and examine how Jesus employed the arts of love and hospitality to help people understand faith. Specifically, in John 13 we see at least three principles for loving others.


As we look at this beautiful text, we are tempted to respond in two ways:

  1. Moralism. We move from motivation to application for what we are supposed to do before we understand who we are to be. If we only focus on application then we will turn salvation’s spotlight on ourselves more than our Savior and Lord Jesus.
  2. Familiarity. We move too quickly through this text only thinking about Peter’s pride or Judas’s arrogance to betray Jesus. We overlook the humility and hospitality of what Jesus does for us.

Instead, let us approach this text not with moralism or familiarity but with unhurried meditation.

We love others because of our identity.

Jesus gathered the disciples to celebrate the Passover. He knew this moment would become a memorial etched in the minds and hearts of His followers. Traditionally, the Passover was a Jewish tradition remembering their heritage of God’s rescue of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. Yet, now this meal would take on new meaning with the sacrifice of God’s own Son.

“Jesus knew his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, … and that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:1, 3).  

The Lord Jesus had accomplished life on earth for 33 years. He had put in the time and endured all of earth’s imperfections and inadequacies in comparison to Heaven’s throne. Jesus was near His hour (cf. Jn 2:4; 7:8; 12:23) to return to His rightful spot in the greatness and glory of God. While Jesus’ identity should have been a position of privilege and power, instead it led Him to humbly serve. Serving was not something He did but was who He was; His identity was a Servant.

While humanity was about to be at its worst, Jesus gave His best. ”Jesus loved his own… He loved them to the end.” He extended complete and costly love [agape] to His disciples.

  • Jesus knew He would endure the taunts, the throbbing and tormenting torture of the cross. And He spends His last few moments on earth teaching Disciples how to serve by washing their feet.

  • Jesus knew “the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” Jesus loved Judas with a tangible act of foot-washing and cross-dying. But Judas sold his soul and allowed greed – kudzu of the heart – to overtake his decision-making and lead to his doom. So, let us not think Judas was an innocent bystander.[2] “Satan works on the assumption that every person has a price. Often, unfortunately, he is right. Many people are willing to surrender themselves and their principles to whatever god will bring them the greatest short-term profit.”[3]
  • Jesus knew Peter’s pride, and how later he would deny and forsake Jesus. Peter attempted another rebuke of Jesus – “Lord, do you wash my feet? You shall never wash my feet” (13:6, 8) But Jesus explained those who are not washed by Him will never be clean/forgiven.
  • We must also understand Jesus’s identity to serve us isn’t for pampering but to remove our pride. Jesus washing our feet or dying on the cross are actions that we desperately need and cannot do for ourselves. Jesus’s actions were intended to humble the disciples because one of them should have assumed the role of a servant (cf. Mk 10:43-44). But none of them were willing to lower themselves to and prefer others more important than themselves (Php 2:3-4). There are many willing to fight for a throne but few willing to volunteer for a towel. So, Jesus shows us He is the Savior willing to do whatever it takes to root out selfishness and rescue us from our sin.
  • Our love falls short of agape. We often love with qualifications or conditions. We create contracts, establish terms and fine print, and if the agreement no longer satisfies or we find something better, then we easily end our relationship. Instead, Jesus shows us true love is not based on emotion or agreement but the depth of character in a person.
  • How do we obtain this depth of character to the highest form of love?
    • Information: Read the Bible and study books and you will know about love.
    • Situation: Establishing habits and entering environments that put theory into reality.
      • The habit of being in the word, living in community, and serving others becomes transformative. Likewise, the habit of not doing these things begins to change one’s identity.
  • As we think about identity, do we see our body and resources as belonging to ourselves or to God?
    • Ps 24:1 The earths is Lord’s / 1 Cor 6:19-20 We were made to glorify God not gratify self. 
  • Do you know/feel the love of Jesus? Is your view of Jesus as a distant deity or angry judge? I pray this text and message helps you to see Jesus as a compassionate foot washer – taking us where we are to clear away misconceptions and cleanse our pride that we will understand God’s love for the first time, or with a refreshed understanding. In fact, if we miss this identity of Jesus then we will miss out on understanding our own identity.

We love others with our initiative.

In Palestine, there would be extensive walking necessary for travel. The roads would not only be dirty, not paved, but filled with animal waste and other pollution. Washing feet would have been not only a ritual custom but an essential act of hygiene, especially for people who at mealtimes would recline in proximity, side by side (Jn 13:23). And Jews expected servants or Gentiles to perform such menial tasks as washing feet.

Yet, Jesus chose to rise from the table, lay aside His outer garment, tie a towel to His waist, pour water into a basin and to kneel and wash filthy, smelly feet (Jn 13:3-5). The disciples should have been worshiping Jesus since He’s the Son of God, the sign-wonder working Savior of the world who is worthy of worship. Jesus was completely confident understanding his identity and mission to obey the Father’s will and serve.

  • Initiative is important.
    Jesus sees the need and meets the need. Jesus doesn’t parade his actions but quietly presents the attitude and performs the action of a servant.
    à Where does God want you to stop waiting for someone else to act and you to initiate?
    à When we hear of a need, do we brushoff or get busy planning and working?

