The Apron of Humility

“Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another”, 1 Pet. 5. 5 R.V.

In a significant context, the Lord told His disciples, “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister”, Matt. 20. 28. He used the ordinary word for “minister”, meaning to serve. The same word is used of the service of others, whether to the Lord or to their fellows. Nonetheless, the Lord was on occasions “ministered unto”. After the temptation, “angels came and ministered unto him”, 4. 11, where the same word is used. At Bethany, where His friends made Him a supper, “Martha served”, John 12. 2 — the same word.

In His itinerations with the twelve “preaching … the good tidings”, “certain women” accompanied Him, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many others, who “ministered unto them of their substance”, Luke 8. 3 R.V. These women were faithful to the end, for even at the cross “many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him”, Matt. 27. 55, 56. We cannot doubt that their faithful service was highly valued by the Lord, but it was without prejudice to the main purpose of His coming, “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister”.

In dealing with a contention among the twelve which of them should be “accounted the greatest”, He said, “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth”, Luke 22. 27. He exhorted them, “he that is chief (among you, let him become) as he that doth serve”, but He would not do so without showing them the way Himself.

More needs to be said about the nature of His service. Paul wrote of Him as the One “who … emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Greek, doulos — slave), Phil. 2. 7 r.v. From “being in the form of God”, He took “the form of a servant”. The word “form” is the same in both cases. The contrast between the two “forms” is a measure of His self-emptying.

There is no greater proof of His slaveservice, than in the Lord ‘washing the feet of His disciples, for such was a service customarily done by the lowest menial in the Eastern household. John records that the Lord “layeth aside his garments; and he took a towel, and girded himself. Then he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded”, John 13. 4, 5 R.V. In this act, He could be said to have girded Himself with “the apron of humility”. Peter was scandalized that the Lord should purpose to wash his feet, and protested, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?”. Doubtless he felt as unworthy as John Baptist, who said, “There cometh one … the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose”, Mark 1. 7. Peter was not to be deflected by the Lord’s words “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter”, and reinforced his first protest in the strongest possible way, “Thou shalt never wash my feet”. To Peter, the Lord’s proposal was unthinkable. It was not the first, nor was it to be the last time that He protested against a course of action proposed by the Lord; cf. Matt. 16. 22; Acts 10. 14.

The Lord’s reply, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me”, made it clear that what Peter regarded as unthinkable was nevertheless necessary to continued fellowship with Himself and, from strongly objecting, Peter went to the other extreme, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head”. But however necessary it was that Peter should submit to the Lord washing his feet, it was unnecessary that He do more than that: “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit”, r.v.

In His lowly service toward them, the Lord gave them an “example”, which was intended to be a measure of their lowly service toward one another: “If I then, the Lord and the 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 … A servant is not greater than his lord”, R.V. By “example” is meant a sample, exhibition. It was “an example” in humility, and Peter, who had protested so strongly, clearly learned the lesson, for in writing his first Epistle nearly thirty years later, he said, “Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God … giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore …”, 1 Pet. 5. 5, 6 r.v. There can be little doubt that in his use of the word “gird” and its connection with “humility”, Peter was thinking of the Lord’s action, those years before, when he had disputed with the Lord. His words “God … giveth grace to the humble” underline that “humility” is not a “grace” in ourselves, but the recognition of our low estate. We have no cause to be other than humble, although we often affect pride. Contrariwise, humility in Christ was a “grace”. He “emptied himself (and) humbled himself”. Only He could do so, from a position of high estate.

In the world, there is keen competition for the highest place, as the Lord reminded the disciples, “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them”, Matt. 20. 25 r.v. Regrettably, the same spirit had manifested itself in them, for they had contended which of them would be accounted the greatest. Competition is usually for the highest place; there is little striving after the lowest place, cf. Luke 14. 7-11. Paul gladly took the latter position, as his words show, “me, who am less than the least of all saints”, Eph. 3. 8.

“The apron of humility” is not a glamorous garment, but the symbol of lowly, even menial, service to others. It is said of Peter’s words “Yea, all of you gird yourselves”, that the Greek word for “gird yourselves” denotes “as with the apron of one who waits upon others”. One version uses the phrase, “put on the apron of humility to serve one another”.

Paul had occasion to write of relations between fellow-Christians; to the Romans, “in honour preferring one another”, Rom. 12. 10, and to the Philippians, “in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself”, Phil. 2. 3 R.V. Being girded with humility is only possible to those who think in this way.

The Lord said to the disciples, “If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them, John 13. 17 R.V. It is not our custom today, as in the Lord’s day, to wash the saints’ feet, 1 Tim. 5. 10, but there are doubtless many other comparable ways in which we can serve one another and be “blessed” in the doing.

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