Summary: Expository sermon using Jesus example to articualte foundations for sound ministry.

Mindset for Ministry

Fortifying the Foundations # 30

John 13:1-20[1]


In 1904 the heir to the Borden Dairy Estate, William Borden, graduated from Chicago High School a millionaire. His parents gave him a trip around the world. During that trip he became burdened for all the hurting people he saw in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. He made a decision to prepare for the mission field. When he made that decision he wrote in his Bible the words, “No Reserve.”

When William Borden arrived at Yale University the next year as a freshman his passion for Christ was already kindled. He was disappointed to find the school morally bankrupt and the teaching filled with empty philosophy. So during his first semester, he asked a friend to begin praying with him before breakfast. As a result of his leadership other prayer groups began to spring up. And by his senior year, 1,000 of the 1,300 students were meeting in prayer groups. Many of those young leaders came to the Lord through that movement.

Upon graduation he was offered high paying jobs. But he turned those offers down and continued to pursue God’s call on his life. While making those decisions he wrote two more words in his Bible, the words “No Retreat”.

When he completed his studies at Princeton Seminary he sailed to China to work with the Muslims. On the way he stopped in Egypt to study Arabic. But there in Egypt he was stricken with spinal meningitis and within a month at the age of 25 he died. What his friends and family found written in his Bible was a great source of comfort. Added to the words previously written, “No Reserve, No Retreat” were two more words, “No Regrets”.[2]

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing for you and me to arrive at the end of our earthly journey with those words written in our hearts, “No Reserve, No Retreat, No Regrets”?

William Borden is an example of a person who entered into his ministry and fulfilled God’s plan for his life and could come to the end with “No Regrets”.

This morning as we come to our text in John 13, we want to draw from Jesus’ example insight on how we too can finish our course with no regrets (How we can enter the ministry God has for us and fulfill His purpose for our lives). In this passage Jesus washes the disciples feet and in doing so teaches us a powerful lesson on servanthood. A couple of years ago I preached a message from this text emphasizing the call to follow that example and serve one another with humility of heart.[3] That is the central them of our text.

But today rather than focus on what Jesus did or even said in these verses, I want us to consider the mindset behind his actions and words. Before we can consistently follow Jesus’ example of serving, we must have our minds renewed[4] so that we think the way he thinks. That forms the foundation of long-term ministry.

The Apostle John has provided something for us in this text that is extremely helpful toward that happening in our lives. By the revelation of the Holy Spirit he has shared with us what Jesus was thinking during those last hours in the upper room. Here is a precious treasure. Here is a key that unlocks the door of fruitful ministry and a fulfilling life.

What kind of thinking empowers you and me to serve with joy and not lose our passion for ministry? What do you need to know in order to take the place of a servant and follow the example Jesus gives us here?

I. Know who you are in God.

If we don’t know who we are in God we will spend most of our energy doing things to define our identity. And tragically nothing we can do—no attainment, no honor, no accomplishment, no amount of human recognition can adequately define our identity.

Why? Because your identity is not found in what you do but in whom you are by the grace of God. That’s why Paul spends so much time in the first half of Ephesians explaining to those believers who they are in Christ. That’s why we read in that epistle statements like Eph 1:4-5 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” And Eph 2:7-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We don’t minister in order to find out who we are. We minister out of who we are. The first thing you and I need to have as a foundation for effective ministry is a revelation of who we are in God. I am what I am by the grace of God. Out of who I am in God I serve you. And in the same way you serve me. If I don’t do that, I stand in danger of taking more from you than I give.

There in that upper room is Jesus assuming the most humbling task in that culture. He bows before the disciples and washes their feet. Why hadn’t one of the disciples done that? We have a clue from Luke 22 because Luke tells us about an argument that arose amongst them as to who would be greatest in the kingdom. I suspect that none of them wanted to assume the position of washing the other’s feet because that might have placed that one at the bottom of the pecking order. None of the disciples were secure enough in who they were to embrace the job of a servant.

But Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power. He was not insecure about his identity. Therefore, taking the lowly job was not threatening to that identity. When we can only define ourselves by what we do, we will be so busy trying to do something that will put us in a good light that we won’t do much service. But when we are firmly centered on who we are in Christ, we can take the lowly position without worrying about being marked as insignificant.

In the context of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, John makes this comment in verse 3,

“Jesus knew” – Knew what?

1. “that the Father had put all things under his power,

2. and that he had come from God

3. and was returning to God.”

In this chapter we find Jesus hiding with his disciples in the upper room that probably belonged to a friend. Some scholars think it was John Mark’s house[5]. But we do know that it was not Jesus’ house. Jesus only owned the clothes on his back. He had no material wealth. He didn’t own any real estate. In fact, he told one potential disciple that he didn’t have a place to lay his head[6]. By the world’s standards he was a pauper. At this time he was being hunted like a common criminal. We look back on this with 2,000 years of hindsight. We know from history how impacting Jesus’ life has been, even from a secular standpoint. But think about the way things would seem to be at that particular time. From a natural point of view Jesus looked like a failure. He looked like he had nothing.