  • Hospitality is honorable.
    According to their custom, the right act of hospitality was to wash feet. Jesus establishes hospitality at the heart of the Christian church. The NT provides many exhortations for Christian to be hospitable.
    • Romans 12:13 “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
    • 1Peter 4:9 “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
    • 1Timothy 3:2 / Titus 1:8  – hospitable is a characteristic for elders
    • 1 Corinthians 9:19, 22 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
    • Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
    • The New Testament word for “hospitality” (Greek philozenia) comes from a compound of “love” and “stranger.” Hospitality has its origin, literally, in love for outsiders.
      à What is one action step of hospitality and love for outsiders/different that God may be wanting you to make?
  • Love is other’s oriented not self-promotion.
    Jesus did not wash feet to gain attention to Himself but because the disciples needed it done. While Jesus was teaching a greater lesson, His purpose was still to meet their need of being cleansed not just externally but internally.
    Sometimes when we are serving others, we can promote self rather than provide help. When we are serving to meet a need, is it what we think the person needs or what the person actually wants/needs? à Are we serving to be seen in a social media audience or are we willing to serve only to be noticed by a heavenly audience?

We love others with our influence.

After Jesus washed the Disciples’ feet, He resumed place and taught them the lasting lesson. “Do you understand what I have done to you?” You call me ‘Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:12-14). Jesus’s example provided a prototype of living as a servant. Jesus explains that a servant is not greater than his master (13:16-17). The servant cannot change the pattern set for them by the master. If they want to have the impact and influence of their master, they must follow the same pattern. Further, Jesus pronounces a blessing for those who follow this pattern.

If we want impact and influence, then we must be willing to serve. But, there are several barriers to serving:[4]

1. Busyness

Our culture has made multi-tasking and busyness normal, even admirable. But the pace of our lives wrecks our best intentions. We say we want to reach out to others in love, but we simply have little time to build relationships. In fact, we barely have time for the people we already know and love. “I’m busy” somehow equals “I’m important.” How much of our busyness is driven by desire for significance? Without margin in life, people can be viewed as an interruption. It will take humility and intention to slow down and make space to welcome.

  • The year 2020 was one of God’s ways of slowing our schedules to face ourselves and relationships. 

à Pray about what items in your schedule you should say yes/no to provide opportunities to serve. 

2. Shallowness

Many have become accustomed to surface-level relationships; that’s what we experience in the workplace, at school, with neighbors, and sometimes even among our friends. We may wish for deeper connections, but we’re not even sure how to get there. Perhaps because we’ve been burned before or no one ever modeled authentic community for us; we skim the surface of relationships. Frankly, we lack relational depth ourselves—or we fear it—so we’re unable or unwilling to show vulnerability, especially toward seekers.

à Make a list of some relational risks you’d like to take, and try attempting each day. Some examples may be communicating to someone how much they matter to you, or expressing to someone a sincere feeling or experience about yourself. While others may not be ready to go deeper relationally, you can begin the process of forming deeper friendships for the purpose of being able to share about Christ.

3. Competitiveness

Like the other barriers to serving, competitiveness is often driven by fear. Afraid that we won’t measure up, we adopt a “win-lose” mentality, and try to “beat” or outsmart others in some way. Our competitiveness comes out in conversation with spiritual seekers when we think that because we know the truth, we are somehow better than they are. Competition and comparison destroy the potential for community and connection. To remedy this inclination, be intentionally curious and open.
You can learn something from people who believe differently from you. Consider the possibility that other people’s questions or opinions might cause you to think more deeply, and help your faith grow. Consciously choose to let go of the need to “win” before you even start a conversation.

Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

à Think of a “Samaritan” (Jn 4) or “Judas” (Jn 13) in your life. How could you serve them to remind yourself you are not superior, but humbly saved by grace.

4. Defensiveness

When we feel insecure, we typically don’t engage in open dialogue. Around non-Christians, we may fear they will judge us, or misunderstand us, or look down on us for our faith. When we lack a firm foundation of faith and identity in Christ, we’ll be vulnerable to defensiveness, and it will actually push people away.

à Spend time with others to find common ground with those you differ and disagree. Discover multiple items you have in common so you can move beyond stereotypes or the fear they are “out to get you.”

5. Selfishness

The default mode of every human being is to ask, “What’s in it for me?” If we think engaging with unbelievers is too much work, we won’t do it. We often choose relationships based on what we can get, rather than what we can give. But, the antidote to selfishness is to serve others. Here’s a little known secret about serving selflessly: it brings joy!
à See a need, meet a need. When you discover an opportunity to serve someone, do it. Consider long-term volunteer opportunities that meet needs of individuals or groups.

  • Which of these five barriers most often blocks you from quality relationships and gospel neighboring?


Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: ‘just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35)

As disciples of Jesus:

  • As disciples of Jesus: 1) No one is above serving. We check our egos and claim the title of servant. 2) No one is below being served. We lay down stereotypes or bitterness and share undeserving grace.
  • For what are you known? You can have a 360 evaluation and ask 2-3 others in 5 areas to let you know: family, work, neighborhood, church, other. Questions like: What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What is one word or phrase (bible verse/character) that describes me? How could I improve?
  • Are you known by the love of God? Christianity is not something you earn – none of disciples deserved it (Peter denied, Discipled fleed, Judas betrayed). Though we cannot earn salvation we can embrace it.

[1] Information from


[3] Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, And Eternity, p.41.

[4] Adapted from The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversation teaching manual.

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