The Basin & 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 towel."
Living the Christian life is not rocket science or brain surgery.
We have a tendency to complicate the daylights out of it, but it boils down to the practical application of basic principles.
For example, how many of us get down and discouraged with life? What do we do in response to the blues?
Here are ten life-affirming rules to deal with the blues: Go out and do something for someone else, then repeat it nine times.
That’s what living our faith in Christ is all about—serving others; putting others first; doing for others.
Servanthood is represented by the basin and towel. That imagery comes from the example Jesus set in an Upper Room with his friends. Just hours before his betrayal, he removed his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, filled a basin with water, and proceeded to wash his disciples’ feet.
What Jesus did in that particular instance was an exclamation point on his entire ministry that went far beyond the ritual of foot-washing. Christ’s model speaks to an attitude of the heart which is expressed in our lifestyle choices.
In first-century Palestine, it was customary for the host to provide servants with water and oil to wash his guest’s feet when they entered. When the disciples gathered for what we refer to as the Last Supper, that didn’t occur.
In that Upper Room, Jesus—motivated by love and love alone—responded to a need. He also seized an opportunity to emphasize a crucial lesson for his disciples, both those present and the ones who would become believers due to their testimony.
The lesson: We are not to elevate ourselves above anyone or think ourselves too good or better than anyone.
If Christ—the incarnate Son of God—would bend low and do the work of a servant, where do any of us ever get off thinking we are better than anyone or above any task that needs to be done?
Christ had a servant’s heart. Living the Christian life means we must develop and reflect a servant’s heart that reaches out to our hurting and broken world.
"More people have been
brought into the church by
the kindness of real
Christian love than by all
the theological arguments in
the world, and more people
have been driven from the
church by the hardness and
ugliness of so-called
Christianity than by all the
doubts in the world."
Romans 12:9-21 - NIV
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
"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."
Submission & Surrender
For believers in Christ, everything we do must be rooted in love and love alone, motivated by love and love alone. Not the kind of love that is pretend and make believe—not the kind of love that expresses itself once a year at a foot-washing service, but rather, the kind of love that spontaneously responds to needs.
The passage cited above, written by the tentmaker apostle, Paul of Tarsus, is not talking about going through the motions of love. We all know how to play that game; we all know what words to say, what expressions to make, what masks to wear.
Paul is exhorting us to cultivate the kind of love that doesn’t quit when things get tough. He’s referring to a down in the trenches of relationships kind of love that works through personality conflicts and differences of opinion in a way that honors God.
The love presented by Paul is about us joyfully lowering ourselves to elevate others—willingly surrendering our rights, as Christ freely surrendered and set aside his majesty to purchase our salvation.
Christianity—the way of the cross, the basin and towel—is all about submission and surrendering our rights.
That’s a difficult message to hear, especially for the self-absorbed North American church. All evidence shows that we are more concerned with preserving and sustaining our comfortable lifestyles than we are with any message that challenges us into genuine community.
We are more concerned with our individual rights than with community needs; with making sure our voice is heard and our opinion is expressed loud and clear. We defend our fierce independence always.
Confession: I am guilty of all the above failings as much as anyone. In some cases, perhaps more so—we are all works in progress. On this matter, I’m with Mark Twain who said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts that I do understand.”
Love Is A Verb
Humility and setting aside our rights are completely foreign concepts to human nature. Our pride rises up and demands that we be number one—we watch out for number one.
Yet Paul wrote to the Romans and to us: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
We are to embody those words and live them out. How does that translate in the real world?
That’s where the rubber hits the proverbial road. We can talk about love and sing about love and go through the motions of love, but for it to be authentic we must apply it. Love is a verb, an action word.
Love must be sincere, love must be real. For that to be so, love must bubble up from within us—it must be an extension of who we are in the well of our hearts, because what’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.
What’s inside us will come out in actions and attitudes. If an ever growing and ever expanding love is at our core, then the principles of servanthood are present and displayed in our lives.
However, if self-centeredness has settled at the base of who we are, then that is what will play itself out in our lives, no matter how fast we dance or how hard we try to fake love.
Living out love is often difficult. Does God's grace meet us at those places where we fail?
Do we honor one another above ourselves? Or are we inclined to stake out our position and then protect it to the hilt?
Servanthood—the basin and towel—is about allowing the mysterious power of God to be at work within us, changing us little by little, bit by bit.
Christ must stand at the center of our lives; love for Christ must be our sole motivation. Maintaining and nurturing that love for Christ demands ceaseless vigilance.
We need habitual reminders that the basin and towel is not about gritting our teeth to do what must be done, but about acting out our love for Christ over and over again.
Loving Christ and allowing ourselves to be loved by Christ will set transformation loose in our lives. It won’t happen with the snap of a finger or wave of a magic wand. It’ll be a timely process, but as we are faithful we will grow in grace and love.
Reflecting a servant’s heart occurs when we take advantage of opportunities to put into action Paul’s instructions:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.”
It’s not brain surgery and it’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy. If it were, we’d all be more effective living out what we say we believe. The great good news is that where faith meets reality there is overwhelming grace to keep us pressing on.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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