Sometimes you read through the Bible and wonder how on earth does this apply to me?
For instance, in John 13, where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.
Though some churches take part in “foot washing” as a representation of its meaning for servanthood or humility, and some couples do it at weddings, the very act itself was more applicable back in the day. It’s not something we do today, other than washing our own feet before getting into bed, but it was socially acceptable back then.
For example, around Jesus’ time and probably years before and after His time on earth, everyone wore sandals or walked barefoot. So anytime you’d enter a home, servants (which was also common to have) would come and wash your feet.
In even earlier times (Old Testament), there were high priests who went through purification rituals before entering the temple. Between the place of their washing to the actual temple, they would need to wash their hands and feet again because that was the only part that got dirty. They didn’t need to go through the entire washing process again, otherwise there’d be a lot of back and forth going on, and they wouldn’t even make it into the temple! (This is important to note for later)
But in this chapter, Jesus displayed the ultimate example of servanthood.
There are two important lessons we can learn from Him washing the feet of His disciples, which I will share with you here.
Though foot-washing is outdated for our culture, the lessons and example Jesus portrayed are timeless.
Humble to Serve and to Be Served
Without making a scene, He takes off his outer garment after supper, wraps a towel around His waist, gets a water basin, and stoops low to wash His friends’ feet. We don’t know why a servant wasn’t there from the start to do the foot washing, but we do know they all had dirty feet.
By the time He got to Peter, Peter exclaimed Jesus should never wash His feet. But when Jesus responds and says, if I don’t wash your feet, you have no place with me, Peter swings to the other side of the pendulum and says, then wash my hands and my head, too!
Jesus then says that he who gets bathed only needs to wash his feet.
And this makes me think of what I mentioned earlier, where the priests didn’t need to re-wash themselves completely before entering the temple, just their hands and feet. Peter went from refusing Jesus’ foot-washing to asking Him to make him cleaner, which is something we do often.
We go from refusing Jesus’ service to repenting and asking God for a cleaner slate.
When Jesus saved you, He saved you completely. He bathed you in salvation and gave you a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17). But your “feet” still get dirty, and now it’s time to wash the dirt that clings from the world.
This is what it means to keep up with repentance, to be transformed by the renewal of your mind, and to go from glory to glory. This is how we transform into the same image as Christ (Matt. 3:8, Rom. 12:2, 2 Cor. 3:18).
Through this foot-washing, Jesus showed us the importance of humbly serving one another without pointing out the dirt. And, being humble enough to be served. Humility helps us keep up with repentance and grows us spiritually.
We would gladly wash the feet of our Jesus, but He told us to wash one another’s feet. Anything you do for another person who helps wash away the world’s dirt, defeat, and discouragement is today’s foot washing.
“In the world, they criticize: this is the business of the public press, and it is very much the business of private circles. Hear how gossips say, ‘Do you see that spot? What a terrible walk that man must have had this morning: look at his feet! He has been very much in the mire you can see, for there are the traces upon him.’ That is the world’s way. Christ’s way is very different. He says nothing but takes the basin and washes away the stain. Do not judge and condemn, but seek the restoration and the improvement of the erring.”
And here are the two important lessons:
They Got Dirty Feet
The first is that they got dirty feet.
Even though we all get our “feet” dirty, it’s easy to criticize others’ dirty feet instead of washing them. We fall short and make mistakes in various areas of our lives, but when you see someone else fail, you have a choice to make. Either to look down on them or to get down for them.
Like Jesus showed us, we must get down like servants and humbly wash each other’s feet. Not literally, because the cultural standards don’t apply to us. But without pointing out their dirt, without saying something that sounds overly righteous or religious, without elevating yourself above them as if you don’t have dirty feet. Christ said nothing, but took the basin and washed away.
This built trust, humility, and most importantly, their relationship.
Jesus did this with complete excellence, to the point of taking off his outer garment and wrapping a towel around his waist. He thoroughly, silently, lovingly washed all the disciples’ feet. Including Judas’s, His betrayer.
It didn’t matter whose feet were dirtier than whose or who walked where. What mattered was the fact that Jesus got down anyway and washed everyone’s feet in humility.
David Guzik commentates:
If we are going to wash one another’s feet, we should be careful of the temperature of the water. Sometimes we try to wash someone with our water too hot–we are too fervent and zealous. Sometimes our water is too cold–we are cold and distant in heart to them. The temperature needs to be in the middle. We should also remember that we cannot dry-clean someone else’s feet. Jesus washed us with the washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:26). We should use the same “water” in ministering to others.
And this doesn’t mean to just hit Bible upside people’s heads, but to let the truth sink in so deeply, that all that comes out is what Jesus would say and do instead.
You Got Dirty Feet
The second is that you got dirty feet.
When Peter refused Jesus’s foot washing, Jesus said he’d have no place with Him. This means that if we aren’t humble enough to let another person or the Holy Spirit wash the areas we need to repent in (change or renew our minds, get sanctified, purified, etc.), we will have no place with Jesus.
Jesus is ready to wash your feet every day, but so often, we swing on the same pendulum as Peter. We go from refusing His lowly foot-washing service to demanding a more meaningful salvation. But he who is bathed only needs his feet washed, which means letting Jesus wash the parts that get exposed and dirtied by the world.
We need to let Jesus wash our feet so that we can transform continually to reflect Him more and more daily.
Jesus didn’t say to have it all together or to know the Bible inside-out. He simply said to receive His service and you would have part with Him.
Sometimes this looks like receiving service from other believers. To let Christ love you through them. A servant’s heart isn’t just about serving others, but about accepting the service of others for us; the service of Christ through others for us.
One commentator said, Man’s humility does not begin with the giving of service; it begins with the readiness to receive it. For there can be much pride and condescension in our giving of service.
It’s equally important to serve and accept service without judgment, but in humility and from the standpoint of relationship. We’re often quick to judge and bring others down by pointing out the dirt they’re carrying, and equally quick to get offended when someone does the same for us. Neither is what Jesus wants.
We must pursue love and relationship at all costs.
Jesus washed Peter’s and Judas’s feet in the same manner.
Reflection: Read John 13 and ask Jesus to show you whose feet you can humbly wash, and in what areas you should humbly accept “foot washing” from Him. Then read 1 Corinthians 13 to refresh yourself about God’s love.
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