LCN Article
Footwashing

March / April 2013

Dexter B. Wakefield

On the evening of Sunday, March 24, 2013, the Church of God will observe the Passover, and we will be doing it at the same time and in the same basic manner that it was done in the Church of God in the 1st century ad. As a matter of history, the Roman Church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries called our brethren that did this “Quartodecimans”—meaning literally “fourteenth-ers” because they kept the Passover on the 14th day of the first lunar month, instead of keeping Easter. They kept it—and we keep it—at the same time and in the same manner that Jesus did and that Paul taught both the Jewish and the Gentile believers to observe it.

Passover evening seems different from all other Church gatherings. There is a strong feeling of love and unity, but in a different mood. The brethren seem somber, quiet and reflective. There is a sense of the enormity of what took place long ago—and a sense of the profound importance of the acts we do that evening beginning the 14th of Nisan. We need to approach the Passover in the right frame of mind—reflecting Jesus’ attitude of humility, love and obedience.footwashing

In the evening before his death, Jesus taught His Church to perform the foot washing. When we perform the foot washing ceremony, there are two things that we need to be very aware of as we perform them. We wash and we are washed. And both have important meanings—so important in fact that God has us act out these meanings as a constant, annual reminder. Let’s go over these things in this article, so we can think about them as we do them on Passover.

Putting on Christ

In the Apostle John’s account of the Passover service before Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus knelt down and washed the disciples’ feet. Then He gave them important instructions, “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…. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12–17).

Jesus made it very clear that we are to imitate His example in the foot washing—not only in the act itself, but in its meaning also. In an important sense, Jesus did something in addition to the bread, wine and foot washing. He demonstrated… humility, love and obedience. The apostle Paul explained, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

When we are baptized and cleansed of our sins, we go down into a watery grave and rise out of it picturing Christ’s death and resurrection. We are entering a new life in Christ. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

We are to “put on” something. Paul taught, “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him [Christ] who created him” (Colossians 3:9–10).

What knowledge about Christ? Here are three of the things that God’s word mentions that we should know.

• Humility. What are we to “put on” and be “clothed with?” The apostle Peter admonished the Churches, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

Love. Here is something else we are to “put on.” Paul said, “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). Christ set a very high standard of love when He said,“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). How much did He love us? He said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). Christ died for us and His sacrifice makes possible the forgiveness of our sins. But we do not need to die for our friends to be the sacrifice that God wants. Paul explained, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

• Obedience. Our love and humility lead us to obedience to God in Christ’s example. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5–8).

Christ’s Example

“For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). At the footwashing, Christ set an example that we are to follow. So… we wash each other’s feet at the Passover. When we wash that person’s feet on Passover, we areputting on Christ’s role—His humility, his love and His obedience. We need to think about that as we wash one another’s feet.

At the Passover Christ observed with His disciples, He taught both them and us about the meaning of His sacrifice for us. “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’” (Matthew 26:27). It is through Christ’s shed blood that our sins are forgiven and we can be reconciled with the Father.

We are instructed to come to Christ in true repentance (Acts 2:37–38), and we know that we cannot truly repent of sin and break God’s commandments at the same time (1 John 3:4; Romans 3:20). Those who believe that they can are deceived. But while true repentance changes our future actions—it cannot change our guilty past. All the law-keeping and repentance we can do in the future—as desirable as that is—cannot change what we did in the past. Only one thing can remove the guilt of our past sins—the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus Christ. That blood washes and cleanses us from the guilt of our past sins.

The Apostle John wrote, “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation 1:5). What a great joy it is to be cleansed completely!

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, Peter first objected, then changed his mind and asked to be completely bathed. “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, KJV). When Christ washes us, we are completely cleansed of a guilty past, and then we have ongoing justification as we repent and forgive others (1 John 1:9–10; Mathew 6:14–15).

So when we are washed by someone on Passover, we are acknowledging that Christ washed us of our sins and continues to wash us of our sins. We re-assert that commitment and covenant that we have with our savior, and we do it every year as we remember Him at Passover. Washing of feet at any time of the year, in any other context, simply does not have the same significance.

Preparing for Passover

Footwashing is an important part of the Passover service, but there are things we should be doing before Passover. In other words, there are some practical ways that we can “put on Christ” in the overall season. One of the characteristics of Christ that we put on is His selfless love for others. John 13:1 says that “He loved them to the end.” Our love for each other needs to have that enduring quality also. But we have an adversary who injects his destructive attitudes into our Church relationships at every opportunity.

There are things in this season that we need to be especially careful about. We have to beware of a spirit of offense that can build up in any of us. Satan specializes in that, but God tells us how to deal with it. What is a spirit of offense? It can began when you experience feelings like these:

“I’ve been mistreated.”

“I’ve been treated unjustly.”

“I’ve suffered unnecessarily and wrongly.”

“I am assigning blame and guilt.”

