Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: God exalts leaders who humbly serve others.

Scripture Introduction

As we have seen often in this book, in John 13 Jesus again acts out a parable to teach his disciples, and with them, us. Michael Card sings, The Basin and the Towel, to capture the text in music and poetry:

In an upstairs room, a parable is just about to come alive. And while they bicker about who’s best, with a painful glance, He’ll silently rise.

Their Savior Servant must show them how through the will of the water and the tenderness of the towel.

And the call is to community, the impoverished power that sets the soul free. In humility, to take the vow, that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

In any ordinary place, on any ordinary day, the parable can live again when one will kneel and one will yield.

Our Savior Servant must show us how through the will of the water and the tenderness of the towel.

And the space between ourselves sometimes is more than the distance between the stars. By the fragile bridge of the Servant’s bow we take up the basin and the towel.

And the call is to community, the impoverished power that sets the soul free. In humility, to take the vow, that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

A basin and towel—that strange image (so often the subject of the painter’s sermon) in which the Lord of glory humbles himself, and so provides the one occasion where he says, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” John 13 is our text, one of the most remembered actions of Messiah. [Read John 13.1-17. Pray.]


In the doctorate program at Covenant Seminary, Dr. Bob Burns teaches a course on “power politics.” The topic did not surprise me; what I found interesting was the negative response he received from church folks. Christians like to imagine they float above the “filth” of political posturing and decision-making based on personal benefits. The reality is far more gruesome than we like to see in vivid color. (As G. K. Chesterton observed: “People cannot tolerate very much truth.”)

Every once in a while, a particular instance reveals the problems of power in the church. When Richard Dortch was hired as executive vice president of the PTL Club, he promised to recruit a strong finance director and several MBAs to establish some fiscal sanity. Within a couple of years, however, both Jim Bakker and Richard Dortch were convicted for the misuse of funds. In an interview, Dortch explained what had happened: “Success was defined by how many stations we had on our network or how big our building was. It is so easy to lose control, to compromise without recognizing it…. We were so caught up in God’s work that we forgot about God….. It is so easy to get swept away by popularity” (Quoted in Ford, Transforming Leadership, 143).

We recognize such glaring examples of succumbing to the lust for power. But examples are more widespread than we admit. In fact, their commonness led Richard Foster to write on the subject and to note: “Power can be an extremely destructive thing in any context, but in the service of religion it is downright diabolical…. When we are convinced that what we are doing is identical with the kingdom of God, anyone who opposes us must be wrong” (Money, Sex and Power, 178).

Before we study today, I would ask that you consider that everyone of you is a leader—everyone of you influences others. Every mother leads her children and husband. Every worker leads co-workers and superiors. Every student leads in the classroom and in the conversations after class. Please do not mistake office for leadership. Not all of us have an office, like elder or vice-president, yet everyone leads. If we would do so well, let us hear Jesus’ parable on power, humility, and service Romans the basin and towel.

1. Observe What Great Leadership is Not

1.1. Servant Leadership Is Not Giving Up Your Own Identity

You may fear that taking the place of a servant equals giving up who we are. Sometimes people refer to this as “being a doormat.” But that is not Jesus’ position. [Read John 13.3.]

Jesus knows exactly who he is and is completely self-confident and secure in his identity. He is not saying, “Woe is me; I am weak and worthless; I might as well wash feet.” On the contrary, he says, “I am strong and secure; I am accepted and safe. I know who I am and where I am going. Therefore, I can do what others’ fear; I serve with grace and self-denial.”

Dr. Charles Ross, The Inner Sanctuary, 27: “But what I wish you specially to notice here is that it was just as knowing all this, that Jesus proceeds to the menial service afterwards described. In the full view of the power that was now to be put into his hands, and in the full consciousness of the glorious relation in which he stood to the Father, as having come from God, and as going to God – yea, just because he knew that all this power and glory belonged to him – he rises from supper, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet.”

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