Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 13:12-14 (Holman) When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them, ADo you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another=s feet.@
Some have taken Jesus= words about foot-washing literally. Wolsey, the most powerful man in England under Henry VIII, once washed, wiped, and kissed the feet of 59 poor men.
Foot-washings were regularly performed by English sovereigns until the reign of James II. St. Louis, King of France, regularly washed the feet of others, and urged his principal courtiers to do the same.
Scottish, General, and Freewill Baptists are known for observing foot-washings. Many groups practice it in conjunction with the Lord=s Supper. When I went to Israel, three Church of God of Prophecy Pastors would not partake of the Lord=s Supper at Jerusalem=s Garden Tomb because foot-washing was not offered.
I do not think Jesus= words were meant to be taken literally. I feel He was pointedly urging us to be willing to humbly serve others in whatever ways we can. Our text gives at least four clues as to how we can wash one another=s feet.
One, promote purity. This foot-washing pictured what Jesus would accomplish at the cross. He washed feet to symbolize the fact He came to wash away the sins of the whole world.
People have the awful freedom to refuse the benefit of Jesus= washing. For instance, Judas proved Christ=s washing was offered in vain for some.
Christ came to promote purity. We too must strive to help ourselves and each other be spiritually clean. Often we are squeamish about doing the latter.
Some say, AIf my feet are dirty, I=ll handle it; if other people=s are dirty, let them wash their own.@ This is not Biblical. Believers should say, AI want others to rebuke me, to help me be holier, I want to help others achieve the same.@
If we love others we will kindly receive from them their reproof of us. We believers always need this type of foot-washing. AWhoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid@ (Prov. 12:1).
People who kindly remind us of our faults help us become better Christians. Don=t be angry with those who correct us. Value them for their faithfulness.
If we love others we will kindly tell them of their faults. AThe wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive@ (Prov. 27:6).
When promoting purity in others, avoid two extremes. Don=t do it with angry words, and thereby destroy the desired effect. AThere is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing@ (Proverbs 12:18). On the other hand, don=t pretend no sin exists when there is sin.
Wash people=s feet spiritually with the same caution we use in washing feet physically. Don=t use boiling water to scald, or frozen water to freeze.
John 13:15 AFor I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.@
Two, follow Jesus= example. Christian behavior is based on His example. Don=t put too much faith in anyone else as a role model. Even the best saints are imperfect. Don=t blindly follow them.
Keep our eyes on Jesus. Let Him be the image in our mind which we want our life to model. Never grow tired of striving to be like perfect Jesus.
We could never choose a better Champion than Jesus to watch and imitate. Look at Jesus= life. What He did thunders as loudly as what He said.
John 13:16 AI assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent Him.@
Three, be a servant. When Christ humbled Himself, He dignified humility, and honored it. Our Lord washed feet; we should be willing to do the same, to be ready to perform the lowliest service for others.
Ministry mattered to Jesus. He liked to emphasize our need to imitate His type of servanthood. AA disciple is not above his teacher, or a slave above his master@ (Matthew 10:24). Learn to highly value Christlike servanthood.
Be willing to perform any act of service in the fellowship of believers, however lowly it be. If a position in the church requires hard work, but offers little reward and praise, take it. Be glad to have a position few want.
There is no rush after humble jobs; we hurt no one=s feelings by taking one of them. By doing so we escape the envy of others, gain a quiet conscience, and avoid the pharisaic spirit which craves the praise of people.
Being a servant entails not only taking menial tasks, but also performing them with the right attitude, acting as if others are of utmost importance. The servant mindset is too often missing among believers. The least provocation can cause a church member to explode with anger or withdraw into sulkiness.
We hear many messages on not offending others. These are worthwhile, but we also need a few more sermons on not getting offended. It is wrong to offend, but also wrong to carry a chip on our shoulder all the time.
The same Lord who said, AWoe to them from whom offenses come,@ also said, when He was offended, AFather, forgive them, for they know not what they do.@
John 13:17 AIf you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.@
Four, do your duty. When we know what we ought to do, do it. Live out the things Christ=s example requires of us. When we know what God wants us to do, we are obligated to live accordingly.
To claim exemption from absolute and immediate obedience to God is tantamount to placing ourselves above the Master. This must never be allowed.
We know what we should do. Let=s do it. Live as if we truly believe holiness matters most. Pursue Godliness. Read your Bible. Pray. Attend church. Visit the homebound and bed-ridden. Speak comfort to the sad. Say a kind word to children. Show the way to a wayward one. Help the poor. Be on mission.
Be a servant. Too often we are standing on our dignity when we ought to be kneeling in humility at each other=s feet. The desire for prominence, and being unwilling to take a subordinate place, damages the fellowship.
Do your duty. Be faithful in the trenches. It is easy to speak highly of benevolence, and to brag on the merits of charity, but quite another to display love through everyday deeds of compassion and kindness. Little labors may seem like small change to us, but to others they are worth a million dollars, providing precisely what they need to help them face life=s everyday needs well.