When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 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, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17).
How often have you heard, “You can’t love your neighbor unless you love yourself?” The only verse one can cite that might suggest this is Matthew 22:39, but this is not what the text is referring to. Jesus’ statement, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love ourselves but an acknowledgement that we already do. Although this analogy is crude at best, the idea is something akin to: “As you have a house, go purchase a car.” The context of Matthew 22:39 is suggesting we naturally look out for our own best interests, we care for ourselves, we protect ourselves, and we should do likewise for others.
Nowhere in Scripture is self-love commended. On the contrary, it is viewed as the primary barrier between a holy God and sinful man. James tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Paul tells Timothy that self-love is a sign of the evil of the last days (2 Timothy 3:2).
John 13 affirms this thought and is saying something radically different than love others based upon the way we love ourself. Here we see that we are to love our neighbor as we have been shown love. Jesus demonstrates His love by washing the feet of His followers and this is the biblical foundation for them showing love to others. Only love that is based upon God’s agape love is true love. What we see or feel may be a human type of affection, kindness, mercy, or grace, but if it is based upon man’s version of love it is infinitely inferior to God’s love.
But that’s what the world teaches; love as you love yourself. But that is a fragile facsimile of supernatural love. It is fleeting and subject to the tides of circumstance, age, and emotion. God’s love for us is the only sure platform for expressing the kind of love that has substance and spiritual value. Man’s love – even self-love – cannot compare to His love.
If we are to love others like Christ loves then we must love with Christ-like love. But this does not come from something man-induced – internal or external – but something supernatural. It is not derived from psychological pep talks or garnered from the way we feel about ourselves based upon position, looks, relationships, or finances. It is about knowing the origin and giver of true love. “God is love,” says the Scripture (1 John 4:8). How can we begin to know how to show and give love apart from the creator of love, the One who has shown us love in the most amazing way conceivable; through the gift and sacrifice of His only begotten son (John 3:16)?
Clearly, we can’t. But we can receive the love of Jesus and therefore be empowered to love like He has loved. Not due to any person’s fleshly esteem but because we are valued by Him and we glorify Him by serving others in His love. As Jesus later tells us, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Applying John 13:3-17:
Read and meditate on Romans 8:28-39. Have you received and embraced the amazing love of God? Do you live in a way that reflects that nothing can separate you from this supernatural affection? Ponder some of things Jesus did to show us His love. Consider the foot washing scene. Contemplate what His next day crucifixion says about the way He cares for you. Pray that you can most fully experience Christ’s love. Ask God for His strength to demonstrate to others that He is the author and source of true and eternal love.