The Forgotten Ordinance: Feet Washing
Many people today try to explain away the ordinance of feet washing with the age-old sandal theory: The people of Jesus’ day wore sandals, and therefore their feet became dirty. So, as an act of friendship and service, the host would wash the visitors’ feet upon entering the house.
Let us see what the Word of God has to say about it:
- Abraham told the three men who came to visit him, “Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.” (Genesis 18:4)
- Lot, in meeting the angels of the Lord, had this to say: “Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways.” (Genesis 19:2)
- When Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt for grain, Joseph’s steward “brought the men into Joseph’s house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet.” (Genesis 43:24)
- At Simon the Pharisee’s house, Jesus spoke of the repentant woman who came to Him: “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.” (Luke 7:44)
These scriptures lead us to believe the individual washed his own feet, therefore making void the sandal theory.
“And when the servants of David were come to Abigail to Carmel, they spake unto her, saying, David sent us unto thee, to take thee to him to wife. And she arose, and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” (1 Samuel 25:40-41) She desired to humble herself, to wash the feet of the servants of her lord. She was to be the bride of David. The church is the bride of Christ, and in like manner we humble ourselves to wash the feet of the servants of our Lord, which are the saints of God. This shows unto us that it is an ordinance to be observed, carried out by the church: saved people, the saints of God.
“He [Jesus] riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 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. 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. 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 to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 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.” (John 13:4-17)
Some are of the opinion we can wash one another’s feet if we want to, or we can leave it off, that it is just a matter of choice. They say it is only an act to show our humility, and that we can show our humility in a number of other ways; i.e., visiting the sick, bathing the sick, or doing other good deeds.
I don’t know of any better way to show, or prove, our humility than to humble ourselves at the feet of our spiritual brother or sister; of course everything being done in decency and order (1 Corinthians 14:40), the men to themselves and the women to themselves. Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14) The word ought in Jesus’ day was a binding word. The same holds true in our day. Webster says of the word ought, “to be held or bound in duty or moral obligation: to be necessary.” Therefore, we are duty bound and under direct command of Jesus Christ to wash one another’s feet.
Paul, in writing to Timothy, tells him that for a widow to be recognized and for her to receive the benefits of a widow, she must meet the requirements and qualifications as recorded in 1 Timothy 5:9-10. Notice one of these requirements was that she must “have washed the saints’ feet.”
Jesus set the example of feet washing and tells us to do likewise. Many religious leaders, ministers, and pastors today need to be “an example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12) and carry out the ordinance that Jesus said we ought to do. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22) “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:17) One reason so many religious professors are unhappy is the fact they know and fail to do.
Why did Jesus institute the ordinance of feet washing? The answer is found in John 13:16, “The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” Perhaps we need to be reminded that we are called to be servants of Jesus Christ. We are called to minister, rather than to be ministered to. Just a short time before, some of the disciples felt they were just a little greater than the others. They wanted the higher seats. Jesus told them in order to be great, or to occupy a higher seat, they must first be a servant, taking the low seat (Matthew 20:25-28). Anyone having an exalted or superior feeling or spirit, or that harbors in their heart ill will or hatred for others, will find it hard to wash one another’s feet.
Let us humble ourselves before God and our fellow man, and obey the command of our blessed Lord. “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. 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.” (John 13:14-17)
May the Lord bless you is our prayer.