We all use one of two basins in life: the basin of Pontius Pilate or the basin of Jesus Christ. When Pontius Pilate knew that Christ was innocent and should be acquitted, he called for a basin of water to wash his hands of the situation (see Matthew 27:24). That's the basin of self-preservation.
But the night before Jesus died, He called for a basin of water and washed His disciples' feet. This is the basin of self-sacrifice and humility. Let's look at three principles we can glean from this story in John 13:
1. Stooping—or humility—is often misunderstood. When Jesus came to Peter, Peter said, "Lord, are You washing my feet?... You shall never wash my feet!" (vv. 6, 8). Now, this wasn't Peter being humble. Last time I checked, you don't tell God what to do and call that humility. But neither is humility thinking poorly of yourself. Humility is simply not thinking of yourself at all.
Jesus told Peter, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (v. 8). Now the pendulum swung from objection to overreaction: Peter answered, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" (v. 9). There is a false humility that is actually pride. And I believe that Peter, feeling convicted and wanting to be spiritual, ended up making this all about Peter.
2. Cleansing is never unnecessary. Jesus told Peter, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean" (v. 10). In those days, you took a bath after a day of work and before you went to dinner. But by the time you walked in your sandals over dusty roads to wherever you were going to have dinner, your feet would be pretty gnarly. So a servant would wash your feet and the feet of others who came.
The spiritual illustration is that when you come to Jesus, He washes you of all your sins; that's the bath. But as you walk through this world, your feet get contaminated, so you need to wash them daily—in other words, you need to confess your sin (see 1 John 1:9). Why? Because unconfessed sin hinders your relationship with God (see Isaiah 59:1-2).
3. Serving is always indispensable. When Jesus finished washing the disciples' feet, He said, "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 should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them'" (vv. 14-17).
Jesus was basically saying that serving one another is always needed among God's people, and He gave several reasons why we should do it: because He's our Lord and the supreme example of servanthood, and because it will make us blessed, or happy. It's counterintuitive to humble yourself before a person, but you'll emerge from it much more content that you pleased the Lord.
So which basin will you use in your life: the basin of Pilate—that of self-preservation—or the self-sacrificial basin of Jesus Christ?