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Washing Feet

John 13:14-15 - Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Read John 13:1-17.

Believe it or not, one of the gifts of love which Christians should give to one another is foot-washing! It's not hard to give a nicely wrapped scarf or tie to a friend on some special occasion, but washing feet all year long is a gift that's hard to give. It takes time and care and selflessness. The Lord Jesus didn't just give the socially acceptable and easy-to-give present--He gave His whole life to the task of washing others. And Jesus said that we are to follow His example.

In John 13:1-17 we have the account of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. The occasion was the night before the crucifixion--the very night of His betrayal (v2). Although the Lord was well aware of all the suffering that lay before Him (vs1, 3), He spent this last evening serving His short-sighted followers. Although He was looking beyond the cross to the joyful reunion with the Father with great anticipation (vs1, 3), He was concerned as always about meeting the needs of others around Him. Although He knew that all things were given into His hand (v3), the Lord of all used those hands to serve the disciples who would soon desert Him! No wonder the Scripture says that He loved them to the end--to the fullest extent--or the Nth degree (v1). This great love for His own was demonstrated in the act of foot-washing. But this was not only an act of love and concern and humility, it was also an act of teaching. All of our Lord's actions (His works) as recorded in Scripture portray or dramatize His teaching (His words). What is the teaching of foot-washing?

Washing the feet of guests was the accepted practice of household servants in that culture, because people walked in sandals on dusty roads. But the questions the Lord Jesus asked the disciples in verses 7 and 12 indicate that the Lord had much more in mind that just teaching his followers to perform the common courtesies of the day for each other. Verses 8-11 definitely show that Christ intended His washing of feet to be symbolic of another washing--the cleansing from sin. A little more knowledge of the culture of the day helps us to understand exactly what Jesus was teaching here. In those days only the very rich had anything like bathtubs in their own homes. The average person went periodically to the public baths to wash his body. Between these visits, frequent foot-washings were used to keep the person reasonably clean from the dirt picked up in daily travels. These two types of washings (the bath and the foot-washing) are what our Lord is referring to in verse 10. In fact, different Greek words are used here to distinguish between the two washings.

The bath represents salvation and the foot-washing represents restoration. The "bath of salvation" is not something a believer takes every day. It is done once and for all when a person receives Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. From that time onward he is "clean" of sin--his sins are eternally forgiven and he is no longer "dirty" in God's sight--because of his identification with Christ. This is the "washing of regeneration" that is mentioned in Titus 3:5. The Lord told Peter that he had already received the bath of salvation (v10). He was clean, and so were the rest of the believing disciples--only unbelieving Judas was not clean (v11).

Frequent foot-washings picture the daily cleansings we need to keep us in close fellowship with the Lord. Just because we are eternally forgiven for our sins doesn't mean we have stopped sinning or become immune to the present effects of sin. Every day we need to examine our walk along the "dusty roads" of this world and come to the Lord for foot-washing. It is so easy for our fellowship with Him to be broken as we pick up the dirt of defilement all around us. We are so easily desensitized to sin! Within a world system that operates on the principles of pleasure, possessions, power and prestige (1 John 2:16), it is mandatory that we come to the Lord on a daily basis to place our soiled feet in His hands for washing. He never turns us away! "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). David was coming to the Lord for foot-washing when he cried, "Search me, O God, and cleanse my heart; test me and know my thoughts; see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way" (Psalm 139:23-24). We need to have the same attitude as David. All too often we seem to have Peter's attitude of "Lord, stay away from my feet--I'll wash them when I get around to it--Right now I'm content to overlook the dust on my feet (they're not really very dirty)--Anyway, Lord, it's so humiliating for You (and for me, too!) if You stoop down to care for my feet" (vs6-8).

The believer's permanent relationship to Christ is pictured in the bath. The believer's daily fellowship with Christ is pictured in the foot-washing. The bath is for union--in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). The foot-washing is for communion--with Christ (notice the "with" instead of "in" in verse 8). The link of union is so strong that nothing can break it (see John 10:27-29 and Romans 8:38-39). The link of fellowship is so fragile that an unholy walk will always break it (see 1 John 1:6).