“I want justice to be done to that person.”

“I feel alienated—a barrier is between us. I feel cool towards them.”

Offenses certainly occur, and it is often not our own fault. What is important to God is how we deal with them when they occur. An offense is a spiritual trial for both the person who gave the offense and the person who is offended. Here are some questions we might ask ourselves when we feel offended as mentioned above:

Am I dealing with this in a spirit of humility and love… or in a worldly way?

Am I entertaining Satan’s original bad attitude—feeling unjustly treated?

Can I “put on Christ” with such a feeling? (Humility, love and obedience?)

Is my love “waxing cold” in this matter?

Is this leaven that I cannot rightly carry into the Passover?

As we examine ourselves in preparation for “putting on Christ” at Passover, we should remember God’s instructions in His word for dealing with offenses.

Some ministers call the following scripture “the least-practiced instruction in the Bible.” Christ said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15–17). When you feel offended, go to your brother or sister and resolve it (but not about every picky thing). If that does not work, come back with another witness. If that still does not work, take a minister along.

Someone might ask, “Well, how many times do I have to forgive this guy?” Jesus answered that question. “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’”

Jesus then proceeded to tell a parable about a man who was forgiven a large debt of ten thousand talents after begging for mercy from his master. But once he was forgiven, the man then went out and oppressed another person who owed him a much smaller debt. When his master heard of that injustice he was angry and “delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:21–35).

The real question is how often would you like to be forgiven? (Most of us need at least “seventy times seven.”)

And if you have actually given offense to someone, make a real apology. It should not sound like, “If anyone was adversely affected by actions that may have been taken, it is regrettable.” Be sincere!

And remember that forgiveness can affect our salvation. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25–26). That should be a sobering scripture for us all.

Be careful of the standard by which you judge. “Judge [condemn] not, that you be not judged [condemned]. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1–2).

In a sense, we have a measure of influence over how we are judged by God. He judges us by the standard—and with the measure—that we judge others. The world will be judged later, but our time is now. “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17), and most of us would like for judgment to be meted out with as small a measure as possible.

In the Church, we understand that the right actions that we commit—in humility, love and obedience—form the character of Christ in us. We put Him on—clothe ourselves with Him—and then He transforms us inwardly. This is a miraculous process caused by His Spirit dwelling in us. So, at Passover, we wash and are washed.

Every year, we have “dirty feet”—such as resentments, unforgiven offenses, or sins of which we need to repent. All of this is a reminder of why we came to Christ in the first place.

We saw ourselves in the mirror of His word. We truly repented of our sins. We were washed of our sins, cleansed by Christ’s shed blood and received God’s Holy Spirit. Having been cleansed and justified, we continue to put out sin from our lives. And God gives us His Spirit, which enables us to keep His law in spirit, because we now desire His way of life. That Spirit and our obedience transform us inwardly.

Do Not Go Back!

The Apostle Peter gave us a vivid example. “But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:22). Some readers may be familiar with what an old-fashioned pig-sty is like. The pigs live in a small fenced-in area, which is filled with a smelly mire that results from all the mess that the pigs create there. The reeking mire is repulsive to all humans, but the pigs seem to love it and will spend their days wallowing in it. Our lives in the world must have seemed like that to God.

In Peter’s example, we can imagine a good farmer who is disgusted by the condition of a sow in his pen and decides to clean her up. But if he washes the pig while she is still in the pig-pen, she will simply roll over in the mire, rendering the good farmer’s effort futile. But we read that the sow returned to wallowing in the mire—so it is apparent that the farmer took her out to wash her. Merely taking her out of the mire does not make her clean—she is still filthy from the wallowing she had already done. She must be washed.

Our repentance is like that. Merely repenting of breaking God’s laws does not cleanse us of what we already did. We must be washed and cleansed by our Lord.

But in the case of the sow, she still went back, because she liked the mire that the farmer finds so repulsive. But what if the good farmer could somehow give the sow his own mind about the nature of the mire? Then she would look back with great distaste at the life she lived in the mire and would stay away from it in the future. She would only have to have her feet washed occasionally, and she would be “clean every whit.”

An Annual Renewal

Passover is an annual remembrance and an annual renewal of our covenant with God. We wash (as someone who puts on Christ) and we are washed (by someone who puts on Christ). And then we continue to be justified and “clean every whit” in God’s sight. We are fully reconciled with Him. There are many things we can say about the Passover season—and many things we should be doing in it. But consider two important parts of the footwashing service and some practical things we should be doing in preparation for this great event. Please remember:

•     What it means to “put on Christ.”

•     What a true spirit of humility, love and obedience means.

•     What a true attitude of service is... service in love.

•     To ask whether we are carrying any offenses… leaven that needs to be put out.

•     To study in your Bible the events surrounding Christ’s last Passover on earth—and, like Him, be fully prepared for that most meaningful night.