•  9 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Elsewhere in this issue we have spoken about feet-washing and how our Lord washed His disciples’ feet shortly before He went to the cross. We have also seen the typical meaning of His act, drawn from the phrase “the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:2626That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Ephesians 5:26)). Our Lord Himself did the washing on that occasion, but then He gave His disciples the exhortation, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:1515For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. (John 13:15)). We have the privilege of washing one another’s feet, following the example of the blessed Master. Yet how often we fail in this important service of washing one another, either by doing it in the wrong way or, perhaps from fear of failure, not doing it at all. I would like to look at some of the reasons why we fail and to point out from Scripture the right way to wash one another’s feet.
The Low Place
First of all, we find that the Lord Jesus “laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself” (John 13:44He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. (John 13:4)). There is a depth of meaning in this sentence. As another has remarked, the Lord Jesus, while in this world, was always “the girded, not the arrayed one.” He was here to serve, not to be served. So also we, if we are to wash another’s feet, must be servants, not those who take a high place, expecting honor from one another. In the day in which our Lord lived on earth, it was a servant’s place to wash the feet of the guests in the home, and we too must be willing to take this low place, if we are to be any help to one another.
He laid aside His garments. Garments in Scripture sometimes speak of our rights in this world and our outward circumstances that, perhaps, distinguish us. This too must be laid aside, if we are to get down low and wash another’s feet. We cannot insist on a place that may be ours in virtue of our standing in this life; rather, we must follow our blessed Lord, who humbled Himself even to the death of the cross. Our whole desire must be the blessing and restoration to communion of the one whose feet we wash; it must not in any way be connected with accrediting ourselves.
Second, we read that the Lord Jesus, “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (John 13:11Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. (John 13:1)). The Lord’s love did not only involve His work on the cross to put away our sins, but it also involves His care of us all the way. In the same way we are to “love one another: as I have loved you” (John 13:3434A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13:34)). Having a new life in Christ, we have the capacity to show divine love to one another, and this must be the motive for feet-washing. In the church of God, we are called from many nations, racial origins, walks of life, cultures and languages. Sometimes natural love may not be there, but divine love goes out to its object without asking for anything in return. It is this love that must be operative in our souls, if we are to wash another’s feet. And if divine love is there, it will show itself in a way that is felt and enjoyed by its object, and this prepares the way for feet-washing.
A Relationship
Third is the cultivation of a relationship with one another, so that we have confidence in each other. If our main contact with our brethren is when we approach them to wash their feet, we may well find that they do not appreciate our efforts. I would suggest that we get a good pattern and proper order in Romans 15:1414And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. (Romans 15:14): “I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” We must be full of goodness, and this should be evident by our practical love and kindness to all. We should not gravitate only to those to whom we are naturally attracted; our hearts must go out to all the saints of God. If we ourselves are walking with the Lord, we are attracted to others who are also seeking to please Him, and there is nothing wrong with this. However, this may lead to a tendency to discount and ignore those who do not, in our estimation, “measure up” to our standard. We must remember that we do not all attain the same spiritual maturity at the same time and that we are called to “lift up the hands that hang down, and the failing knees” (Heb. 12:1212Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; (Hebrews 12:12) JND). In the same way we are to “support the weak” (Acts 20:3535I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)). We must be ready to bear another’s burden and to share another’s sorrow. This means that we are to encourage and foster a warm relationship with all believers, even if we are concerned about some of their behavior. Most people can quickly sense those who like them, and they respond to it. We hasten to say that this does not mean condoning what is dishonoring to the Lord, but it does mean that our love goes out to all, although we may not love all their ways. Let us remember that this is what God did for us, in showing us His love when we were far from Him and in sin.
In addition to being full of goodness, we must be filled with all knowledge. This means, first of all, having a good understanding of the Word of God, not merely seeking to wash another’s feet because my own thoughts do not coincide with his. But I would suggest that it goes beyond this. We must have an understanding of the person whose feet we wish to wash. It helps greatly when we know their background, their difficulties, and their whole life situation, for this will temper and modify what we say. How often harm has been done by strong words, perhaps righteous, but without any consideration for the heartache and perhaps emotional fragility of the one to whom they were spoken! Our knowledge should include some understanding of the individual to whom we speak, and this comes about only by our having a relationship with them.
If full of goodness and knowledge, we are able to “admonish one another”—to seek to help them with something that is spoiling their communion with the Lord and perhaps hindering their usefulness. Of course, even if we show love and goodness and perhaps have real knowledge, the individual may reject our feet-washing. But surely this is the right approach and will make a tremendous difference.
Finally, we ourselves must be walking in fellowship with the Lord, so that we act in His time and in His way. This is the most important ingredient of all and perhaps the most difficult to have. Some have the gift of a pastor, and this is a great help. But even if one has a pastor’s gift, the proper use of it is another thing. A brother once commented on it in this way:
“I believe a pastor is a rare gift.  ... A pastor must be like a doctor: He must know the right food, the right medicine, the right diagnosis, and all the pharmacopoeia, and he must know how to apply it too. In one sense, it is a rare gift, and very precious.”
Still another has commented in a similar way:
“It seems to us that a pastor is to the soul what a doctor is to the body. He must be able to feel the spiritual pulse. He must understand disease and medicine. He must be able to tell what is the matter and what remedies to apply. Alas! How few proper doctors there are! Perhaps they are as rare as proper pastors. It is one thing to take the title, and another thing to do the work.”
The Best Gifts
Scripture tells us to “covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:3131But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31)), and perhaps this can be applied to feet-washing. We should desire to have the gift of shepherding souls, which often involves feet-washing in the right way. We may not naturally have the gift, but we can cultivate a love for souls and their welfare. Then communion with the Lord can give us the right time and place to wash their feet, even if we are not naturally gifted in that way.
Our Lord and Master
In conclusion, we must recognize that our blessed Lord and Master washes His saints’ feet the best. We may seek to do it in the right way and seek the mind of the Lord as to the right time, yet still find that the objects of our concern will not listen to us. Or perhaps they listen, but do not change their ways. In such situations our resource is prayer, for the One who first washed His disciples’ feet is still the One who always does it in the right way. In this respect, it is noteworthy how the Lord introduces His disciples into the thought of washing one another’s feet. In John 13:1313Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. (John 13:13) (JND), He says to them, “Ye call me the Teacher and the Lord: and ye say well, for I am so.” He was their Master (or Teacher), for they had learned Him in this character, and then they had also learned to call Him the Lord. But then, when He speaks of their washing one another’s feet, He gently reverses the order: “If I therefore, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:1414If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. (John 13:14) JND). His love would be with them to the end, but shortly He was to be glorified and take His place on His Father’s throne. In this capacity, He must be owned as Lord of all, and His Lordship must dictate everything in their lives. He would not cease to be the Teacher, but He was now the exalted One. “God hath made that same Jesus ... both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:3636Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36)). In this capacity, He would still undertake to wash the feet of His saints, even if the disciples failed in it.
It was His glory that He wanted them to share, and without their feet being washed, He had to say [to Peter], “Thou hast no part with Me” (John 13:88Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. (John 13:8)). If they were to have part with Him as a risen, glorified Christ, their feet must be washed, and they must acknowledge Him first of all as Lord. How good to anticipate the day when our feet will no longer be defiled and where we will, for all eternity, enjoy the presence of the One whose glory we will share!
W. J. Prost