Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist,5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
When I was a young teen, my mom realized one day that I was on a fast track to awkward slouching. I’m on the taller side, so she told me (all. the. time.) to stand up straight and be proud of my height. Beyond that, my parents raised me to carry an inner strength, knowing who I am and what I stand for, making for one super confident-looking 14 year old, when in reality, I was classic homeschooled people-pleaser with a constant deer-in-the-headlights feeling behind my strong facade.
I find it really interesting to look back and see how I was led as a young person. I had the variety of leaders who liked me, saw potential in me, and invested in me while I was yet awkward. I also had the leaders who were intimidated by me and my apparent confidence, and tried to make me smaller by questioning my heart and motivations and abilities. They were trying to humble me. (I tried this on others, too, in later years, and got called out for it by a guy who would end up being my husband...that’s another story for another day.) Does that ever really work? In my experience, the only thing that MAKES humility IS humility, and that’s what we get to see so clearly in John 13.
Twice in these five verses it says, “Jesus knew…” These statements are revealing to us that Jesus knew two things: A. His time had come, and B. the Father had given Him all authority. Jesus had confidence and conviction about WHY He was here on earth, WHEN He was here on earth, and WHO had given Him authority here on earth. I’d venture to say that if Jesus was unclear on any of these things, he wouldn’t have been able to access the humility needed to serve His disciples. If He had any uncertainty about who He was, or what authority He really did have, or if it was or was not His time, His mind and heart would’ve been focused on getting answers to those questions, and He wouldn’t have had the time or the frame of mind to submit to the Father and serve those beneath Him. Even worse, He may have even looked for proof of who He was by proving who His disciples weren’t - marginalizing and “humbling” them by bringing them down below Himself with cutting remarks or snarky looks. Instead, He sets a brilliant example for us by revealing the way to show love, the way to glorify the Father, the way to find humility, and ultimately, the way to be lifted up.
There can be no room for insecure leadership in the church, in the home, in the professional workplace, or in relationships. The insecure leader forces others to be lower, while the servant leader confidently knows their place and wills others to exceed even more than they have. The insecure leader looks for faults in others to feel better about their own abilities or authority, while the servant leader gently corrects the faults seen and overwhelmingly encourages others to grow in giftings. The insecure leader has to be the loudest voice, the biggest talent, the smartest brain, and the brightest star, while the servant leader always hopes, always trusts, always respects, always listens, and always encourages. Jesus demonstrated all of this in just one moment of pure humility, love and gentleness.
My 14-year-old self had a heck of a lot to learn back then, and there’s no chance I did everything perfectly, but looking back now I realize that I was a sponge. What I learned from servant leaders in my life was that I was loved and cherished and seen by God, that He had put giftings in me that I had a responsibility to nurture, and that if I didn’t push myself to follow Him I would miss my shot at accomplishing some awesome things in the Kingdom. What I learned from insecure leadership was how NOT to teach, how NOT to treat others, and how NOT to become bitter when I felt I was treated unfairly. I’m incredibly thankful I learned all of those lessons because I rely on them to this day, but I also realize that without the servant leaders around me, I wouldn’t have had the confidence, wisdom or maturity to gracefully learn the lessons that came through hurt.
I hope that today, you are able to do one of three things (or all three, for you overachievers out there):
Find the hidden purpose in past hurts from insecure leadership.
Express thankfulness to a servant leader who led you well in the past, and
Serve someone beneath you, even if they have dirt-coated feet or are awkwardly tall.
Whitney Parnell is the director of The Well Conference and the Worship Administrator at Westside Church in Bend, OR. She's the daughter of Steve & Bo Stern, wife of Corey Parnell, and mom to two awesome little boys.