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 . . .

Luke 2:37

“And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years,
which departed not from the temple,
but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”

~ Luke 2:37

The birth of Christ was very humble, yet He was not without honor. He was greatly honored in the temple on this day; first by Simeon and then by Anna. Anna is one of the minor characters in the New Testament, yet she was highly favored by God in that she saw the Christ of God with her own eyes before her death. She like Simeon, was “waiting for the consolation of Israel;” which Simeon saw in Jesus and proclaimed, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

It is not clear from the text whether she was eighty-four years old at this time or if she had been a widow for eighty-four years. Either way, she had been a widow for a long time and she had been serving God devoutly for a long time. She “had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity.” She had had only one husband and after his death, she chose rather to devote her life to God than to remarry, for “she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:34). This is not a negative statement about the remarriage of one whose spouse has died, but it is commendable that she chose to remain single in order to serve God. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matthew 19:12).

The verse tells us she “served God” and that is where I wish us to invest our attention now. Anna is called a prophetess in the thirty-sixth verse of this chapter. That may indicate no more than that she was a teacher of “the young women,” or she may have been a foreteller. You will recall that Jezebel called herself a prophetess and undertook to teach others (Revelation 2:20). It is not a great matter in what way she was a prophetess for that is not in consideration in our text. The fact that she was a prophetess is not included here in the testimony that she “served God.”

Anna here teaches us some things about the service of God. In the first place, it is not only the duty of the religious officers to serve God. It is certainly expected of such officers to be engaged in and devoted to the service of God. However, some seem to think that only those in official capacity are to be daily employed in God’s service. Additionally, there are those that think only the officers can serve God. In other words, unless we are acting in some great capacity or involved in a highly visible work, we cannot serve God. This widow woman proves this untrue as she “served God… night and day.”

In the second place, we notice of what her service consisted. It is first said of her that she “departed not from the temple.” She was faithful to attend the house of God. At this time, the church was not established, so there was no New Testament assembly as such. The temple was the place for the public corporate worship of God. However, after the establishment of the Lord’s ekklesia, the church is the place for the corporate public worship of God and public ministry of His Word. “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:21, 23).

Our private home with our families is the proper setting for private and family devotions, but this will never fulfill our responsibility to the services of the church. We are commanded by the writer of Hebrews, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Therefore, faithful attendance to the Lord’s house was a part of her life to which the Holy Spirit testified, “She… served God.”

The second part of her service was that she “served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” What a testimony of personal holiness and godliness! It was not that she observed the “hour of prayer” (Acts 3:3), but rather she prayed “night and day.” She was always at the business of prayer. She must have relished communion with God to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer was no drudgery or mere perfunctory service. She delighted in conversing with God and heaving praise upon Him that was her joy and strength. She must have exclaimed, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).

Dear Christian, how is it with your testimony at this hour? Could it be said of you that you “served God with fastings and prayers night and day?” Let us daily be occupied in this blessed service to our faithful God. When the Lord was telling Ananias that Saul of Tarsus had been saved, He said, “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). Prayer is a mark of the true child of God. Prayer is also the very beginning of service. We cannot do anything without prayer. We are instructed to do “everything by prayer and supplication” (Philippians 4:6). May we learn from this humble widow and be more frequent upon our knees doing serious business with God.

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