Love Afoot – Part 2

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. ~ John 13:10

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. ~ John 13:10

Thoughts from John 13:1-17, Part 2
Part 1 here

In the first part, we considered some reasons why this passage is not about instituting a foot-washing service, nor is it a general teaching on humility and service. We considered reasons internal and external to the text. One of the reasons comes from the very start of the passage (John 13:1-3) that reveals some thoughts in the mind of Jesus that were moving Him to take the towel and wash. Whatever this act means, it must be consistent with His thoughts.

We certainly don’t want to stop at saying what the passage doesn’t mean. We want to know what it does mean. The thoughts on Jesus’ mind are one contextual piece to help us discern that. Another important contextual piece must also be considered. We must look at what was on the minds of the disciples before Jesus took the towel and started to wash.

The broader context
Jesus knew His time was at hand. In fact, He was hours away from being arrested. He also knew He was moments away from instituting the memorial supper. Jesus also knew what was on the mind of the disciples.

The Gospels tell us there was an ongoing strife between the disciples. They were arguing which one of them was the greatest disciple (Matthew 20:20-28). On the way to this very supper, they were arguing about this (Luke 22:24-27). This was not an isolated incident, but rather an ongoing problem. They were striving over this at least a year earlier while going with Jesus from Galilee to Capernaum (Mark 9:30-37). They were so preoccupied with this that they did not understand Jesus when He spoke about His death.

So, about to partake of the Lord’s Supper and hours away from Jesus’ arrest, they were striving with one another about which of them was the greatest. Their minds were fixed on exaltation and reward. Each thought their standing was better than the others’ around them.

It’s easy here to chide the disciples and even wonder how they could be thinking about this at a time like this. However, let’s not be too quick to condemn them. Have you ever thought yourself better than, i.e. looked down on, some other Christian because they weren’t a member of the church you’re a member of? Have you perhaps looked down on someone because maybe they didn’t understand some of the truth you understand from God’s Word? So how are we any better than the disciples here when we are fixed on rewards or position. Remember that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for thinking themselves better and that they wouldn’t have done what others before them did (Matthew 23:29-30).

In the midst of all this, Jesus arose, took a towel, poured water in a basin, and then washed the disciples’ feet. The disciples wouldn’t have thought anything out of place if one of the disciples had risen up and washed Jesus’ feet. But while each was thinking himself better than the other, they wouldn’t have stooped to wash their brother’s feet. Yet Jesus did the unthinkable when He washed their feet. What did it mean?

The application and the new command
After He finished, Jesus did give the imperative to His disciples.

12 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?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord:and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16 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.
17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
– John 13:12-17

Verse 14 does say, “Ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Obviously, this act is not excluded from the service we should do. There really is no service that we should see as too low or beneath us to do. If you are in a circumstance where your brother’s feet need washed, you shouldn’t hesitate to do it. However, that is quite different from washing feet in a ceremonial display.

I assert again that if this is all that is meant, Peter and the disciples would have readily understood it without explanation and without need for revelation through the cross. Verse 15 gives us reason to look for more. It sounds very similar to something Jesus said a little while afterward.

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
– John 13:34-35 (Emphasis added)

In verse 15, Jesus said, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (Emphasis added). And He went on to say a couple of chapters later:

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
– John 15:12 (Emphasis added)

Jesus gave a new commandment and, in some way, the act of washing the disciples’ feet is connected. The new command was to love one another, but that doesn’t sound very new. All the way back in Leviticus 19:18, the law commanded to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus perhaps expanded that a bit, or corrected a false notion of it, in Luke 6:31-36 to include loving your enemies, but He doesn’t call that new.

The new command involves brotherly love and sacrifice (John 13:34-35; 15:12-17). That is new and it is also new that we have not only a command but also a perfect example in life with Jesus Christ. Great love is expressed ultimately in life-sacrifice (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16), but it is also expressed in the lowest service. John made that link in his first epistle when he immediately talked about giving your brother what he needs right after laying down you life for him.

16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us:and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
– 1 John 3:16-18

Part of John’s point is about truly having God’s love in us. If we have the Father’s love, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren and we also should have compassion and give to our brother who has need. You can’t have one without the other. It is all the same love.

John calls this the “perfect” love of God. The word underlying perfect here doesn’t mean perfect in the sense of flawless, but rather it is complete or fulfilled. God’s love is perfected in us, or fulfilled in us, not only when we have received it, but when we have shown it to others.

