“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. . . . So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.’”12
Thus far, we have addressed some possible wrong motives that may have led you to want to participate in AIM’s ministry in Cambodia, or in any short-term mission trip for that matter. In reflecting on these past couple days, hopefully you have already begun to discover what the right motives ought to be.
The above Scripture gives us a clear picture of the mission of Christ on this earth and to what He has called His disciples in His absence and preparation for His return. You are probably familiar with this passage; it often serves as the inspiration for modern feet-washing ceremonies done symbolically in churches today. Understanding the historical and cultural contexts of this strange event and command of Jesus can further illuminate the kind of lives we are meant to lead every day and on the mission field.
It is, first and foremost, a call to service and humility. It’s safe to admit that this is a hard concept for the Western Church, where service often looks like participating in the local church’s homeless ministry a couple times a year. And even these good deeds can be driven by the wrong motives that we have talked about in the past few days. But the actions Jesus models for us in washing His disciples’ feet are far more radical than we might initially estimate.
Foot washing was the business of servants. It was the dirty work of the lowly as they cleaned the dusty, and no doubt gnarly, feet of others who had trekked miles in shoes that weren’t quite as well-made or protective as shoes are today. Think of a fairly nasty job you would deign to do. That is essentially what Jesus was doing. But it wasn’t just about foot washing, it was about humbling Himself before others, about denying Himself and disregarding the majesty and glory due to Him and putting others first. Jesus adopted a lowly posture before others to demonstrate His love for them, and to give us an example of how we are to treat other people.
It is easy to think that we can be both servants and seek out our grand adventure. Love people and get something in return. But what Jesus did in this act was to eliminate all of those pre-conditions and posture Himself in the most lowly of ways. He indeed “came not to be served but to serve.”13
On this trip you are called to serve:
- God: The purpose of this trip is to glorify God through your service.
- AIM staff: Your team should serve and support the work that the AIM staff is doing, not the other way around.
- Cambodian people: You are to be a reflection of Christ’s love to the country of Cambodia – not merely when at a ministry site, but when you are at your hotel, restaurant or market.
- Your team members.
Challenge yourself to model your life after Christ’s, to consider what He would do and how He would serve. Consider the uneasy task that was set before Him – to bear the sins of the world amassed over thousands of years – and how He faced it with love and courage and self-sacrifice, and considered everything else a loss that He might accomplish this goal. A physical cross might not be yours to bear, but the same motivations that prompted Jesus to give His life are what ought to drive you in this ministry. Whether it is to serve the Cambodians, the permanent in-country staff, or your teammates, let not your pride, your personal motivations, your weariness, or even your fear keep you from selflessly extending yourself to others.
As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV): “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Consider the following questions:
- In honest self-evaluation, how much have you typically been willing to serve in the past, and how does that compare with the example of Christ?
- What are some obstacles (spiritual, emotional, physical and mental) that might keep you from denying self and giving to others?
This is just a brief look at what the model of service Jesus gives to us. Take some time to look elsewhere throughout Scripture to see how else Jesus demonstrated this. In understanding His nature and character, it becomes easier for us to understand how we are to be conformed into His image.
12 John 13:5, 12-15, NKJV
13 Mark 10:4, ESV (emphasis added)