John 13:15
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
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(15) That ye should do as I have done to you.—The example is in the principle, not in the specific act; it is not “that which I have done to you,” but “according as I have done to you.” The imitation is to be worked out in applying the same principle of love and self-sacrifice in all the varying circumstances of life in which we are placed.

13:1-17 Our Lord Jesus has a people in the world that are his own; he has purchased them, and paid dear for them, and he has set them apart for himself; they devote themselves to him as a peculiar people. Those whom Christ loves, he loves to the end. Nothing can separate a true believer from the love of Christ. We know not when our hour will come, therefore what we have to do in constant preparation for it, ought never to be undone. What way of access the devil has to men's hearts we cannot tell. But some sins are so exceedingly sinful, and there is so little temptation to them from the world and the flesh, that it is plain they are directly from Satan. Jesus washed his disciples' feet, that he might teach us to think nothing below us, wherein we may promote God's glory, and the good of our brethren. We must address ourselves to duty, and must lay aside every thing that would hinder us in what we have to do. Christ washed his disciples' feet, that he might signify to them the value of spiritual washing, and the cleansing of the soul from the pollutions of sin. Our Lord Jesus does many things of which even his own disciples do not for the present know the meaning, but they shall know afterward. We see in the end what was the kindness from events which seemed most cross. And it is not humility, but unbelief, to put away the offers of the gospel, as if too rich to be made to us, or too good news to be true. All those, and those only, who are spiritually washed by Christ, have a part in Christ. All whom Christ owns and saves, he justifies and sanctifies. Peter more than submits; he begs to be washed by Christ. How earnest he is for the purifying grace of the Lord Jesus, and the full effect of it, even upon his hands and head! Those who truly desire to be sanctified, desire to be sanctified throughout, to have the whole man, with all its parts and powers, made pure. The true believer is thus washed when he receives Christ for his salvation. See then what ought to be the daily care of those who through grace are in a justified state, and that is, to wash their feet; to cleanse themselves from daily guilt, and to watch against everything defiling. This should make us the more cautious. From yesterday's pardon, we should be strengthened against this day's temptation. And when hypocrites are discovered, it should be no surprise or cause of stumbling to us. Observe the lesson Christ here taught. Duties are mutual; we must both accept help from our brethren, and afford help to our brethren. When we see our Master serving, we cannot but see how ill it becomes us to domineer. And the same love which led Christ to ransom and reconcile his disciples when enemies, still influences him.Ye also ought to wash ... - Some have understood this literally as instituting a religious rite which we ought to observe; but this was evidently not the design; because:

1. There is no evidence that Jesus intended it as a religious observance, like the Lord's Supper or the ordinance of baptism.

2. It was not observed by the apostles or the primitive Christians as a religious rite.

3. It was a rite of hospitality among the Jews, a common, well-known thing, and performed by servants.

4. It is the manifest design of Jesus here to inculcate a lesson of humility; to teach them by his example that they ought to condescend to the most humble offices for the benefit of others. They ought not to be proud, and vain, and unwilling to occupy a low place, but to regard themselves as the servants of each other, and as willing to befriend each other in every way. And especially as they were to be founders of the church, and to be greatly honored, he took this occasion of warning them against the dangers of ambition, and of teaching them, by an example that they could not forget, the duty of humility.

14. If I then—the Lord.

have washed your feet—the servants'.

ye—but fellow servants.

ought to wash one another's feet—not in the narrow sense of a literal washing, profanely caricatured by popes and emperors, but by the very humblest real services one to another.

Ver. 15,16. The apostles were to take up a very high station in the gospel church, and our hearts are very prone to swell in a high opinion of ourselves, for which the nature of man taketh advantage from every thing in which we either really do excel, or can conceit that we do excel, our neighbours. Our Lord therefore, though speaking to the apostles, (some of the best of men), yet knowing they were (like Elijah) men subject to like passions with other men, addeth this to arm them against, any temptation to pride: they owned themselves as servants to Christ who was their great Lord; they had seen what he had done; he therefore applies a proverbial expression to them, which he also made use of in other cases, as Matthew 10:24 John 15:20; in both which places he maketh use of it to arm them against persecutions; here, to persuade them to humility, condescension, and brotherly love.

For I have given you an example,.... Christ is an example to his people, in many things; not in his miraculous performances and mediatorial work, but in the exercise of grace, of meekness, humility, love, patience, and the like; and in the discharge of duty, in submission to ordinances, and in attending on them; and in the several duties, both to them that are without, and to them that are within; and also in his sufferings and death; not that he died merely as an example, but likewise in the room and stead of his people; but here he is spoken of, as an example, in a particular instance:

that ye should do as I have done to you; wash one another's feet, as he had washed theirs; which is not to be understood literally and singly of this action, as though this was an ordinance binding upon all persons, in all places, and to be attended to at certain stated times, as has been the practice of some: it was so understood by the church at Milain, and there practised; and this custom was continued and defended by St. Ambrose, even though not received by the church of Rome; in some places the bishop used to wash the feet of those that were baptized, which in process of time being thought sufficient, instead of baptism, was forbidden by the council at Eliberis. In imitation of this, the pope every year, on Thursday in the passion week, washes the feet of twelve men; and it is an anniversary ceremony performed by the kings of England and France, to wash the feet of twelve poor people, in commemoration of this action of Christ's: but our Lord is not to be understood literally, nor of anything that was to be done once a year, but of what was daily and constantly to be practised; and which was to be done not by one only, to all the rest, but what they were mutually to do; what they were to do to one another; for the thing signified, reaches to, and is obligatory upon all Christians. Our Lord's meaning is, that as he had, by this action, given them an example of humility, condescension, and love; so they should exercise these graces, and perform such kind offices to one another, and to all their fellow Christians.

For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
John 13:15. ὑπόδειγμαποιῆτε. ὑπόδειγμα is condemned by Phrynichus, who recommends the Attic παράδειγμα. See Rutherford’s interesting note, New Phryn., p. 62. The purpose, ἵνα, of His action was that they might act in the same humble, loving spirit, in all their conduct to one another.

15. as I have done to you] Not, ‘what I have done to you,’ but ‘even as I have done:’ this is the spirit in which to act—self-sacrificing humility—whether or no it be exhibited precisely in this way. Mutual service, and especially mutual cleansing, is the obligation of Christ’s disciples. Comp. James 5:16.

John 13:15Example (ὑπόδειγμα)

On the three words used in the New Testament for example, ὑπόδειγμα, τύπος, and δεῖγμα, see on 2 Peter 2:6; see on 1 Peter 5:3; see on Jde 1:7.

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