Christ our Example
“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)
What is the believer’s rule of life? By what standard must our lives be governed, as the children of God in this world? How should we behave? What principles are we to live by, as we walk before God and men in this world? By what law are we to live?
These are questions which concern all of God’s children. None of God’s people are lawless, rebellious antinomians. All who trust Christ want to honor God. All who are born of God want to do the will of God. We want to do what is right before God and men. The grace of God experienced in the soul teaches us to live “soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:12). As we are admonished in Holy Scripture, saved sinners want to “be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
A man or woman who is chosen, redeemed, and regenerated by the grace of God has a principle of godliness and righteousness created in his or her heart. Such a person wants to live in a manner that will be pleasing and honoring to God, for the glory of Christ. If you do not love God’s law, you neither know God nor love God. Your religion is a refuge of lies. Your pretense of faith is a delusion.
Because we preach the Gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ, declaring incessantly and everywhere that salvation is free, that grace is unconditional, and that God’s elect are free from the law, that God will never charge his own with sin, as the Scriptures everywhere assert, we are slandered by religious legalists as antinomians, as promoters of licentiousness. These work-mongers, who had already crept into the church in Jude’s day, have multiplied through the ages. Pretending to preach the grace of God, they attempt to mix law and grace together and blasphemously assert that the preaching of free grace leads to licentiousness (Jude 1:4).
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The Gospel of God is the Gospel of godliness. It teaches all who know it to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:2). It is “wholesome doctrine which is according to godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).
Here are three things we need to learn, as we seek to live in this world for the glory of God our Savior.
- Believers are not under the law, period.
There is absolutely no sense in which believers are under the yoke of bondage. We are not under the ceremonial laws of Israel. We are not under the civil laws given to Israel. We are not under the dietary laws given to Israel. We are not under the economic laws given to Israel. And we are not under the moral law, the Ten Commandments, that was given to Israel.
The law was given to Israel alone. No one else was commanded, or even allowed to observe the Jews sabbath days, ceremonies, and ordinances. The law was given to point to Christ. The law was a schoolmaster unto Christ. The law is not our rule of life! We have no commitment to the law, no curse from the law, and not constraint by the law (Romans 6:14-15).
The law promises reward for obedience and threatens punishment for disobedience; but God’s saints are not mercenaries. We do not serve our God for gain, or because of fear. God’s elect are not motivated by such things. Our service to God is motivated by love, grace, and faith. God requires and accepts heart obedience. He will not accept the mere outward, pretentious show of the hypocrite. — The Almighty sees through the Pharisee’s show!
Did you hear the Scriptures? — “We are not under the law, but under grace!” The law makes men slaves. It produces bondage and bondage creates strife. Law work promotes pride, self-righteousness, and judgmental attitudes. We are expressly and repeatedly warned not to be brought in bondage to the law (Romans 7:1-4; Galatians 3:24-26; Romans 10:1-4; Galatians 5:1-4; Colossians 2:14-16). The reason the law was given at Sinai was to point sinners to Calvary. The law was given to point us to Christ, who alone obeyed its requirements and satisfied its justice as the sinner’s Substitute.
- God’s people in this world must not allow themselves to be ruled by the self-righteous standards, traditions, laws, and customs imposed by religious men (1 Timothy 4:1-5; Romans 14:5, 11-17).
It is customary in our day for men to set themselves up as judges of other men’s spirituality, dedication, and devotion. They call it “fruit inspecting.” But the standard by which they judge is a very faulty one. It changes from one place to another, from one time to another, and from one circumstance to another. But you can be sure of this: — Anything that is right is always right; and anything that is wrong is always wrong. True godliness is not outward, but inward. It is a matter of the heart. The fruit of the Spirit is heart fruit (Galatians 5:22-23.
- Yet, we are not left without law.
We have a law by which to live (1 John 3:23; 2 Corinthians 5:14-16). The whole of God’s holy law teaches two things: Faith and Love, faith in Christ and brotherly love. By these two rules we live. The just live by faith, faith which worketh by love.
We have an example of that law of love in John 13:15. I realize that such frail creatures of the dust as we are need some example by which to live, some pattern to copy. Our sinful flesh requires that we be ruled by some law. We do not suggest that every man do that which is right in his own eyes. But what example are we to follow? What law must we submit to and obey? What is the rule by which we must live? The answer is found right here.
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe [them] with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also [my] hands and [my] head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash [his] feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for [so] I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:3-15)
The Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior, “suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). If I want to know how to live in this world, I need only to read the four gospels, look to Christ my Example, and follow him.
- What kind of father should I be? — Look to Christ.
- What kind of mother should I be? — Look to Christ.
- What kind of child should I be? — Look to Christ.
- What kind of friend should I be? — Look to Christ.
- What kind of husband should I be? — Look to Christ.
- What kind of wife should I be? — Look to Christ.
- What kind of neighbor should I be? — Look to Christ.
- How should I treat my enemies? — Look to Christ.
- How should I pray? — Look to Christ.