That’s what makes John’s comment so significant. Things are not always as they appear.

We may one day be surprised to find the first being last and the last being first[7]. We may one day find that what we thought was great success was very lacking in God’s eyes. And what we thought was failure, did not come as short as we thought. Who can really judge a matter? That’s one reason comparisons can be a very unwise pass time. We are not to compare ourselves one with another[8]. We are to simply hear the Father and do His bidding[9].

But how can Jesus serve so honorably and graciously in such difficult circumstances? He knew something about himself that others could not see. He knew who he was and what authority the Father had actually given him.

1. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power...

It looked like thirteen helpless men hiding from the wrath and fury of the religious hierarchy and Roman might. But in reality, reclining in that tiny upper room was the power center of the universe. In reality all power in heaven and earth belonged to Jesus.

He was not the helpless victim of some sinister plot to kill him. He was the willing, voluntary Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.[10]

During Cold War a Jewish Rabbi in Russia became very discouraged & disillusioned. In his despair one evening he took a long walk in the night. He was so engrossed in his thoughts as he walked that he did not notice that he was walking in to an area secured by the Russian authority. As he walked into that forbidden area, a soldier suddenly called out to him, “Who goes there?” The Rabbi was suddenly taken by what the guard had said. He walked up to the guard and asked him, “What did you say?” The guard said, “I asked you, who goes there?” The Rabbi then asked him, “How much do you make as a soldier here?” Taken back by such a question in those circumstances, the guard as him why he wanted to know. Then the Rabbi said, “I will pay you that much to ask me that question every morning. You have just given me the answer I have so desperately needed. I was in despair wondering what I could do about the circumstances of my life. But I had forgotten the more important and more basic question that must first be answered, Who am I? Thank you for reminding me what is most important of all.[11]

Jesus knew his authority in God. What else did he know about himself?

2. He knew his commission.

He was not acting on his own initiative alone. He was sent by the Father with a specific mission to accomplish. Do you know why you are here? Not just why you are sitting in this building at this time in your life? But like William Borden do you have a sense of mission in your soul? God has a mission for every breathing human being in this building. You will find no greater satisfaction in life than to discover that mission and pursue it with all your heart.

Being sent implies a backing. When you and I are operating in obedience to the Holy Spirit, I want to tell you you’ve got backing that is out of this world. An investor can speak with confidence when he has financial backing. And a child of God can operate with assurance and confidence when he understands how committed God is to His children when they are pursuing His bidding.

Jesus knew he had come from God. One of the great themes in the gospel of John

is this sense of mission and commission in Jesus’ life. But here is some marvelous news; Jesus has now sent you and me with the same kind of backing. After his resurrection we will hear Jesus say to his disciples in John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

It is when you and I embrace a cause that is worthy of our very best, worth personal sacrifice, worth the investment of our personal time and energy—that we become a true servant. Without that sense of cause and mission anybody will regress to a selfish lifestyle. Prov 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.” American Standard Version

Sometimes I have to go back and remind myself why I am doing what I do. Why in the world would you give your hard earned money to a church? Why would you volunteer to teach children or lead worship or clean the building? You would only do it if you had a vision of what it means to your Lord. Matt 25:40 "And the King will answer and say to them, ’Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” NKJV

3. Jesus also knew where he was going. Look closely and you will find that in verse 3 of our text, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”

I don’t think we talk enough about heaven anymore. The cares of life tend to occupy our minds. We can so easily get caught up in the daily activities of life that we forget not only who we are but also where we are going. Soon and very Soon We are Going to See the King. Does that truth grip your heart and fortify your integrity? Does the fact that this life is but a vapor[12] compared to eternity keep problems in perspective?

I think about the possibility of being among that number who one day stand upon the glassy sea of heaven and cast their crown at the feet of Jesus[13] and I’m motivated to do something that makes an eternal difference. After a lengthy discussion of the resurrection, Paul concludes I Corinthians 15 with these words, “1 Cor 15:58

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

We have many servants of the Lord in this room. But how many have discovered that it is a lot easier to start out being a servant than to continue as a servant? I have found that being a servant gets to be work real fast. If I serve just when I’m excited I won’t serve very long. If I don’t learn how to nurture as servant’s heart, I will get tired of doing things for other people while expecting nothing in return[14].

But when I think about that great day when I stand before God and give an account for every moment, every idle word, every bit of my life—something rises up in my heart and says, “I want that to be a good day, not a bad day. I don’t want to be ashamed when I stand before the Lord who loved me and gave himself for me. I want to put some joy in his heart and hear him say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’.”

Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth of something that we all need reminded of—your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Turn to the person next to you and just remind that person of that truth—tell him or her, “Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

So, Know who you are in God.

II. Know who you are serving.

In verse 1 of our text John makes it very clear that Jesus knew that the time for him to lay down his life for you and me was very near. But in that verse John also makes this comment about Jesus and it is related to this issue of servanthood,

John 13:1 “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”

Love is one of the most amazing dynamic there is. In a way it defies explanation. I can talk about self-preservation and the survival of the fittest and I can develop theories of evolution and other theories based upon the biology of all that and make a little sense of it. But when I’m confronted with the reality of love, I am looking at something that biology alone cannot explain. “God is love.”[15] And outside of God there is no reasonable explanation of real love.

Love will cause a person to sacrifice personal comfort and gain for the well-being of another. Love caused William Borden to forsake a life of comfort and ease in pursuit of lost souls. Love motivated Jesus to pay the ultimate price for our redemption. What the world needs now is love—not a Hollywood distortion of love, not lust and selfish desire—but love. Love will win the lost sinner.

But how can I love stinky, selfish, rebellious people enough to serve them[16]? By the way, that pretty well describes every one of us if we walk in the flesh. “God so loved the world that He gave...”[17] That is the motive for service. But how do I get motivated that way? First, I need the influence of the Holy Spirit shedding God’s love abroad in my heart.[18] Without God I cannot truly love other people.

But how can I nurture that love for people? I must go back to the word of God and remember how God looks at people. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

God sees something in people that is so precious to Him that He would send His Son to suffer and die for their salvation. I’m convinced that His love is so personal that were you the only person on the face of the earth Jesus would have paid that same price for you.

Jesus looked at his disciples and said in his heart, “You are why I will pay this price.”[19]

He looked down the ages and saw you and me and said in his heart, “You are why I will pay this price.” He looks down in Springfield and there sitting in a bar is a man who has left his wife, forsaken his children, and makes his living selling drugs to teenagers. You and I look at that person and if we’re not careful we don’t see what Jesus sees. He looks at that person and says in his heart once again, “You are why I paid the price.” If I can look at that person I’m about to serve and realize how precious that soul is to Jesus, I can be encouraged to continue serving.

In Hebrews 12 we are told that Jesus endured the cross—there is no greater example of personal sacrifice and service than that—Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. Here is the amazing thing. You are that joy. I am that joy. And so is that sinner that Jesus wants to reach through your testimony. Listen to the instruction given in Heb 12:1-3 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Are you weary? Are you losing heart in your service to others? Consider him. Consider the joy that he was looking to as he endured the cross. Consider what that person means to him. I’m talking about attitudes nurtured in our hearts that will cause us to serve others. I’m talking about a way of thinking that naturally leads to effective ministry. May we all have the mind of Christ in these matters?

I invite you this morning to pray a bold prayer—to ask God to let you see yourself as He sees you and see others as He sees them—to ask Him to give you a servant’s heart like Jesus.

Text: John 13:1-20

:1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

7Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

8"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."

Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

9"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"

10Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13"You call me `Teacher’ and `Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

18"I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: `He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’

19"I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me." NIV

Richard Tow

Grace Chapel Foursquare Church

Springfield, MO


[1] Text which was read earlier in the service is provided at the end of this manuscript. All quotes are from New International Version unless otherwise indicated.

[2] accessed 3-12-04. His sources included portions reprinted from Daily Bread, December 31, 1988, and The Yale Standard, Fall 1970 edition. [Quotations taken from Borden of Yale, by Mrs. Howard Taylor, Moody Press, Chicago.]

[3] Sermon entitled “What to do with Dirty Feet” preached 11-24-02

[4] Romans 12:2-3 and Philippians 2:3-11

[5] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984) p. 485

[6] Matt. 8:20 and Luke 9:58

[7] Mark 10:29-31

[8] II Corinthians 10:12

[9] John 5:19

[10] Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000) pp 467-468. Also see Matt. 28:18 and John 10:18

[11] Heard this story in a sermon by Wayne Cordeiro at an International Church of the Foursquare Convention during the nineties. The story is probably documented in one of his books which can be found at

[12] James 4:14

[13] Rev 4:6,10

[14] Luke 14:13-14

[15] 1 John 4:16

[16] It is reasonable to infer that Jesus washed Judas’ feet along with the other disciples. Otherwise the question of who would betray Jesus would have already been settled and not asked. Next week we will discuss Jesus love toward Judas. The example Jesus sets for us in our text is not just love and service to friends, family, and those we like but even to those who would betray us and despitefully use us.

[17] John 3:16

[18] Romans 5:5

[19] This is not a quote but an assumption gathered from scripture like John 15:13 and 1 John 3:16.