LCN Article


Lessons of Service from Washing Feet

March / April 2019

Lenny Bower

Among the wonderful things about this time of year, and the Passover service, are the foot-washing ceremony and the lessons we can learn from it. There are several important lessons of service from both sides of the activity—about serving others, allowing others the opportunity to serve, and being served!

When we look at Jesus Christ’s direction to the disciples, we can see that He clearly intended for us today to follow His example: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). He commanded them—and us—in several places to “follow Me.” We are to walk as He walked and follow His example. So why the foot-washing ceremony? What can it teach us about serving and about being served?

What It Means to Be “First”

One of the first lessons we can learn from Jesus’ example is that an office of responsibility should not go to our heads or cause us to lose humility. Peter’s statement, “You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8), appears to have stemmed from his idea that washing feet was beneath the position of his Teacher. The disciples repeatedly equated position with greatness and being important, even though Jesus instructed them otherwise in Mark 9:35: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” On another occasion, he told them that they were not to “lord it over” others, but rather to be servant leaders (Mark 10:42–45).

Jesus Christ was there from the beginning with the Father. He was the Logos who came in the flesh—Immanuel, “God with us”—to die for our sins. He spent years helping, teaching, healing, and serving. He has the second-highest office that could possibly exist, and yet He never once lorded His status over others. Rather, He used His position to foster humility in those around Him: If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Jesus was the ultimate example of humility and servant leadership, showing that we should be clothed with humility whether we have a title or not. In fact, Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:34–46 that if we do not work to serve others, and to put others first, we will not make it into the Kingdom at all! We cannot let position, title, or attention go to our heads, or we already have our reward (Matthew 6:1–2).

Serving by Letting Others Serve

Another lesson from this ceremony comes when we sit back and let someone wash our feet. By “taking a back seat” in this way, we allow others to have the opportunity to help, serve, and be involved. We see this example in several places, including in Luke 10:1: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.” Jesus was about to go into these towns Himself. If He had wanted to, He could have simply healed people and cast out demons when He arrived. After all, He was already planning to go there Himself! However, by sending out these 70, He accomplished several things. First, by sending them out so they could heal people (v. 9), Jesus’ ministry reached more people, more effectively, and His workload was reduced. Second, these 70 were able to learn not only to work together in smaller teams, but also to work as a part of something bigger than themselves. Third, they had the opportunity to lay hands on people to heal them (through God’s Spirit) and to experience, firsthand, having a direct part in the Work Jesus Christ was doing!

Jesus “empowered” these individuals by allowing them to experience the blessings of being involved. This, too, was an example that He set for us. Sometimes we may push so much to help and serve that we actually deprive others of the opportunity to be involved. Alternatively, we may not feel that we can trust others, and therefore may not delegate as much as we should. In so doing, we deprive others of the opportunity to be involved as well. The effect of allowing others to take part in serving can be seen in verse 17: “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’” When these 70 returned to Him, having had an opportunity to participate in His Work, they returned with joy! Jesus Christ teaches this in the foot-washing ceremony, commanding us, once a year, to sit back and let someone else experience the joy of serving and being involved.

We All Need Help

We learn another humbling lesson by having our own feet washed. We learn that we all need to be helped and served at some point in our lives, no matter how strong or capable we think we are. Saul (like many of us), learned this lesson the hard way. Saul was young, strong, and sure of himself as he headed to Damascus to “take matters into his own hands,” so to speak. However, after being miraculously blinded by the glorified Christ while on the road, Saul suddenly had to rely on others. As Acts 9:7–8 shows, he even had to be led by the hand by those “who journeyed with him.” Saul, who had been leading them, now needed them for help! Shortly after that, Saul needed Ananias to pray for his healing and to baptize him. However strong Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, thought he was, Jesus humbled him and helped him to see that he could not make it alone.

At some point in our lives, we are going to need to humble ourselves and allow others to help and serve us. If not in our youth, or in our injuries and illnesses (James 5:14), then certainly as we age. In sitting back and allowing others to wash our feet, we allow them to serve us. We must humbly accept help—even if we do not really feel comfortable with it. We are forced to be served.

The foot-washing ceremony contains so many more lessons than these. For instance, we notice that Judas was among the disciples as Jesus washed their feet, and that Christ already knew that Judas would betray Him—and He washed his feet anyway (John 13:10–12, 17–18)! It should be clear that when Jesus established this ceremony, He had multiple lessons in mind—lessons that would help to make us all better servants and better servant leaders, for Him and for each other.

Have a profitable Passover!