Is Foot Washing An Act Of Worship?
Is the account of when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, an example that we must follow in our Christian worship, or in our Christian lives?
In last weeks lesson, “When Is A bible Example Binding? – Part 4, The Lord’s Supper”, we studied many verses of scripture that made it quite easy to determine that the Lord’s supper is indeed something that all Christians for all times are to follow in their worship to God.
Jesus told His disciples to “DO THIS, in remembrance of Me.” He told them that they would indeed do this together again “in My Father’s kingdom”. He told them that when they did partake of the Lord’s supper in the kingdom, that it would be something “new”.
And then we had the account of the newly converted Christians just after the day of Pentecost, doing exactly that; “Continuing steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and in fellowship, in breaking bread (the Lord’s supper) and in prayer.” (Acts 2:42) We have the account of when Paul and Luke and the Christians who lived in Troas, coming “together upon the first day of the week, to “break bread”. (Acts 20:7) And we have the account of when the Corinthian congregation was rebuked by Paul for NOT honoring the Lord’s supper as they should have been doing. (1 Cor 11:18 thru 22)
All of this evidence makes it as clear as can be, that the account of Jesus giving the instructions of how to partake of the Lord’s supper, is intended by God, to serve as an example that all Christians must follow.
Now, on the very same evening that Jesus gave those instructions concerning the Lord’s supper, He also washed the disciples’ feet, and gave some instructions connected with that also. So then the question is; Does God intend for us to view that account of action, as an example that all Christians must follow, just like we follow the example of the Lord’s supper?
To answer that question, we need to consider every verse of scripture that deals with this incident, just like we considered every scripture that dealt with the Lord’s supper. And then based on all the information given by God, we need to come to a reasonable and logical conclusion. And in doing that, we only need to look at one passage.. John 13, verses 2 thru 20. No other reference is made to this, anywhere else in the bible. No other verse exists. So then this one passage, is all we have to go by in reaching our conclusion.
Remember, this took place during the Passover supper, and the first thing John does as he writes this, is to give us a little background into some “conditions” that existed. Here’s the background, beginning in verse 2; “And supper taking place, (now let me mention something here.. the KJV says; “and supper having ended”, but that’s not correct, the supper hadn’t ended. The word used here is in the present tense, and so the supper had NOT ended, but it had begun. And so here’s what John records for us..
“And supper taking place, and the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him.” We’re getting a little background here as to the situation, but there’s more. And this of course is speaking of Jesus..
“Knowing that all things had been given Him into His hands by the Father, and that from God He had come forth, and to God He is going, He rises from the supper, and lays aside the garments, and having taken a towel, He girded Himself. 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.”
So once again, here’s the background for this.. Supper is taking place, Judas has already decided to betray Jesus, and Jesus knows it. And Jesus knows that all things have been given into His hands; And He knows that He’s going back to heaven soon. And so what does Jesus do? Well, “He rises from the supper, and lays aside the garments, and having taken a towel, He girded Himself. 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.”
Now doesn’t that sound like a fairly odd thing for Jesus to do? Jesus and His apostles are having the Passover meal. But somewhere in the middle of the meal, Jesus decides to get up and wash the apostles’ feet. And it has to do with what Jesus knows about Himself, and about Judas.
Of course the rest of the apostles don’t know the intentions of Judas, but Jesus knows what Judas is about to do. And He knows exactly what’s going to take place very shortly. He’s going to be arrested, and there’s going to be the so-called “trial”. And then, the scourging begins, and then of course, the crucifixion. So, what does Jesus do? He begins washing the feet of the apostles. That sound a little odd at first, until we read a little more.
Jesus is washing the apostles’ feet, and we’re told in verse 6; “He comes then to Simon Peter, who says to Him; Lord, Do you wash my feet? And Jesus answered and said to him; What I do, you presently do not understand, but you will understand, along with these.” Jesus is saying, that even though right now, you don’t understand why I’m doing this, later on, you “along with these”, (along with the rest of the apostles) will understand.
