“Washed the Saints’ Feet”
Paul, in his instructions to Timothy regarding widows who would qualify to “be taken into the number” for the purpose of support, stated that she had to be “well reported for good works…if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work” (1Timothy 5:10). In the first century, with walking on dusty roads the major mode of transportation and sandals the usual footwear, washing a person’s feet was a common way to show hospitality. It was often the duty of a household slave (see 1 Samuel 25:41). It would have been too demeaning and humiliating a deed for a selfishly proud Pharisee to wash even an invited guest’s feet (see Luke 7:36-50).
Jesus, on the night of His betrayal, washed His disciple’s feet: “So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and 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. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17).
When we consider the context of Jesus’ example, we learn that He was not instituting a practice of ritualistic foot washing, but actually teaching His disciples an important lesson. References to “the Feast of the Passover” and “supper being ended” (John 13:1-2), informs us that this took place on the occasion of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper. During this time, Jesus’ disciples were arguing with one another: “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest” (see Luke 22:24-27). So while the disciples were being selfish and not getting along with one another, Jesus “rose from supper…and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:4-5); Jesus humbly served them like a slave. “Yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:27).
John begins his account stating that Jesus “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1); towards the end of this account John records Jesus saying: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The lesson Jesus was teaching, by His example of washing their feet, was their need to humbly serve one another in love. If they (we) would do this it would serve as testimony to the world that they (we) are truly disciples (obedient learners and followers) of Jesus. When we develop the mind set to be willing to perform the most humble of tasks for our fellow brethren (like washing someone’s dirty feet was in Jesus’ day), serving one another in love in many other areas should be easy.
Examples of Ways We Can “Wash One Another’s Feet”
Since we live in an environment where most people wear shoes and socks and very little travel is by foot on dusty roads, it would be a rare occasion for us to find ourselves in a situation where we would have to stoop so low as to wash someone’s dirty, maybe even stinky and ugly, feet. But we can make practical application of Jesus’ example in many other ways.
In 1 Timothy 5:10, “she has washed the saints’ feet” is preceded by “she has lodged strangers,” and followed by “she has relieved the afflicted.” Before the availability of motels, saints often would entertain and lodge traveling brethren; but we can still make offers of lodging, or “entertain” brethren who are visiting by inviting them to join us for a meal (as Abraham did for the angels he entertained unwittingly–Hebrews 13:1-2; Genesis 18). All disciples of Jesus are to be “given to (literally, “pursuing”) hospitality” (Romans 12:13). We can “wash the saints’ feet” by visiting afflicted brethren in the hospital, rehab centers, and assisted living centers. Elders of the church are not the only ones mentioned who are to pray for and tend to the medicinal needs of the sick (James 5:14); visiting the sick is a responsibility placed before all of us (see Matthew 25:36-40).
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). The word “visit” means: “to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes…in order to see how she is…to look upon in order to help or to benefit” (Thayer’s, pg.242). Several widows are members of this congregation; some are home alone and others in assisted living facilities. Phone calls and cards can be encouraging during a time of affliction, but personal visits can especially brighten a day for widows who have spent their lifetime having “washed the saints feet” and “relieved the afflicted” (1 Timothy 5:3,10). Neglecting to care properly for widows is seen as a serious problem; enough to warrant the selection and appointment of special servants to see that their daily needs are met (see Acts 6:1-6).
The opportunities to serve one another in love are numerous; surely you can think of many more. Let us encourage one another to be like “the household of Stephanas” who “devoted (literally, “addicted’) themselves to the ministry of (rendering practical service to) the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:15).
The Standard in Judgment
How important is it that we take time out of our busy schedules to tend to the needs of our brethren? Jesus says our willingness to serve one another in love will be considered and judged at the final day of judgment: “Then the King will say to those on the right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:34-40). You should read verses 41-46 to see what will happen to all who neglect to serve the needs of fellow saints. If we do not do our best to take a few moments in this life to humbly “wash the saint’s feet,” we will have all eternity, away from the presence of Christ, to think about our neglect. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
While there is evidence of brethren here humbly serving one another in love in many of the ways we have noted and more, we should continue to encourage one another to increase and abound. While Paul commended the saints at Thessalonica for their “labor of love,” he also prayed: “…may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 3:12-13).