A Servant's Towel
"Jesus Christ rose up from supper, and
laid aside His garments; and took a servant's towel, and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a
basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the
servant's towel wherewith He was girded." (John 13:4-5) Extrapolating backward,
the translators of the Amplified Bible correctly added the word, "servant's," to
this passage. Why did Jesus wash the disciples feet, and why did He tie the footwashing command to the New Testament Passover? What spiritual lesson should
we draw from the footwashing?
When Jesus said, "You also ought to wash one another's feet," He was giving us a
most important instruction (John 13:14). Is the footwashing optional, or is it
commanded? Why must we wash the feet of others? Some people think that the
footwashing is for the sole purpose of teaching us to be humble. The footwashing
does require that we have a humble attitude, but it means much more than merely
humbling ourselves by washing the feet of others. We must be careful not to fall
into the trap of acquiring a false humility as a result of the footwashing
ceremony. By His example, Jesus was teaching us how to serve others just as He
has done. The footwashing is about learning to serve one another in a spiritual
Not having yet received God's Holy Spirit, the disciples could not understand
the spiritual aspect of the ceremony Jesus was establishing. "Then came Jesus to
Simon Peter: and Peter said unto Him, Lord, is it for you to wash my feet? Jesus
answered and said unto him, What I do thou know not now; but you shall know
hereafter." (John 13:6-7)
"Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I
wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." (John 13:8) The footwashing, when
performed in the spirit in which Jesus established it, assures our place in the
Body of Christ, the Family of God, the Kingdom of God and eternal life. "Simon
Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
Jesus said to him, He that is washed need not save to wash his feet, but is
clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all."
Jesus establishes here that Peter has been forgiven - washed all over - cleansed
from sin through baptism. When Jesus said, "He that is washed, need not wash
except his feet, but is clean every whit." Jesus was alluding to
cleanses a sinner completely of all past guilt. And, Jesus shows here that the
yearly footwashing is still necessary and required.
Sin separates man from God (Isaiah 59:2). Because we are in the flesh, we are
not perfect. Sin can and does occur after baptism, and must be acknowledged,
repented of and forgiven (1 John 1:8-10). The footwashing is a needed spiritual
cleansing - because we come short throughout the year - we are sinners - and
Jesus Christ is our advocate, comforter, intercessor and consoler. "If any man
sin, we have an advocate [parakletos] with the Father, Jesus Christ the
righteous." (1 John 2:1)
Though we were once washed at baptism, the footwashing symbolizes our renewed
commitment to walk in the newness of life that we made at our baptism. Because
we are yet sinners, the yearly footwashing indicates our desire to "clean our
slate," so to speak, in a reaffirmation of our baptismal vow. But, this explains
only having our own feet washed. Why is it necessary to wash the feet of others?
"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? 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 [ must, obligated, duty-bound ] to wash one another's
feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."
In the same way that we want to be clean before God, He requires us to help
other brethren to be clean before God in our common spiritual quest. Jesus
taught, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his
friends." (John 15:12-13) Jesus laid His life down for us, so we must lay our
lives down for others - but how do we do that? When a brother or sister has
strayed and allowed a serious sin to enter their life - we must serve them by
going to their spiritual rescue, no matter what it takes - that is laying down
our life for them.
James tells us how we are to go to the rescue of every brother or sister in
Christ who is experiencing a spiritual problem. "Brethren, if any of you do err
from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converts [turns
around] the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and
shall hide a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20) This is a perfect example of
the spiritual application of the footwashing. We, therefore, must wash the feet
of one another.
Not only must we have an attitude of being willing to lay our life down for
others, we must actively intervene in their lives whenever they go astray so
that they may live. "Truly, truly, 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... 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." (John 13:16-17, :34-35)
Jesus gave us this priority: "Whoever would be first and foremost among you, let
him be your bond slave, even as the Son of man came not to be waited upon, but
to serve, and to give His life..." (Matt 20:27-28)
The footwashing ceremony defines our relationship with God and our fellow man.
The footwashing symbolizes our renewed commitment to walk in the newness of life
that we made at our baptism. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into
death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the
Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)
||"A Servant's Towel"