The Doctrine of Feet Washing: Should It Be Done?

1 02 2016

There was a popular phrase throughout the 1990’s which said, “What Would Jesus Do?” This phrase came from a wonderful book called In His Steps. The book chronicled the life of a church who dared to do the impossible which was to not do anything in their church, homes, businesses or private lives for an entire year without first asking themselves, “what would Jesus do if He were in this situation?”

Lucky for us as Bible believers we don’t have to ask what would Jesus do because we can look at the Scriptures and ask what did Jesus do? These thoughts are taken from John 13 which most thoroughly addresses the issue of feet washing. We will take it verse by verse. We are looking at John 13:1-17.

Now 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.” (Vs. 1)

Verse one starts off with one of the most beautiful statements in the Bible. It says He loved them to the end. Their belief in Him, their loyalty, their faithfulness and love were in constant question but not the love of Jesus. He loved them as a Father for a child right down to His death where His love took action.

And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God.” (Vs. 2-3)

Feet washing can probably stand alone as a practice but this verse seems to indelibly tie the practice to the Lord’s Supper. After the meal commemorating the sacrifice He was to make, which we practice as a memorial feast. I think feet washing can be practiced apart from Lord’s Supper since there is no specific command to practice them together. I do think that it loses some of its meaning when separated from the feast. When taking time to remember the sacrifice of Christ it is good to remember the command to love and serve one another.

He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.” (Vs. 4)

Rising from supper gives us a good picture of the placement of feet washing. Jesus rose from the last supper that He would have with His disciples. The supper where He taught them the true picture of the Passover, and the true meaning of love in sacrifice. He will now demonstrate for them love in humility.

The cross stands as a symbol of sacrifice. The basin and towel will stand as a symbol of ultimate humility where the Creator of all things whether visible or invisible…

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)

The sustainer of all things…

And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:17)

The One who lifts up rulers and deposes the same…

Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.” (Daniel 2:20-21)

The one who is in need of nothing but gives to all people all things…

Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:25)

The Almighty God, would now gird Himself with a towel and kneel before His creation. He will take the place of a servant, the lowest of all places. He would wash their feet.

He laid aside His own garment. There are many garments that we must set aside in the Christian life. We must lay aside the garments of pride, anger, competition, debate, and malice. The garment of self worth and self accomplishment.

To be a follower of Jesus Christ we must follow in His steps. He not only washed His disciples feet but He gave the greatest example of a servants heart. It’s impossible to practice feet washing and hold these things in your heart. Service out of a pure heart is the glaring message of feet washing.

In practicing feet washing we don’t set the towel on the ground and then use it. The towel is not some foreign object but a personal item.We gird ourselves with the towel.

There are two reasons I see for this. The first is because Jesus did it and we follow the example He set. The other is because it makes the practice more personal. We are not simply drying the feet our our brother with a towel but with a towel girded to us. It is part of us and he is part of me as well.

After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” (Vs. 5)

I have heard many Christians mock the idea of handling dirty, smelly feet, yet their Lord Himself did not shrink from such an action nor did He mock the idea of doing such a thing. Of all the people in the universe He is the one who had the right to mock handling the dirty, smelly feet of someone else. It is in fact that spirit and attitude that He was condemning in this great act of service. I find it sad that so many mock an act their Savior performed. In this and in their pride they are puffing themselves up against the humility He was teaching.

Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.” (Vs. 6-11)

Peter refuses the Lord to wash his feet. I want to presume it’s simply false humility but perhaps that’s an unfair assessment and he really feels unworthy to have the Lord wash his feet. He was telling Peter that if he refused this act of service then he had no part with Christ. A disciple that is a true follower of the Lord cannot refuse the Lord in anything. Jesus asked an important question.

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?” (Vs. 12)

Jesus now having finished the act of washing His disciples feet will explain what He has done and what they are to do in response. This passage is preached on too little but Christ in this small passage makes a very important point and gives us a very important charge.

Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (Vs. 13-15)

Jesus points out that they are right in calling Him Lord and Master because He is both their Lord and Master and that if He as Lord and Master has washed their feet then they ought to wash one another’s feet.

They have already been given the lesson that the greatest leader will be the greatest servant and that they have one Master in Heaven and they are all brethren. He is now giving them a visual aid to remember this lest they get puffed up one against another. This brings to mind 3 John 1:9-10:

I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.”

This is the spirit that feet washing was taught to avoid. He says that if He their Lord and Master washed their feet then they ought to wash each others feet. Now here is an interesting passage. The word ought as used in our modern language would mean it was optional. It would mean they should do it but if they don’t want to then they don’t have to. In the language the Bible was written in however the word does not mean an option but a bound duty. Let’s look at a few other places where the word is used and see if we are keeping a consistant interpretation.

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” (Luke 18:1)

No one would assert that men have an option to pray and not to faint would they?

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” (Ephesians 5:28)

I don’t think men have an option to love their wives as their own bodies. Men should love their wives but if they don’t want to then it’s okay right? Of course not.

And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly.” (Acts 19:35-36)

In the passage above the man speaking is pointing out that because the apostles had done nothing illegal the men of the city were duty-bound not to act rashly lest there be an uproar and the Romans come. Here again it is used as a duty-bound word.

Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.” (Acts 24:19)

Here Paul says those who accused him were duty-bound to be there to make their claims.

Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” (Titus 1:11)

Paul is not saying that these false teachers just shouldn’t teach these things, but he’s saying that they are wrong for doing it, they are duty-bound not to do such a thing.

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (Acts 17:29)

Here again it is used not as an option but as a duty.

Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.” (Acts 25:10)

Here again Paul speaks not as an option. He says that because he has done nothing against the Jews then he ought to be judged by Rome. He was telling the Romans they were duty-bound to judge him and not give him over to the Jews.

I don’t mean to weary the reader with verses but to show a pattern of the use of this word. The pattern is exclusively in regards to something that is duty not an option. He said He gave them an example that they should do as He did. People often claim that Christ only meant it as a spiritual lesson not a literal practice.

Can you imagine if a husband took Ephesians 5 concerning marriage and only recognized the spiritual application to Christ and His church and ignored the commands to love his wife? Or if a preacher preached only the spiritual application of abstaining from fornication because the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost but told his church members they could live in fornication because it was only a spiritual meaning?

We look at that as ridiculous, but that is what many do with this passage. They take the obvious spiritual application then reject the words of Christ to do as He did to them. This was something He told them they needed to do for each other, and it is something I believe He was telling Christians to do for each other.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (Vs. 16-17)

He then reminds them that the servant is not greater than his lord. To those who I have heard mock the idea of touching someone’s gross, smelly feet I would like to ask a question. Do you feel you are greater than the Lord who stooped to wash the feet of those lower than Him? Will you not stoop to wash the feet of those your equal?

He ended this teaching by pronouncing that those who do this will be happy or blessed. It is true that those who obey the Lord in this area will be happy they did so. I can testify of that. I wish we would rethink how we view this doctrine in modern evangelicalism. I believe it has a place and would be edifying to the church today.

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