- How should I forgive men? — Look to Christ.
- How should I deal with men in business? — Look to Christ.
- Should I pay my taxes? — Look to Christ.
- How can I know the will of God? — Look to Christ.
- How can I overcome temptation? — Look to Christ.
- How should I treat the poor? — Look to Christ.
- What is humility? — Look to Christ.
- What is sin? — Look to Christ.
- How should a believer suffer? — Look to Christ.
- What is faithfulness? — Look to Christ.
- How much should I give? — Look to Christ.
- What is patience? — Look to Christ.
- How much of this world’s good should I seek? — Look to Christ.
- What is it to live by faith? — Look to Christ.
- What is love? — Look to Christ.
If you have any other questions pertaining to life in this world, look to Christ. And if you would learn how to die, when your life is over, look to Christ. In all things, Christ is our Law, our Teacher, our Guide, our Example. All who want to live in this world for the glory of God need only to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Constant Love Portrayed
John 13 records one of the most teaching and most instructive incidents in the earthly life and ministry of our Lord. Here we see the Son of God washing his disciples’ feet. This picture of our Lord Jesus Christ washing his disciples’ feet is a picture of our Savior’s constant love toward us. Really verse one is a text for the sermon which our Lord acted out in verses 2-17. Here we see our Lord acting as a gracious Host to his disciples. He gives them bread to eat and wine to drink. He even takes a towel and a bowl of water and stoops down to wash their feet!
This was a custom in the old Eastern countries. If a man had honored guests in his home, he provided them with food, wine, and cool water to wash their feet. Abraham had some water brought for the angels who visited him to wash their feet. Joseph had his servant to wash the feet of his brothers when they came to Egypt. But Christ himself so highly honored his disciples that he washed their feet.
It is still true today that our Lord tenderly cares for our every need as our constant, gracious, loving host (Romans 8:28; Psalms 57:2).
This act of love performed by our Savior shows me three things. —— First, the Lord Jesus Christ looks after our smallest cares and concerns with great interest. So tender is his love that he even washes his disciples’ feet. He takes notice even of a little soil on their heels.
He who sovereignly rules all things
Takes care of our smallest affairs:
The almighty Lord, King of kings,
Would have us cast on Him our cares.
Second, our Lord Jesus tenderly provides refreshment for the children of his love. — In hot climates, nothing is more refreshing, after a long walk or a long day of work, than to have your feet bathed in cool water. Truly, there are many pools of cool water from which the Son of God refreshes our weary souls (His Salvation, His Promises, His Presence, His Faithfulness, His Word, His Ordinances, His Gospel, His Throne of Grace). And there are special, specific seasons when he refreshes us. Before we enter the hard labor of trial, he graciously prepares his own for the trials they must endure, with sweet refreshments of grace. In the midst of our journey, our Savior comes to us, as he did to the disciples on the Emmaus Road, opens to us the Scriptures, and causes our hearts to burn within us, as he talks to us by the way. When we arrive home in heaven, he will refresh our souls as never before (Luke 12:37; Revelation 8:1).
Third, our blessed Lord Jesus carefully tends to the spiritual welfare of each of his disciples. He washes our feet. He washes us from the defilements of the world and the soil of worldly care.
It seems to me that the public ordinances of the gospel are especially designed for this purpose. In baptism and in the Lord’s Supper we are reminded again of our Savior’s great sacrifice of himself for us, and have our feet washed again. The blood is freshly applied by the Holy Spirit; and we are freshly washed in the preaching of the Gospel, in the songs of Zion, in the reading of the Word, and in the prayers and praises of God’s elect.
We need to be washed daily, constantly. — “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). And our dear Savior is always ready to wash us.
An Example to Follow
Second, this picture of Christ washing his disciples’ feet is an example of love for us to follow (vv. 12-15).
“So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
We do not physically observe foot washing as an ordinance, because our Lord did not instruct us to do so. The New Testament gives no hint that our Savior’s disciples ever practiced such an ordinance, the early church did not do so, and we have no instruction about such an ordinance in the New Testament.
Our Lord Jesus did not institute foot washing as an ordinance for the church. He gave us an example to live by as a rule of life. He gave us a pattern to follow. He said, “Do as I have done to you.” Our Lord Jesus here shows us how we ought to serve one another, and how we ought to allow ourselves to be served by our brethren. Some of us are too proud to wash someone else’s feet; and some of us are too proud to have our feet washed by someone else.
Three lessons are clearly taught by our Savior’s example in this portion of Holy Scripture: First, we should carefully maintain love for one another (John 13:35; 1 John 4:8; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13). Second, love is serviceable. Love does not say. Love does! No service is too great for love. No service is too small for love. No service is too demanding for love. No service is too costly for love. Third, love is the never ending, abiding law of Christ’s church (John 13:34-35).
Our dear Savior himself shows us how to love (1 John 3:16-17; 4:9-11). Deeds of love and kindness are understood by all men. And love is all the law fulfilled and all the law needed. — “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14).
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:1-8)
“If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:17)