Now, verses 8 & 9; “Peter said to Him; Never shall You wash my feet! Jesus answered him; If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me. Simon Peter said to Him; Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Peter’s tone changed there, from a rather bold refusal, to a rather humble submission. Peter says.. “Lord, whatever You say, just let me have a part with You.”
Now listen to verses 10 & 11; “Jesus said to him; He who has bathed, has no other need, if not to wash the feet, but he is completely clean. And you are clean, but not all. For He knew the one who was betraying Him; For this reason He said; Not all of you are clean.”
Jesus is making an analogy here. He’s comparing the cleanliness of the body with the cleanliness of the soul. Jesus said that the one who has bathed his whole body, has no other need for bathing, unless it be for the feet, because the feet were always subject to dirt. And so Jesus washes their feet, and says, now you are completely clean. But then He says; “But not all of you are clean”, referring to Judas.
It was the soul of Judas that wasn’t clean. Remember how Jesus said to Peter; “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me”? Well, Judas had already made the decision, to not have any part with Jesus. Even though Judas was there physically, and had a part in what was happening, his soul had no part with Jesus.
What do you think was on the mind of Judas that whole evening? The scripture said that the devil had already put into his heart to betray Jesus. But yet he’s gathered there with the other apostles having the Passover meal. You know what’s on his mind; Not the meal, and not the fellowship, but the betrayal. And “out of the blue”, Jesus gets up and starts washing their feet. And then He says; Even though I’ve washed your feet, making you completely clean, one of you still isn’t clean.
Don’t you think that Judas KNEW what Jesus was talking about. That was Jesus’ way of telling Judas; I know what’s in your mind, and I know what’s in your heart and your soul! Jesus was speaking to Judas, through the act of washing the apostles’ feet.
Why didn’t Jesus just come right out and tell Judas that He knew his heart? Maybe Jesus felt that an action, “speaks a thousand words”, And so instead of saying it, He illustrated it. And even after He had told the apostles, in verse 21; “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me”, and everyone looked around not knowing who Jesus was referring to, Jesus still didn’t say by name who was going to betray Him. Instead, He said in verse 26; “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” And then the verse says; “So when He had dipped the morsel, He took it and gave it to Judas..” And He said in verse 27; “What you do, do quickly.” And shortly after that, Judas got up and left. (V-31).
Judas knw what was going on. Judas saw what Jesus had done, and he heard what Jesus had said, but he stuck to his decision to betray Him anyway.
I have no doubt that God wants us to think about what He says, and to think about what we do in response to what He says. Was Jesus giving Judas this illustration of washing their feet, so that Judas might re-think what he was about to do? There’s no doubt that Judas, and his decision to betray Jesus, is what was on Jesus’ mind, when He got up from the supper, and proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples. Hen was telling Judas, that he was not clean! Maybe He was giving Judas the chance to change his mind.
But let’s look at verses 12 thru 15; “And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined again, He said to them; Do you know what I have done to you? You call me the teacher, and the Lord, and rightly you say; Indeed I am. If therefore I the Lord and the teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I gave you an example, that you also should do as I did to you.”
What was the example that Jesus gave everyone. Simply to wash feet? No, not at all. As we saw from the words of Jesus, that “not all of you are clean”, we see that the foot washing was primarily “aimed” at Judas. But now Jesus takes advantage of the situation, to teach another lesson for everyone to benefit from. If Jesus humbled Himself to the point of washing His disciples’ feet, then we too should have that same humility and willingness to serve others, no matter what that would require. And so what’s the example? Well, it seems obvious, that the example is that of humble service to others.
And maybe there’s yet another lesson that we could also learn from this account of what Jesus did. Judas had become an enemy to Jesus, He was ready to betray Him; He did betray Him! But yet, Judas was among those whose feet Jesus had just washed.
Didn’t Jesus say, in Luke 6:27 & 28; “..Love your enemies; Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus was teaching more than just one lesson here. Maybe more than two lessons.
Here’s what Jesus said next, in verses 16 thru 18; “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, neither is one who is sent, greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the scripture may be fulfilled; He who eats My bread, has lifted up his heel against Me.”
Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 which says; “Even My close friend in whom I trusted, who ate My bread, has lifted up his heel against Me.” And here’s the next few verses; “But Thou O Lord, be gracious to Me, and raise Me up, that I may repay them. By this I know that Thou art pleased with Me, because My enemy does not go about in victory over Me. As for me, Thou doest uphold Me in My integrity, and Thou doest set Me in Thy presence forever. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting, Amen.”
So let’s look at all the lessons that Jesus is teaching here; Remain humble and serve others. Love your enemies. The servant is not greater than the master, in other words, be in subjection. Keep your integrity, even if a friend betrays you. And fulfill your responsibilities to God. Jesus did what He did, and said what He said, so that the scriptures might be fulfilled. And we too, should do what we do, and say what we say, so that the will of God might be fulfilled.
Jesus did all that, just by washing the disciples feet, and by saying a few words. So then, what was the whole point of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples? Was the focus on the action performed, or was the focus on the lessons taught? Jesus said; “For I gave you an example, that you should do as I did to you.” Are we supposed to wash feet, or are we supposed to humbly serve others?
Are there any other commands found in the new testament that repeat the lessons learned here in this account, pertaining to how Christians should treat people? Of course there are. The scriptures are full of teachings about denying ourselves, and putting others first. Are there any other accounts in the new testament of Christians assembling together to wash feet? No there are not.
Jesus washed the apostle’s feet, as an illustration, of the lesson’s, and the principles that He was teaching. And that’s exactly what Jesus did when He taught in parables. The parable was the illustration, of the lesson and the principle that he was teaching. You’ve never heard anyone argue, that we must re-enact the parable, in order to live by the principle it taught, have you?
For example; The parable of the lost sheep, teaches us the value of even one soul that is lost. But to learn that lesson, and to live by that principle, we don’t have to re-enact the parable. In other words; We don’t need to go out and buy a hundred sheep, and put them in a pasture, and see if any gets lost
And likewise, we don’t need to re-enact the washing of the apostles’ feet, in order to learn the lesson’s and live by the principles that Jesus taught that evening.
After the account of the foot washing, the apostle John goes on through chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17, telling us many other things that Jesus spoke about. And many lessons were taught. And then in chapter 18, verse 1, he writes; “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples, over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, into which He Himself entered, and His disciples.”
John never even mentions the instructions for the Lord’s supper. Were those instructions given before, or after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet? We don’t know, do we? Luke gives the account of the instructions for the Lord’s supper, and then he records discussions that took place between Jesus and the apostles, that John didn’t even write about. And after those discussions, Luke writes in Luke 22:39; “And He came out and proceeded, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him.”
So after Jesus gave the instructions for the Lord’s supper, there was a lot of teaching, and discussion that took place, before they all went out to the Mount of Olives.
Now, if you remember, I told you last week, that some people believe that after we partake of the Lord’s supper, in our worship, that we are obligated to immediately sing a hymn. And that belief stems from the accounts given by Mathew and Mark, concerning the Lord’s supper. Mathew records the instructions for the Lord’s supper, in Mathew 26:26 thru 29. And then in the next verse, he says; “And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” And Mark records exactly the same thing, in Mark 14:26.
But as we plainly see, from what both John and Luke have written, they didn’t even mention the singing of a hymn. But obviously, the hymn, and the going out to the Mount of Olives, didn’t take place immediately after Jesus gave His instructions for the Lord’s super. John devotes four chapters of things that were said in between those two events. So then, here’s a case of a simple lack of study, and a lack of knowledge of what the bible says. And people jump to conclusions about what God commands, and what He doesn’t command.
I think that singing hymns is a great practice. And we have multiple accounts of Christians singing hymns during worship. But God never specified the order, in which the various acts of worship must be done. Can we sing a hymn after the Lord’s supper? Of course we can. But do we have to, to please God? Of course not, because God has never specified any order in which things must be done. 1 Corinthians 14:40, says to do all things “decently and in order”, but not in a specific order.
Hopefully you can see, that a little bible study, can go a long way, in correctly understanding the bible, and in understanding when an account of action, is the be used as an example, that must be followed.