That brings us back to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. He said what He did was an example and linked it with the command to love one another. What He did here was complete the example of God’s love. He expressed it in the ultimate way by laying down His life, but He also expressed it in the lowest, most humiliating service, by washing their feet. The love that took the beating, mocking, and crucifixion, is the same love that took the towel, basin, and feet of the disciples. This is how we are to love one another, from the least service to the greatest sacrifice. And “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

Love Afoot – Part 1

If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. ~ John 13:14

If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. ~ John 13:14

Thoughts from John 13:1-17

A few days after the triumphal entry, Jesus was in Jerusalem in the upper room with His disciples. They had prepared to eat the Passover meal there. This night was an exception to His usual routine. At that time, He was spending His days teaching in the temple and His nights were spent on the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37). This night He came into the city, with His disciples, to eat the Passover and do what He needed to do before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion.

Washing His disciples’ feet was one of the things He needed to do. Foot washing was a common occurrence in that day, for obvious practical reasons. It was a task most typically performed by the lowest, menial slaves. Washing the feet of one’s peers was humbling. Washing the feet of one’s inferiors was unthinkable.

Jesus was the superior in the room. What He did in washing the disciple’s feet was culturally unthinkable. This is likely the reason Peter said what he did when Jesus came to him (John 13:6, 8). Peter had a knack for saying what everyone else was probably thinking. The account does raise some questions we need to answer.

Why did Jesus do this? What is this all about? Why is it in the Bible?
Some would say that it simply means we should wash each others’ feet and many have special services where they do just that. Others would say that it is just an object lesson and so it is a general teaching on humility and serving one another. I don’t believe either of those interpretations is entirely correct and there are good reasons internally and externally to dismiss them.

External objections
By external, I mean outside the text of John 13:1-17. The external are not equally significant with the internal reasons, but they are more compelling when taken together with the internal.

  1. The general humility and service interpretation. If the text means nothing more, then Jesus is here presented as an humble teacher in group with others, such as Ghandi, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, or Confucius. If the text means nothing more, there is nothing distinctly Christian about it. It’s an act any humanist philosopher could perform and endorse.
  2. The public foot-washing service/ordinance/practice interpretation. Foot washing was a common occurrence that was much more pragmatic than ceremonial. I’m sure there was a ceremonial aspect when dignitaries were at some high function, but normally it was inglorious.It is not common today precisely because we don’t have the contextual conditions to make it necessary. So, whenever it is practiced by Christians today, it is preeminently ceremonial. There seems to be an inconsistency, or even a contradiction, in having a public ceremony where a person can display their humility.The general trend of biblical teaching on service is for it to be more secret than open.

    1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them:otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

    3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:4 That thine alms may be in secret:and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

    5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are:for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance:for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret:and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
    – Matthew 6:1, 3-4, 5-6, 16-18

  3. One more lesser objection to the public service interpretation. I say it is lesser because it is the argument from silence. I know the argument from silence is a dangerous one. I know it usually evokes the sophomoric retort, “The Bible doesn’t say they didn’t either.”The argument from silence can never stand alone, but that doesn’t mean it cannot contribute when weighed together with other things. So here it is. There is not a single reference in the New Testament where the church practiced this. Though there are later references to the Lord’s Supper, there is no mention of foot washing. I’m also unaware of any references in church history before the third or fourth centuries to the practice.

Internal objections
The internal reasons to discern more in this text come from the text itself. These are the most compelling and give the external reasons more weight. I see three primary pointers to greater meaning in the text.

  1. The first three verses explain what was on Jesus’ mind and therefore moving Him as He took the towel to wash the disciples’ feet.

    1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God
    – John 13:1-3 (Emphasis added)

    These verses point to more than a lesson on humility. He had His death on His mind and His love for His own. Jesus knew it was time to lay down His life in ultimate expression of love for His own (John 15:13).

  2. Peter’s reaction and Jesus’ response to the foot washing point to more going on.

    6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter:and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet.
    – John 13:6-8 (Emphasis added)

    Peter’s objection seems reasonable, but Jesus tells him that he does not understand what is being done. He said Peter would understand it “hereafter,” which means after His death. If Jesus was just washing Peter’s feet and thereby teaching Peter to wash the other disciples’ feet, then Peter would easily have understood that without need to look upon it through the lens of Jesus’ death on the cross. There is more going on than the foot washing.

