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Foot Washing

by Dave Everett on June 18, 2011

"If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:14-17)

Just like the other ordinances Jesus instructed us to follow such as communion and water baptism, Jesus also instructed us to wash one another’s feet.

Many believe and teach we don’t have to physically wash the feet of each other today. I agree, just like everything else Jesus instructed us to do and led by example we do not have to do it. I believe we get to. We don’t have to tithe, we get to. We don’t have to go to church, we get to. We don’t have to partake of communion, we get to. We don’t have to be water baptized, we get to.

In other words, why would we not want to? Jesus. Said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet."

True, this custom was a necessary of that day. They wore sandals and their feet got dirty, and it was customary to wash their feet when they entered a house after travel. It was a menial task assigned to servants.

Jesus taught us both by His example and His Words throughout His earthly ministry: “…if anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mk. 9:35) “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.” (Mk. 10:44)

Paul also taught us:

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:13-14)

It is true that the Old Testament Law had many commands and prohibitions. Most people–in both Paul’s day and ours–have not looked beyond the outward rules to see its true purpose. Many people have focused their allegiance to the letter of the Law bypassing the spirit of the Law. The true focus of the Law was not actually our individual actions. The target was our old selfish, sinful nature. The Law struck at the core of our problem–our sinful selves. By dealing with our actions, the Law was revealing the sinfulness and complete helplessness of our carnal nature. The Law was powerless to change us or enable us to overcome sin. It only pointed out sin and thereby actually strengthened sin’s grip on our lives (1 Cor. 15:56).

The Royal law of love (James 2:8), on the other hand, does what the Law could not do. God’s kind of love is selfless–the opposite of the selfish, sinful nature. Walking in love will deny the flesh (Rom. 7:18) and, as a result, will naturally fulfill all the holy commands of the Law. If we love others more than ourselves, we will never steal from them. We will never murder or hurt those we love. We will never commit sexual sins if we truly love our mates. All sin is selfish. Therefore, love is the antidote for all sin. In context (Gal. 5:13-14) Paul goes on to teach, as we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) we will not fulfill the selfish lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

So then, how do we deny the flesh as Paul had just instructed (Gal. 5:13)? Paul gave the answer here. The way to deny the flesh is to serve others through God’s kind of love. Love is unselfish and therefore diametrically opposed to the selfish flesh. Serving others with God’s love will always negate the power of the flesh.

In John 13, Jesus is spending His last intimate moments with His disciples before he goes to the cross. In doing so, Jesus is making a point that instead of being served, we need to have the attitude of serving others. We need to humble ourselves and put others ahead of ourselves. Therefore, if we do that, we are fulfilling the spirit of what Jesus was saying, whether we ever physically wash their feet or not.

So then, washing one another’s feet is not another religious ritual we need to obey. Just like the ceremony of communion, the entire purpose of the exercise is to remember His Body that was broken for us and the Blood of His Covenant that was poured out for us. You can actually partake of communion in your heart without actually partaking of the elements. The elements are meaningless if you do not remember what Christ has done for you.

Likewise, before one is baptized it is crucial one is already born-again. Water Baptism alone is meaningless, unless one has heard the Gospel, understood what Christ has done for them and thus received Christ into their life. The beautiful ceremony of Water Baptism is just a public declaration of what has already taken place in the heart.

Therefore, the same is true with the ceremony of foot washing. Jesus didn’t just teach His disciples what to do. He led by example. But He didn’t just lead by example either. He also taught. The best leadership is that which teaches by word and example. The example that Jesus was referring to is the example of humility that He showed in serving His disciples. Our Lord was not instituting a new religious ritual of washing one another’s feet, although very effective and powerful just like communion and water baptism. Jesus was teaching us an attitude of serving one another in love.

Yes, Jesus could have taught His lesson by preparing or serving food instead of being served. Likewise, we can follow His example through humbling ourselves and serving others in many different ways beyond foot washing. What is more, serving one another in love should not just be a periodic ceremony but a continuous lifestyle.

Jesus went on to say:  

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13:35)

Jesus could have designated any number of things as the distinguishing characteristic of His True followers, but He said it would be our love for each other. It is not our morals, our holiness, our separateness, our fancy buildings, or our condemnation of sin that identifies us as Christians. It is our love for each other that will cause the world to take notice that we are Christians. This explains why the world has ignored the Church to a very large degree.

