By Johnny Stringer
When Jesus and his apostles ate the Passover on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, the apostles did not know that Jesus would be crucified the next day. They expected that he would soon establish a great earthly kingdom, and they wanted to hold the highest offices in the kingdom. They argued among themselves about which one would be greatest in the kingdom (Lk. 22:24).
Their desire for greatness was misguided. Jesus taught them that greatness in his kingdom would not consist of ruling, but of serving. Men who in their pride are seeking positions of authority are apt to shun menial acts of service. So Jesus impressed his lesson upon them in the most poignant manner possible. He arose, removed his outer garments, tied a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he got down and began to wash the apostles’ feet.
What a scene! The almighty Creator, the King of kings and Lord of lords, stooping to perform a task so lowly that most men would consider it beneath their dignity! By this “ample, Jesus demonstrated that we should not consider ourselves too high and mighty to serve others. The apostles, rather than desiring places of authority, should have desired to serve in humility. It is in such service that greatness. is attained.
Foot washing was an act of service. Proper hospitality included making provisions for the washing of the guest’s feet (Gen. 18:4; 19:2; 43:24; Judg. 19:21). When one had traveled dusty roads wearing nothing on his feet except sandals, the washing of his feet was a welcome refreshment. It was a service commonly performed by slaves (I Sam. 25:41). The Lord of glory stooped to perform the task of a slave.
Peter did not intend to allow such an indignity. “Thou shalt never wash my feet,” he said.
Jesus would not tolerate such impertinence. “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with-me,” he replied. Peter would have to accept Jesus as a humble servant; for soon his service would culminate in his humiliating death on the cross. Peter learned to accept that, but many Jews never did (1 Cor. 1:23).
After Jesus’ reply to Peter, Peter over reacted. He said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” It was in keeping with Peter’s nature to go overboard.
Jesus responded that they were clean and therefore needed only to have their feet washed. Then he added, however, that one of them was not clean. He was speaking spiritually of Judas.
After Jesus washed their feet, he explained the significance of his actions. The apostles were to do as he had done. If he, their Lord and Master, had washed their feet, they ought not to consider themselves too high and mighty to wash one another’s feet. They should humbly serve one another rather than wanting to rule over one another.
Foot Washing Today
Some have completely destroyed the beauty and meaning of this incident. They have made foot washing a mere ritual to be engaged in during an assembly of the church. Such a thing is not taught in God’s word.
The statement of v. 14, “Ye ought also to wash one another’s feet,” was not addressed to, all Christians. Jesus was talking to the apostles about their attitudes and conduct toward one another. They were to perform this act of service for one another. In the time and place in which they lived, this service was appropriate, and he told them to do it. He never told us to do it.
Surely, however, the principle involved applies to us. We musts have the attitude. Jesus demonstrated, for he is our example. We must humbly serve one another and not think any act of service is beneath our dignity.
Those who make foot washing a ritual are not following the example of Jesus. They are not doing as he did. He performed a real service; they are not serving any need when they wash feet that are already clean. We are following Jesus’ example, not when we go through a ritual that serves no one’s needs, but when we perform acts that really serve the needs of others.
The only other place foot washing is mentioned in the New Testament is 1 Timothy 5:10. It is in the context of good deeds performed to help other people and has no reference to a ritual performed in an assembly of the church.
I am in favor of washing feet in circumstances comparable to those that existed when Jesus washed the apostles’ feet – that is, when it would serve a real need. If someone needs me to wash his feet, I will be happy to serve that need. Some of you may have performed this service at times – for example, when someone was ill and in need of such help.
Remember, greatness is attained through service; and Jesus responded that they were clean and therefore no matter how menial a task is, it is not beneath our dignity.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 22, p. 682
November 19, 1987