Foot (or Feet) Washing

Is the washing of  feet at church meetings  an act performed in obedience to God? Please read John 13:1-18. During the final week Jesus lived on earth He spent His time equipping the disciples to continue on after He ascended. John 13 describes the last Passover feast Jesus observed. It was after this feast that He instituted the memorial feast known in the New Testament as the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20).

To demonstrate His true humility, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. Already competi­tion among these chosen disciples reared its ugly head. Which of them would occupy the most prominent place in the coming kingdom? Zebedee’s wife, mother of James and John,  made a direct appeal to Jesus for an exalted position for his sons (Matt. 20:20-21). Notice how the Lord re­sponded. “Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant” (verse 24-27).

As Jesus stooped to wash their feet, Peter asked, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” He recognized instantly that something was out of place. He should have been washing Jesus’ feet. Jesus put into practice what He had just told His disciples. Those who look for a position of great respect must humble themselves in service to others.

Was Jesus instituting a religious act to be practiced by the disciples after the church was es­tablished? Hardly. After it was all over, Jesus said, “I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him” (verses 15-16). The disciples knew how to wash feet. They did not know true humility. The example of the Master serving the student was designed to show them true humility.

Foot washing is not like the Lord’s Supper. Nothing like the Lord’s Supper was known prior to the time of Christ. But the Jews practiced washing each others feet for centuries.

Foot washing was a common act of hospital­ity, generally performed by a servant for a guest. Read Gen. 18:4, where Abraham offered hospitality and kindness to three strangers, messengers from Jehovah. When those messengers came to Lot’s house they were offered the same cordial service (Gen. 19:2). Foot washing was a custom of many generations among the Eastern cultures. People who wore sandals and walked on hot dusty roads and paths found it refreshing to have their feet bathed in cool, clean water. A similar thing occurs now when a weary traveler arrives at a friend’s house. The host will say, “Would you like to refresh yourself?” Cus­toms change and that is all foot washing was ever intended to be.

That foot washing is not an act of worship and service to be included in the church today is obvious. The absence of any instruction relative to it as a socalled “church ordinance” shows clearly that God did not intend it to be practiced as a religious act. There is one reference to it in I Tim. 5:10 and there it is included as a domestic duty, not a church obligation.

One has no more right to bind washing feet as a religious act than they do to bind washing hands. Listen to the judgment of Christ on hand washing. Mark tells us that the Jews would not  eat prior to washing their hands -- not for sanitary but religious reasons. Jesus accused them of engaging in vain worship because they taught the doctrines of men. “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition” (Read Mark 7:1-9). The same thing applies to washing feet -- when done as an act of religion.

No matter how great one may become, he is never too great to serve. Do you remember John Brodie, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers? Someone asked him why a million dollar player like him should have to hold the ball for field goals and extra points. “Well,” said Brodie, “if I didn’t, it would fall over.”  DRS

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