Jesus did not say that everyone would know we are His disciples by our doctrine, our rituals, our hatred for sin, or even by the way we express our love for God. He said very clearly that the one characteristic that would cause the world to identify us as His followers was our love one for another.Unity of the believers–that can only come through a genuine God-kind of love–is the greatest tool for evangelism that the church has or will ever have, according to Jesus. No wonder Satan has had the believers at each other’s throats. Believers spend billions of dollars yearly on evangelism through television and radio, conventions and crusades, yet the world is not evangelized, because the Body of Christ is not united in love.

The early church didn’t have the massive organizational structures that we see today or the ability to travel anywhere in the world in just a matter of hours. They certainly came nowhere close to spending as much money, in proportion to us, on spreading the Gospel. Yet the pagans of Thessalonica said of Paul and his companions, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6). They had evangelized the known world in less than thirty years.

Before we can ever fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, there will have to be a revival of love in the church where doctrine and ritual take a back seat to love one for another.

This same night, the Lord prayed to His Father using this same thought, saying:

“That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (Jn. 17:21)

The only way that Christ’s Body will be one as the Father and Jesus are One is through God’s kind of love. The world will know that we are of God by the oneness we manifest to them. No wonder the Church of Jesus Christ has not made a bigger impact on the world.

Just before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed that all believers would be one as He and the Father are One. This goes far beyond what many promote as unity today. Paul besought the Corinthians to “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). This is God’s standard of unity.

This oneness among the believers is what Jesus said would cause the world to know that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the greatest evangelism tool that the Church has. Yet we pour millions of dollars and much effort into other evangelistic efforts while we are at each other’s throats. However, when the Church is one, the world will be won.

If we don’t follow this example of Jesus and serve, instead of being served, we are making ourselves greater than Him. If people understood this, there would be no such things as dictators and manipulators in church leadership.

“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”  (James 1:25)

God created us to ‘do’ things. God’s original purpose for man (Adam) was that he would have dominion, subdue the earth and tend and keep the Garden (Gen. 2:15). Man was created to be a doer of God’s Word and will. God’s purpose for mankind has not changed. In Christ, we have been re-created for good works.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
(Eph. 2:10)

Once we understand the that our works do not save us, we can enter into the freedom of our works revealing the nature of Christ within. When we begin to release the grace of God in us to the world around us, blessings find us.

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13)

Again, Jesus, our Lord and Teacher instructed us to do something:

"If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.(John 13:14-17)

Are you hearing what Jesus said,

“Blessed are you if you DO them.” 

Yes, we have already been blessed with all blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3), there are keys in God’s Kingdom to releasing God’s blessing in our lives. Being a doer of His Word is one of those keys.

“Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” (Mt. 7:24-25)

Once again,

Our efforts MUST FLOW FROM OUR BORN-AGAIN NATURE, not from our flesh! 

We do the Word when we allow it to motivate us to bless and serve others. When we love, we are doers of the Word. When we forgive, give, bless, and pray for others, we are doers of the Word. These things flow from our righteousness.

We are born-again not of corruptible see (the flesh), we are born-again of the Incorruptible Seed of Christ, the enduring Word of God (1 Pt. 1:23). His Seed, His Nature is the Source of everything I do.

“For it is God Who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phi. 2:13)

“I have been crucified with Christ; it s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

“Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:18)

Imagine the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. He has communion with His disciples and washes their feet. He reveals that Judas is the one who will betray Him. He tells the disciples that He is leaving and they can’t come. Then, He speaks these words:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Jn. 13:34-35)

By virtue of the fact that this would be, in part, His final words to the disciples, they had to be very important. And notice that what He said to them was in the form of a command, not a suggestion.

But in reality, most people do not think that this is something they can actually do. Sure, it is a goal that they may strive to reach. but usually with little success. Would Jesus, Who was preparing to fulfill the Law give us a new command He knew we couldn’t keep? The answer is obviously no, so why is it so hard for us today to love other people?

Unfortunately, the majority of churches are teaching that God’s love for us is conditional. They are misrepresenting His love, and it is one of the main reasons that we as Christians are so judgmental and harsh toward other people. Consciously or not, we tend to treat people the way we believe God is treating us. We must understand that God does not love us because we are lovely. He does not love us because we read the Bible, go to church, pay our tithes, or do our best to keep the command to love others as He loved us. The truth is that He loves us without conditions. That is huge!

