Spiritual Lessons in Foot Washing

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Spiritual Lessons in Foot Washing

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As a young boy, I lived in an isolated forestry village. Our home had neither running water nor electricity. A bath was a once-a-week luxury. A nightly ritual before bed was to sit on the back step with a basin of warm water and wash our feet. As boys, we ran around barefoot and invariably our feet were encrusted with dirt or mud.

Christ gave a directive to wash one another’s feet and, when we reflect upon it, we find a vital teaching. In the scriptural examples of foot washing for guests, we find that water was often provided so that guests could wash their own feet. Abraham provided water for Christ and the angels this way. Abraham told them, “I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree” (Genesis 18:4 Genesis 18:4Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
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, The Message). This implies that if Christ and the angels did wash (which isn’t stated), they likely washed their own feet.

When Joseph welcomed his brothers to a banquet, the steward provided water for them to wash their feet before supper was served (Genesis 43:24 Genesis 43:24And the man brought the men into Joseph’s house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender.
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). The story of the old man from Ephraim who housed the traveling Levite and his concubine (see Judges 19:16-21 Judges 19:16-21 [16] And, behold, there came an old man from his work out of the field at even, which was also of mount Ephraim; and he sojourned in Gibeah: but the men of the place were Benjamites. [17] And when he had lifted up his eyes, he saw a wayfaring man in the street of the city: and the old man said, Where go you? and from where come you? [18] And he said to him, We are passing from Bethlehemjudah toward the side of mount Ephraim; from there am I: and I went to Bethlehemjudah, but I am now going to the house of the LORD; and there is no man that receives me to house. [19] Yet there is both straw and provender for our asses; and there is bread and wine also for me, and for your handmaid, and for the young man which is with your servants: there is no want of any thing. [20] And the old man said, Peace be with you; howsoever let all your wants lie on me; only lodge not in the street. [21] So he brought him into his house, and gave provender to the asses: and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink.
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) similarly records, “So he brought him into his house, and gave fodder to the donkeys. And they washed their [own] feet, and ate and drank” (Judges 19:21 Judges 19:21So he brought him into his house, and gave provender to the asses: and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink.
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). But in Christ’s directive there is an “above and beyond” requirement to actively participate in the washing of another’s feet. This is something we do during Passover. Our annual Passover foot washing therefore teaches these important lessons:

Jesus Christ set us an example

We have the direct statements of Christ, as our Lord and Teacher, that this is what He wanted His disciples to practice: “If then I, the Lord and the 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” (John 13:14-15 John 13:14-15 [14] If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.
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). He is our Teacher. Will we allow Him to instruct us?

Jesus instituted this ordinance for His disciples, to illustrate His willingness to unconditionally serve and love us. He commands that we humble ourselves and follow His example. Beyond that, we should want to follow His example because we love Him and desire to be like Him. Otherwise, we risk going through the motions just because we are told to do it.

Humility and service are required

Peter exclaimed, “You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8 John 13:8Peter said to him, You shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash you not, you have no part with me.
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). Christ’s answer was that if Peter didn’t submit to the ordinance, he would have no part in Christ. When we wash someone’s feet, we take on the position of the lowest of servants. To do it properly requires humility—the setting aside of all pride. Jesus Christ humbled Himself when He came down to this earth as a mortal man, but He further humbled Himself when He took on the duties of a foot-washing servant. That is what Peter was responding to when Jesus tried to wash his feet. In that respect, foot washing takes humility from both: the one who washes, and the one who is washed.

Jesus Christ said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me”—you can’t have a relationship with Me. With Jesus Christ’s explanation, we understand that the act helps to build a relationship with the individual whose feet we are washing.

Paul illustrates the humility of Christ by showing He gave up His divinity to become a man (Philippians 2:5-8 Philippians 2:5-8 [5] Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: [6] Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: [7] But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: [8] And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
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). In that humble state, He instructed His disciples to likewise “wash one another’s feet.”

To be Christ’s servants we must be spiritually clean

Although the primary lessons are humility, love and service, there is another lesson we can learn about being clean spiritually and being an influence on others, which helps them to be spiritually clean.

When Christ told Peter that, unless Peter submitted to the foot washing, he would have no part in Christ, Peter responded, “‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean’” (John 13:9-10 John 13:9-10 [9] Simon Peter said to him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. [10] Jesus said to him, He that is washed needs not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and you are clean, but not all.
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).

Christ’s words that “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet” have led some to think of the following analogy: Christ’s followers are cleansed at baptism, and we are further cleansed each time we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. But as we go through the daily “walk” of life, some of the worldly influences rub off on us, like dust gets on the feet of someone walking. If that is a valid analogy, then the Passover footwashing becomes an annual reminder of our continual need to be washed from the sinful influences of the world.

Washing another person’s feet also reminds us that we are involved in helping others to be spiritually clean. The book of Hebrews exhorts baptized members who have been “washed with water” to consider others, exhorting them in fellowship (Hebrews 10:22-25 Hebrews 10:22-25 [22] Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. [23] Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) [24] And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works: [25] Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
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).

The book of Hebrews, in contrasting the Old Testament sacrificial system, says Christ’s sacrifice cleanses our conscience from dead works so we may serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14 Hebrews 9:14How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
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). The apostle John wrote that on confession of sin we receive forgiveness and cleansing from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
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). In our annual self-reflection, it helps to consider the cleansing we need through Christ’s sacrifice, the cleansing that we have received, and the cleansing we help others to seek. Our annual foot washing ceremony helps reinforce these lessons.

Further reading

To learn more about Passover and the Holy Days of God, request or download our free booklet God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.
 

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