The Way Up Is Down

“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” (John 13:14–15, esv).

Jesus Christ, Son of God, second person of the Trinity, Lord of the universe, humbled Himself and washed His disciples’ feet. This wasn’t a seminar on foot washing. It was an example of service. “For I have given you an example,” Jesus said, “that you also should do just as I have done to you” (13:15).

So what does that mean? Let’s not let the applications slip into something retouched and generic. Let’s be specific and consider five, necessary brands of humility—actual things we can do. What are the verbs that should be flowing out of our lives?

1. Choose a difficult obedience. You’ve got your run-of-the-mill obedience, things that may feel easy to you. These are everyday, entry-level actions. But there are actually some difficult obediences, choices that require sacrifice. We obey for Jesus Christ. He deserves everything, and it should cost us, it must cost us, and it will cost us. What is the difficult obedience right in front of you? Run to it, wrap your arms around it, humble yourself, and obey Jesus. It will be good for your soul.

2. Own it all to reconcile. Generally where there’s friction in relationships, there’s fault on both sides. But maybe you’re in a conflict with someone who can’t see his own fault and who won’t listen to you anymore, so you can’t reason with the person. If you want to work that out, humble yourself and own it all. Take everything you want to say, all your rightness and accuracy, and permanently file it under G for garbage. Forego any opportunity to clarify your position. Lay it all down, and humble yourself. “I’m sorry that I hurt you. I never wanted you to feel this way. I know that I have responsibility in that, and I want to own it, tell you how sorry I am, and ask you to forgive me.” Grace will rush like a river upon you. Even if the person refuses you, grace will flow into your life. God loves humility. He doesn’t like it. He loves it. With God, the way up is down. That’s how it is in the family of God.

3. Serve in total secrecy. Find ways to do things no one will know about. A few years ago, I felt an urge to serve somewhere anonymously, where no one knew my name or even recognized me. That experience was so good for my own soul. Find a way to serve in total secrecy.

4. Lay down a liberty. Too often we think the continuum runs between legalism and liberty. But legalism is a lie, so we don’t need to react against legalism by flaunting our liberty. For the followers of Jesus, the continuum is between liberty and the forgoing of our liberties. In Christ, we have freedom and liberty, but when our liberty becomes an obstacle to the gospel, we need to forgo our liberty. We lay down our liberty for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. We don’t glory in our liberties. We don’t fail to love our weaker brothers and sisters. We live in liberty, but we gladly and willingly forsake freedoms for the sake of our influence over others.

5. Refuse to be offended. It’s so easy to take things personally. I can’t believe what she said about me. How dare he treat me that way! Instead of taking offense, we can simply refuse to be offended. My mom used to recite these lines from an anonymous poem:

“I’ve asked the Lord to take from me
the super-sensitivity
that robs the soul of joy and peace
and causes fellowship to cease.”

Do nothing when you’re hurt. Hurting people hurt people. If you want to break that cycle, get low. Humble yourself, and refuse to be offended.

Jesus gave us an example that we would go do for others as He’s done for us. Which brand of humility do you need to practice today?


  • Review the five brands of humility. Which strikes a chord with you?
  • How can you follow the example of the Master and humble yourself today?

My Lord and Teacher, You have shown me what to do, and I want to do just as You have done. How can I serve others today? Teach me to wrap my arms around a difficult obedience, to own it all to reconcile, to serve You in total secrecy, to lay down a liberty, and to refuse to be offended. “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:25). Make me more like Jesus—that’s enough for me. In His name, amen.