No Pastor Is Greater Than His Master

As you consider these diagnostic questions, remember the grace that frees you to look at yourself and your ministry with humility and honesty.
  • Where in your ministry is there evidence of self-glory?
  • Where are you more dominant than you should be?
  • Where do you fail to listen when you should?
  • Where do you attempt to control things that you do not need to control?
  • Where do you find it hard to delegate ministry to others?
  • Where are you tempted to speak more than you should?
  • Where do you fail to recognize and esteem the gifts of others?
  • Where are you unwilling to examine your weaknesses and to admit you failures?
  • Where are you tempted to think of yourself as more essential than you actually are?
  • Where do you care too much about people’s respect, esteem, and appreciation?
  • Where to you find it easier to confront than to receive confrontation?
  • Where are you less than thankful for the ministry partners whom God has connected you to?
  • Where are you too confident of your own strength and wisdom?

Christological Model

There is a startling moment of meek and instructive grace in the life of Jesus and the disciples that devastates self-glory and defines the kind of humility that should grip the heart of every pastor and form the lifestyle of his ministry.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,  rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

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 13:1-17)

It is one of those moments in the life of Jesus that is so amazing, so counterintuitive, that it is almost impossible to wrap your brain around it, let alone capture it in words. Jesus is in that final moment with his disciples in that rented upper room. It is a holy moment when he declares himself to be the Passover Lamb. Because the room is rented, there is no servant standing by the requisite pitcher, basin, and towel to wash Jesus and the disciples’ feet. Of course, the disciples, being full of themselves, all too concerned with their power and position in the kingdom, were too proud to do the dirty deed.

This debased but culturally essential task what not assigned to any servant. It is clear that in New Testament times there were many levels of authority and responsibility in the culture of servanthood. There were servants who managed whole households, and there were servants who lived the menial life of a slave. The job of washing people’s dirty feet before they reclined to eat was reserved for the lowest, most junior, no-account slave. There is no way that the disciples would lower themselves to such a position in front of one another, at least not while they were vying for kingdom greatness.

At the end of the meal, Jesus arises, takes off his outer garments, ties the towel around his waist, and fills the basin with water. He couldn’t be about to do what you think he’s going to do! This is Lord God Almighty. This is the Son of God, the Promised King, the Creator of all that is. This is the fulfillment of all the covenant promises. This is the Savior Lamb. He can’t be thinking of doing something so unseemly, so undignified, so slave-like.

True Identity and Mission

But that was exactly his intention. And it is vital to understand that he knew exactly who he was, and how this connected to his true identity and mission. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose . . .” This stunning act of humble love resulted not from Jesus forgetting who he was, but because he remembered who he was. This was the holy mission of the Son Savior. He must be willing to enter the lowest human condition, to be willing to do the most debased thing and to let go of his rights of position in order that we might be redeemed. It was a high and holy calling, and it was the only way.

His identity as the Son of God didn’t lead him to be arrogant and entitled, unwilling to do what needed for redemption to be accomplished. His identity didn’t cause him to assess that he was too good for the task. No, his identity motivated and propelled him to do what the disciples were convinced was below them. The grace of this humble one is your hope as you face the ever-present temptation of self-glory in your ministry.

By Paul Tripp / No Pastor Is Greater Than His Master (

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