How does the Lord wash the believer's feet? It is accomplished primarily by the frequent application of His Word to our lives. The Word of God is the means by which we get the bath. (See Psalm 119:93, John 15:3, Romans 10:17, 1 Peter 1:23.) The Word is also the way we get the foot-washing. David said, "How can a young man cleanse his way? By living according to Your Word" (Psalm 119:9). Our Lord said that those who believed in Him would be sanctified (kept pure and set apart for God's use) by God's Word (John 17:17, 20). Our bath and our foot-washings are both accomplished through the Word of God! In Ephesians 5:26 we read that "Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by thewashing with water through the Word." How important it is for us to read the Bible every day!

There is something else in the record of the foot-washing which is significant and should not be overlooked. The way in which our Lord went about washing His disciples' feet dramatizes in capsule form His whole ministry of redemption. The sequence of steps taken in the foot-washing emphasizes what was involved in God's work of cleansing us from sin. Read Philippians 2:5-11 in connection with the following steps:

-He rose from supper (v4) -- He rose from His heavenly throne and communion with the Father.

-He laid aside His garments (v4) He laid aside His glory.

-He girded Himself with a towel (v4) -- He took the form of a servant and became Man.

-He began to wash the disciples' feet (v5) -- He began His present ministry of cleansing us from sin. (1 John 1:9)

-He took His garments again (v12) -- He is now glorified.

-He sat down (v12) -- He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. (Hebrews 1:3)

How wonderful God's Word is --in every detail!

Every teaching of Scripture has its practical application. Our Lord tells us (vs13-17) that we are to follow His example and wash one another's feet. What is the proper way to carry out this command? Should we literally wash one another's feet with water? No, it doesn't appear that Christ was instituting another ordinance for the Church in this passage. Following His example involves several things. It certainly means that we are to serve one another in love. To wash the feet of a brother or sister means that we must set aside our pride and any personal agendas or grudges, and humbly stoop to minister to another person's needs. Would you take time to minister to a person if you knew he would betray you for money? Our Lord did, and we are not greater than our Master (v16).

In view of our Lord's teaching on this subject, washing each other's feet also means that we must apply the Word of God to one another in love. We keep each other clean by constant fellowship together over the Word of God. You wouldn't believe the amount of dirt that comes off our feet just by participating in Bible studies--by studying God's Word regularly with other Christians! Occasionally the Lord will use us as individuals to minister His Word to a fellow Christian who needs foot-washing. Sometimes this happens without our planning it or even without our realizing it--in a group study or in a causal conversation, for example. It goes without saying that we must be extremely careful when we speak to another believer about where he's walking and the dust on his feet. Remember our Lord Jesus told us to be sure to take the log out of our own eye before we try to take the splinter out of our brother's eye, or we won't be able to see clearly. (See Matthew 7:3-5.) It's all too easy to "preach the Word" about the dirt on our brother's feet and not even notice the dirt on our own feet!

Furthermore, foot-washing is not fault-finding or judging of motives or infringing on a fellow-believer's Christian liberty! Do we think we see something in the life or lifestyle of a Christian friend which is really out of line with the Word of God? After making sure the "log" is out of our own eye, and checking the state of our own feet, we may go to that brother or sister and quietly share the Scripture with them. How much better to do this than to gossip about that person's dirty feet, or to sit back complacently, feeling pleased and proud about how much cleaner our feet are!

And let's not give that fellow-believer a basin of scalding hot or icy cold water with a command to go and clean up his or her own feet! Sharing the Word of God in foot-washing must always be done gently, in humility and love, if we are to follow our Lord's example. Remember also that washing one another's feet is mutual. We must be willing to submit ourfeet to the exhortation of other believers without getting uptight and switching churches or quitting the fellowship or study group! Foot-washing is not a one way street!

It should be obvious that a lot of time and preparation and work goes into the giving of ourselves in foot-washing. This is more than mere surface Christian love and giving--this is a gift of love that brings lasting blessing both to ourselves and others (v17).
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