A great many Christians are agitated in their minds as to the question “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22: 10). Without pretending to be able to provide guidance on how we may know what our specific service to the Lord will be, I do know that there is something that all can do—indeed, what all should be doing. It is summarised by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5: 13: “but by love serve one another”, and beautifully illustrated by the Lord’s action on the eve of His death: “Jesus, knowing that his hour had come that he should depart out of this world to the Father … rises from supper and lays aside his garments, and having taken a linen towel he girded himself; then he pours water into the wash-hand basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples” (John 13: 1, 4, 5).
The meaning behind Christ’s washing His disciple’s feet is profoundly simple and bears no relation to the public washing of the feet of Roman Catholic pilgrims by the Pope. The Lord’s action speaks of a moral cleansing, not a physical one: He washes our feet, when needed and as needed, to keep us clean for heaven. Because we belong to Him, we are already “washed all over” once for all—“wholly clean” (v10) and fitted for heaven—but as passing through this world, we get defiled by it (our feet get dirty, so to speak). We live in a scene calculated by the enemy of souls to lower our spiritual tone, hence the Lord’s service to us in keeping our feet clean. He does it because He loves us—He does not want you and I to be parted from Him, not only in eternity, but now. So He takes away every particle of earth’s dust and every grain of moral grit that would separate your soul from Himself, and thus puts you so close to Him that you would not be happy to be one hair’s breadth away. One day we shall actually be where He is, for that is His desire (see John 14: 1–3), but in the waiting time, He wants us to be spiritually in His presence—He with me, and I with Him. That is the objective of feet washing.
Oh, you may say, but the Lord is now in heaven and not on earth, as He was here with His disciples. How can He cleanse our feet, when He is absent from this scene? He does it through you and I, for “ye are Christ’s body, and members in particular” (1 Cor. 12: 27)! We are not left here to do our own thing, but to labour for the spiritual good of each other, and to bring each other nearer to Christ! How do we do it? Through the Word of God—that word that the Spirit of God used to give us that initial all–over cleansing (see John 3: 5; 15: 3; 1 Pet. 1: 23–25). Perhaps you have sometimes heard a person say, ‘I got so much help to my soul, through hearing Mr So–and–so’. Where was it really from? It was from the Lord in glory, using, so to speak, the basin and the water. The channel it came through was unimportant and is no more of interest than what kind of pipe drinking water comes through, whether metal, clay, or plastic. Thus if we get help and encouragement through another it is from Christ above.
We all need this ministry, for just as it was impossible to walk the streets of Israel without the feet getting dusty, so is it impossible to pass through this scene without being defiled. Shutting oneself off in a monastery is no help—it only shuts out my brethren who have the means to minister to me. Am I ready to receive help—and am I ready to give it? It is no good looking at a fellow–believer who has slipped a bit and saying ‘Oh, just look at So–and–so”. What are you going to do about it? It is the way of Cain to excuse yourself by saying “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4: 9). Yes you are your brother’s keeper—as you are of all brethren and not just those with whom you are in practical fellowship! There is a Scripture which says “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt earnestly rebuke thy neighbour, lest thou bear sin on account of him” (Lev. 19: 17, my emphasis). Solemn word!
So if you are not going to just ignore your brother’s slip, what are you going to do? Criticize him and say unkind things? No, you must wash his feet in the Word of God. Is it easy? No, for just as the Lord did in John 13, you have to go down to wash another’s feet. There is no grace in standing over someone to condemn them! Some say ‘Oh well, I have tried it, but it didn’t do any good’. Perhaps you were not very careful about the temperature of the water? You would not expect anyone to put their feet in a bucket of scalding liquid yet that is how some conceive feet washing. Such have forgotten the apostle’s Word in Galatians 6: “Brethren, if even a man be taken in some fault, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted” (v1). Ice–water is just as bad. Sometimes we are so cold and formal that our erring brother is fully justified in thinking we do not really care for his welfare. Real love for one another is essential for anyone undertaking such work. And then there is the wiping. The service, when done, should be reckoned as a service of the past, and the failure which called for it, forgotten.
I wonder how many of us are ready for this service? Humble enough to go down to wash another’s feet—or humble enough to receive it at another’s hand? Paul reminds us that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” but then warns the saints (who were ensnared by legality), “but if ye bite and devour one another, see that ye are not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5: 14, 15). So brethren, let us be in the good of feet washing, and “as we have occasion, let us do good towards all, and specially towards those of the household of faith” (Gal. 6: 10).