The Greatest of These (7)
“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you...By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
All the virtues Christians hope to acquire come together in Jesus Christ. This is why the Gospel is so important for renewing virtue in our day. Only the Gospel has the power to extricate us from the snares of sin and self-interest and to deliver us into the Kingdom of God’s own dear Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is all courage and wisdom; all self-control and all justice; Jesus is the very epitome of faith, hope, and love.
The Spirit of God, working with the Word of God from within and without, intends to transform us increasingly into the very image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:12-18). If we hope to renew virtue in our lives, then we will have to look to Jesus, especially for help in learning to love.
The account of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet in the upper room provides the perfect setting for learning to love as Jesus loved. Here we find Jesus focused on two horizons and taking up actions in line with both those horizons. By staying focused Jesus was able to overcome any potential distractions and fulfill the requirements of love – both love according to the need of the moment and the people around Him, and love in line with the eternal purposes of God. Let’s consider these two “horizons of love” and how focusing consistently on them can help us to love as Jesus loved, and to grow in all the virtues of the Christian life.
The horizons against which love acts are two. The first is the eternal horizon, that toward which everything is tending – all of life and the entire cosmos, all of history, and every human being. John tells us that Jesus had this horizon in mind as He entered that upper room with His disciples. He knew that He was about to return to His Father in heaven (vv. 1, 3), but that He would only do so by fulfilling His own painful and sacrificial calling (his “hour,” v. 1). The eternal horizon is the horizon of God’s redemptive plan, what God is doing to reconcile the world to Himself through Jesus Christ. This horizon is fraught with hope and promises; but the path to it wends through self-denial, sacrifice, and suffering. If we would gain the eternal horizon, as Jesus did, we must be prepared to walk the path He has pioneered for us (1 Jn. 2:1-6). This eternal horizon demands that we set aside mere self-interest, concentrate on what pleases God, hope in His glory and strength, and proceed according to the love Jesus showed His disciples.
The second horizon against which love acts is that of the here-and-now. His mind filled with the prospects of glory through suffering, Jesus looked around at His immediate context to consider what love required. He was attentive to the opportunity presented by the situation before Him – someone needed to wash the disciples’ feet. This hardly seems like a grand work of redemption or theological significance. But it was the need of the moment, and no one was stepping up to take responsibility for it.
Jesus humbled Himself by removing His outer garment. Then He gathered the tools and resources needed for this act of love and, bending Himself before His disciples, He took the dirt of the streets in His hand, gently caressing and cleaning each man’s feet, to the undoubted astonishment of them all. Finally rising from this task, He gave a quiz: “Do you understand what I have done to you?” (v. 13) But He didn’t wait for them to answer: “If I 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...” (vv. 14, 15).
By focusing continuously on the eternal horizon of God’s redemptive plan, and by keeping alert to whatever rises before us on the immediate horizon of our everyday experience, we can learn to love like Jesus. And, loving like Jesus, we may expect to see all the virtues of Christ being renewed within us day by day.
Think about the day ahead. What will please God in this day? What might you do that will be in line with His eternal redemptive purposes for the world? What will that require of you? And, given the people and situations you are likely to engage, how will you prepare yourself now for loving as Jesus loved? Share your plans with a Christian friend, and ask for prayer.
This week’s series, The Greatest of These, is available in a free downloadable format, suitable for group study.
For more insight to the practice of temperance, order the book, Loving God, by Charles Colson. For more insight to the true nature of love, read the article, “True Love,” by Regis Nicoll.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.