By Paul K. Williams
When three men came to Abraham he said, “Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree” (Gen. 18:4). When two angels came in the form of men to Lot he said, “Please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet” (Gen.19:2). When David proposed to Abigail to take her as his wife she replied, “Behold, your maidservant is a maid to wash the feet of my lord’s servants” (1 Sam. 25:41). When David tried to entice Uriah to go to his house he said, “Go down to your house and wash your feet” (2 Sam. 11:8). When Jesus rebuked Simon, the Pharisee, he said, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet” (Luke 7:44).
From these Scriptures we can see that for centuries it was customary to welcome guests by washing their feet or by giving them water for their feet.
In John 13 Jesus and his twelve apostles assembled in an upper room to eat the Passover meal. There was no servant to wash the feet of the guests, and no apostle was willing to be a servant and wash the feet of the others. So Jesus “rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded himself about. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” Then He said, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:4-5, 14).
New Testament or Old Testament?
When Jesus gave the command, the Old Testament had only one day of life left. The next day Jesus was crucified and the law of Moses was “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14). Therefore, Jesus was giving something which his disciples would carry out while living under the New Testament. The command to wash one another’s feet was a New Testament command.
What Does It Mean?
Jesus commanded that his disciples wash feet. It was not to be done as an act of worship but as an act of hospitality and service. This is what it always was. It is what it continues to be. The widow who was put on the list is one “having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work” (1 Tim. 5:10).
Customs change, but the principle stays the same. Since today we wear shoes and socks and ride in cars, it is not usually necessary for us to wash feet when we arrive somewhere. But the principle of making a guest comfortable even to performing the work of a servant for him, still applies. Jesus intends for his disciples to be servants of one another, and in hospitality to do everything to ensure that our guests feel welcome and comfortable.
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