Many churches preach the message of evangelism. Consequently many devout Christians believe: “The sole purpose for our existence here on this earth is to lead somebody else to Jesus.”

Beloved, if evangelism is the sole purpose for our existence, then what about Adam and Eve? They had no one to lead to the Lord, no church to go to, no one to teach, no one to pray for, and no physical need of any kind.”

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. 4:11)

The original purpose of all creation was to give God pleasure. And that is still God’s purpose. Adam and Eve were created for fellowship with God. He wanted someone to love and for them to voluntarily love Him back. God’s purpose for creating human beings was all about relationship. But religion has succeeded at turning us from “human beings” into “human doings.” When that becomes the focus, we begin to tie God’s love for us to something that we do for Him. I did! But that was never His plan.

Over the years, I have prayed for many people. The vast majority of them begin telling me about their spiritual lives: “I’ve been praying, fasting, reading the Bible, and attending church, but I’m still not healed.” They don’t realize it, but they just told me why they weren’t healed. They’re pointing to what they are doing instead of what Jesus has done.

The same is true about our relationship with the Lord and with other people. We have come to believe that God loves us and acts on our behalf based on our performance. Therefore, we hold others to the same standard—our love for them is in direct proportion to their works, or how they treat us.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

God’s love has never been or ever will be conditional. He loved you at your worst, and most Christian churches would agree with that initially. They believe you are saved by grace through faith, no matter your history, but that is often where grace stops and religion starts. What is more, religion always puts the emphasis on the external.

Once you’re saved, religion says you must live holy, and the evidence of your holiness will likely be judged by the standards of your church: Do you dress the right way, do you say the right things, are you leading people to Jesus, and most important, are you tithing—just to give a few examples.

That is not how God sees us. God looks on the heart.

“And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him. But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:6-7)

Samuel was going to choose Eliab to replace King Saul because of the outward appearances. But God was not looking on the outside. The church today is judging believers in the same way. You might live like the world throughout the week, but as long as you come to church the next morning well kept and well dressed with a check in your hand, you’re accepted because you have the appearance of holiness.

Under the New Covenant, God is still concerned about your actions and behavior. It’s not okay to lie, to steal, to commit adultery, or any other sin. However, He knows that those are nothing more than the byproduct of a relationship—or the lack of one—with Him. So, He is focused on your heart.

As long as you believe God is judging you according to your performance, you will never fully receive His love. Love is a decision, and God decided to love you even though you didn’t deserve it. There is nothing you can do to earn it or deserve it, so just receive it as a free gift.

When you understand how much God loves you, it becomes easy to love others. And when you love others as He has loved you, your behavior will change toward them.

If you loved your mate the way that Christ loves you—unconditionally—you would never commit adultery. If you loved your neighbor as Christ loves you, you would never steal from them or bear false witness against them.

How does the world know that we are disciples of Christ? John 13:35 says,

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Did you know that the first-century church evangelized the known world in thirty years? They didn’t have television, the internet, smart phones, or texting. But they loved one another, and that love was so evident; it attracted people like honey attracts bees.

A Pharisee who was a lawyer asked Jesus this question: “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered saying:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mt. 22:37-40)

The Pharisees wanted Jesus to name the most important “Thou shalt not,” and instead, Jesus spoke “Thou shalt.” Many believers are still living under the Old Testament Law mentality. They are trying to earn the love of a God Who already made the decision to love them unconditionally.

Once you begin to understand how much God loves you, love will flow out of you toward others like rivers of living water.

I have witnessed many foot washing ceremonies through the years. Every time I witness the love of God being demonstrated in such a profound and powerful manner where both the recipient and the servant are being humbly blessed. It is unforgettably powerful and life-changing to both receive the love of God demonstrated in such a real and tangible manner as it is to be the one serving others in this fashion.

We are a church that not only teaches the Gospel of Christ and implores His people to love one another but we are also a church that celebrates the opportunity to demonstrate that love, serving one another in this manner. Just like communion we need the reminder, so it is with foot washing. We need to be reminded of His unconditional love that is so real, including the exhortation to serve and love one another as we have received.

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