  3. Jesus’ explanation to the disciples afterward points to more in meaning.

    12 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?
    – John 13:12

    This question is in the same vein with His statement to Peter. They didn’t understand what He had done and wouldn’t until after His death and when He opened their understanding.

These are good reasons to see that Jesus did not institute a foot-washing service in these verses, but rather He did something that had to do with His death and His love for His own. In the next part, we want to consider what this is about and also what it means that He did tell His disciples to wash one another’s feet.

To be continued . . .

Acts 21:13

Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?
for I am ready not to be bound only,
but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

~ Acts 21:13

Paul had set his face to go to Jerusalem. He had spent much time receiving an offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem and was determined to deliver it personally. He hoped to relieve some of the afflictions of the church and to show the generosity and gratitude of the Gentile churches, which, he hoped, would go a long way in easing the strained relations between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. This task could have been taken care of by one of his fellow laborers, a point obvious to most of those that had contact with Paul. In our text, the disciples at Caesarea, along with his traveling companions, have sought to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem himself, and Paul makes his response to their plea.

Paul says, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?” The disciples were persistent and sought to persuade Paul to leave his present course. Paul questions why they would seek to weaken his resolve. Why would they want to hinder him from finishing the course that has been marked out for him? He could understand their sorrow; no doubt, he had some sorrow himself. However, he does not understand why they would try to overrule the leadership of the Spirit. Let us consider this verse and receive instruction.

The Holy Spirit gave a revelation concerning Paul’s trip to Jerusalem on at least three different occasions. Once in Miletus the revelation was given to Paul himself, “And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me” (Acts 20:22-23). The second revelation came to the disciples in Tyre, who spoke to Paul “through the Spirit” (Acts 21:4) concerning his visit to Jerusalem. The third revelation came to the prophet Agabus and he related it to all those that were at Caesarea, “And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11).

We are not given the content of the revelation in the second instance. We are told that the disciples acted on the revelation of the Spirit. However, we have every reason to believe that it was consistent with the other two. These three instances were essentially the same revelation. We have the same message, but at least two different interpretations.

The disciples at Tyre reacted in much the same way the disciples at Caesarea did when they heard the message. Of the disciples at Tyre, it is said, “And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). Of the disciples in Caesarea, we are told, “And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12). They heard the same message and interpreted it in the same way, although those at Caesarea were more fervent in their persuasion responding to the dramatic presentation of Agabus. These parties all agreed, after hearing the message that Paul should not go to Jerusalem.

Several different factors had an affect on the groups. Their intentions were good and sincere. They had a great love for Paul and wanted him to continue to be with them. The Ephesian elders at Miletus experienced the same emotions when Paul departed from them, “Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more” (Acts 20:38). They were concerned for Paul’s safety and well-being.

Still yet, the Holy Spirit never said that Paul should not go. Why were they so insistent that Paul was wrong? What the Spirit did reveal was that the way was extremely difficult and fraught with hardships. They believed that it was too hard and Paul would be risking his life. Like many Christians, upon understanding that the way was difficult and would involve personal sacrifice, they assumed that that meant he should not go.

Paul received the revelation from the Spirit and understood the same things concerning the hardships attending that course. However, he reacted very differently. Instead of being discouraged, he was resolute and convinced that this was the course marked for him by God. “And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there” (Acts 20:22). Acknowledging the great difficulty, Paul said, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24).

Paul knew that the task was hard and he said, “But none of these things move me.” Paul sought to explain, “For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Paul confessed the way would be difficult. He admitted that he did not know what all would happen. He acknowledged that it will probably not end well. Despite all these things, Paul was determined to go, believing it to be the will of God.

Long ago, Paul had resigned his own will, ambitions, and agenda in order to become the bond-slave of Jesus Christ. The Apostle that told others, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) was willing himself to be a living sacrifice.

In the end the disciples showed wisdom in conceding to Paul, “And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14). They thought Paul was making a mistake. They feared that he would fail, so they tried to prevent him from venturing on the enterprise. However, when they saw Paul’s determination, they ceased trying to persuade him and left it to the will of God.

Their intentions were good and they did what they did out of love and concern for Paul. However, on closer inspection, we find an evil in what they did. Peter had once sought to persuade Jesus not to go, and the Lord rebuked him calling him Satan. In essence, these well-meaning disciples were actually seeking to hinder the will of God and persuade another Christian not to follow his calling and were really being selfish. Let us be as Paul willing to go and to do whatever God bids us do and let us never put a stumbling block in the way of one who is seeking to do the same.

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