We have looked at the area of servant leadership and how leaders add value by serving others through the Law of Addition. In the business world this is shown by the example of the level 5 leader. However, to dig deeper we need to understand what has been called the art of the basin and towel. The best example of this comes from the life of Jesus in John’s Gospel chapter 13. In this chapter one of the last acts of Christ before He went to die on the cross was to wash his disciples’ feet.
This incredible act of love powerfully illustrates the law of addition. We can see this from Jesus’ actions in that passage, using the Message translation of the original Greek:
1. He was motivated by genuine love to serve others.
Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime. The Devil by now had Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, firmly in his grip, all set for the betrayal. (13:1-2)
Jesus was in complete control of his circumstances. He wanted to show His disciples the full extent of His love, even to Judas who He knew would betray Him.
2. He was secure enough within Himself to serve others.
Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. (13:3)
Jesus was able to show He could serve others because He was secure and confident about who He was apart from a title or formal role. He was conscious of people and not position. His primary motive was to give and not to gain.
When I am secure in myself then I will stretch myself to take on great tasks. But at the same time if I am secure in myself I will also humble myself and stoop down to to take on what others may perceive as trivial tasks that are beneath me. That is what Jesus could do with washing the disciples’ feet. Interestingly, this is also the attitude of the level 5 leader.
3. He was able to proactively initiate service.
So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. (13:4-5).
In that time and culture there was an expectation for a servant to be around to do this menial job – but it was Jesus who deliberately chose to take it on! He did not rest on His greatness, but used his His greatness as the reason to serve. Jesus had nothing to prove to anyone; He did not have to guard His reputation or fear He might lose His popularity; He had nothing to hide and so cold be vulnerable and transparent.
4. He was able to patiently keep in two-way relationship with others.
When He got to Simon Peter, Peter said, ‘Master, You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You don’t understand now what I am doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.’ Peter then persisted, ‘You’re not going to wash my feet -ever!’
Jesus said, ‘If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I am doing.’ ’Master!’ said Peter. ‘Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!’ (13:6-9).
It is so easy for service to be something that we ‘do to others’ with an air of superiority or even smugness because we think we know better. This is what is so remarkable about Jesus who is able to patiently explain to Peter what He was doing, even though Peter at this stage in his life could make no sense of it. Peter moved from one extreme to the other by going from refusing to have his feet washed to offering his entire body to be cleaned! Jesus was able to explain to him a much higher purpose to what He was doing.
5. He taught servanthood by His example.
After He had finished washing their feet, He took His robe, put it back on and went back to His place at the table. Then He said, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as Teacher and Master, and rightly so. This is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, then you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid a pattern for you.’ (13:12-15)
As the ultimate Level 5 Leader Jesus powerfully exemplifies this paradoxical blend of personal humility and at the same a very clear determination to make a dramatic effect for the good of His disciples and ultimately the world.
This powerfully illustrates the following:
- to grow as a servant leader does not mean gaining more rights and privileges as you grow and reach for the top but actually surrendering them
- everyone likes to be thought of as a servant by others, but no one actually likes to be treated like one.
- we would all love to wash Jesus’ feet, but we are commanded to wash each other’s fee.
- Christ brings freedom, but as a leader I must surrender my freedom for the sake of others.
5. He was able to show by His example the way to ultimate fulfilment.
What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it – and live a blessed life. (13:16-17)
By blessed Jesus means a life in all its fulness and richness – body, mind, soul, spirit and relationships.
What could be worth more to live for? Here is how the late Dr Albert Schweitzer put it:
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
So over to you.
How does the art of the basin and towel speak into your life?
Please feel free to comment below.