Editorial: A Throne or a Towel?

Merrill C. Tenney in his book, John the Gospel of Unbelief (one of the best on the gospel of John I have read) comments on the Lord’s act of washing His disciples’ feet: ‘…the disciples’ minds were preoccupied with dreams of elevation to office in the coming kingdom.  They were jealous lest one of their fellows should claim the best place.  Consequently, no one of them was likely to abase himself by volunteering to wash the feet of the others.  They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel!’

It was that last sentence that got my attention – ‘They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel.’  This is a sad, but true assessment of what we often see among Christians.  How many ministries and local churches have been marred over a refusal to take the towel, that is, the servant’s place.

The disciples were evidently stunned in the upper room when our Lord ‘took a towel and girded himself’1.  Their conversation according to Luke is described this way, ‘And there was a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.’2  This is now less than twenty four hours from the cross.  The contrast between the perfect Man and mere men is staggering.

Mark puts it this way, ‘For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”3

Paul likewise urges the Philippians, ‘Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.  Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:’4

Christian life and testimony would be transformed if each of us lived out these words of Paul.  If the consistent character of our conduct was to be ‘others minded’ and ‘Christ minded’ there would be a noticeable difference in homes and assemblies.

There is of course the natural man within that resents this behavior.   Worldly thinking reasons that one must look out for oneself, be the aggressor and reach the goal at any price.  The world is constantly trying to push us into its mold and this can spill over into our own thinking.

Now this way of thinking is not intended that we acquiesce to every situation.  For example Paul warns elders to be ready to vigorously confront and silence false teaching.  Error and ungodliness are not to be tolerated.  Our Lord Himself set this example as He confronted the Jews and called their unbelief for what it was.

But even in these situations, the humility of Christ must govern our words and behavior.  Philippians two further tells us that ‘..as a man, he humbled himself’5  It was no so much that He humbled Himself in becoming a man – although that is true also – but ‘as a man’ He humbled Himself.  Likewise, we too as men and women are called to follow His example, to walk in His footsteps.

When our Lord finished washing His disciples’ feet He said these words, ‘Know ye what I have done to you?  Ye call me Master and Lord:  and ye say well; for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.  If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.’6

Peter, who saw the Lord clothe Himself with the servant’s towel, instructs us ‘be clothed with humility; for “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.’ 7

What a challenge for all of us.  In the business of Christian life and service there are going to be inevitable conflicts, differences of opinion and personality conflicts.  These are to be expected.  Our duty is to take the high road by taking the low road.

Remember, fight for the towel!


  1. John 13:4
  2. Luke 22:24
  3. Mark 10:45
  4. Philippians 2:3-5
  5. Philippians 2:8
  6. John 13:12-17
  7. 1 Peter 5:5-7
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