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Lesson 1: Humility

Pride makes us artificial, and humility makes us real.

– Thomas Merton

Devotion: Read John 13:1-20. Understanding humility is essential for those who desire to embody the way of life Jesus taught. Unfortunately, our culture defines humility as thinking poorly of oneself and projecting a negative self-image. That is more accurately labeled “false humility,” and it is as different from real humility as is pride. Humility results from knowing and accepting our true place before God. Someone who is humble does not talk negatively about themselves because they are a child of God. A humble person is not arrogant but acknowledges the gifts God has given and is willing to use them in service to others. There is a reason humility leads us to service—Jesus is the incarnation of God and serves others! God does not have to serve, love, care, and forgive us, but our Creator chooses to do those things! The humility of Jesus gives us insight into the nature of God. When Jesus commands us to love and teaches us to serve, we are not being pushed into humiliation. We are being invited to become like God. What is the difference between being god-like and godly?

Personal Worship Option: Read Romans 12:3. Are you more likely to be filled with pride or false humility? What are the gifts God has given you? What are the sinful habits with which you continue to struggle? How do both pride and false humility become a stumbling block to prayer?

Dig A Little Deeper:

Instead of reporting the details of Last Supper like the other gospels, John gives us this call to service. How do Jesus’ actions of washing feet reflect the same symbolism as the meal itself?  

13:1 The synoptic gospels report the Communion meal is part of the Passover experience. John moves the meal to “before the festival of the Passover.” He also shifts the crucifixion to the eve of the Passover, when lambs are sacrificed (18:28; 19:14, 31). By doing so, he symbolically states Jesus is the true Passover lamb. Remember: the goal of the gospel writers is to convince readers that Jesus is Sovereign, not offer an historical account of activities. John has no trouble shifting this account, just as he moves the “cleansing of the Temple” to early in Jesus’ ministry (Jn 2:13-22).

13:2 John reports Satan’s involvement in other places as well (13:27; 14:30). How do you interpret “the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him?” If Judas has free will, what does this expression suggest about temptation?  

13:5 Slaves or servants wash guests’ dusty or dirty feet. Some believe this episode represents a form of baptism. Jesus consecrates the disciples through his death (the ultimate act of service for all) and prepares them for their ministry. Why are the disciples uncomfortable with this act?

13:8 Receiving service is necessary for participation with Jesus. This is a rejection of salvation by works. We are not made clean by our own efforts; we must receive God’s service for us.

13:11 All the disciples’ feet are physically washed, but one is still impure. A ritual, even one led by Jesus, does not purify those one whose inner dispositions are turned away from God.  

13:12 Jesus moves away from baptism or salvation imagery to focus on humble service.

13:14 In this culture, disciples apprentice to their master, learning to imitate their actions. We learn by doing what we see done. We do not wait to feel emotionally moved to serve—we serve others because Jesus has given us the example to emulate. Which of Jesus’ actions do you need to reexamine and incorporate more in your life? Are you apprenticed to Jesus or observing him? How might waiting to be emotionally moved be a form of pride?

13:16 In God’s kingdom, the greatest is least and serves all (Mk 10:42-45).

13:18 Jesus refers to Psalm 41:9 as a prophecy concerning Judas.  

13:19 “I am he” refers to God’s name self-revealed at the burning bush (Ex 3:14). Jesus’ revelation of who he is therefore tied to service, particularly the sacrifice of the cross.

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