Foot-washing – What does the Bible say?

Foot-washing in biblical times was not a matter of ceremony or religious activity, but a necessary form of hygiene. Dusty, dirty paths and roads created the need to have your feet washed constantly.

However, in most cultures, the activity of washing someone's feet was relegated to the lower classes—the servants. For example, Jesus' disciples may have elevated Him high enough to be worshipful enough to wash His feet, but they would not consider washing each other's feet. Peers did not do that sort of thing, expect perhaps very rarely and as a show of great love.

But Jesus washed His disciples' feet. The story is in John 13. We see from Luke 22:24 that at this same time, the disciples were arguing with themselves about who among them was the greatest. Jesus' gesture of humility would have been particularly poignant. Jesus taught them to serve each other and others. If the Son of God, the Messiah, could wash their feet, there was no one's feet they could not wash, figuratively.

Jesus' selfless servanthood symbolized spiritual cleansing (John 13:6–9) and shows everyone a great model of humility (vs 12–17). Jesus' death on the cross, which brings about spiritual purity for those who put their faith in Him, was unquestionably another selfless display of servanthood (Philippians 2:5–11).

Actual foot-washing has become a practice, and even a church ordinance, among some Christians, even in cultures where dusty feet are not the norm. In the early church, we see observance of the Lord's Supper, but not the practice of foot-washing as an ordinance.

The biblical accounts of Jesus washing His disciples' feet provide us a model of attitude, not necessarily of a specific activity. This is reflected in 1 Timothy 5:10 where a Christian widow has a practice of washing the feet of the saints. This account does not tell a story of a foot-washing necessarily, but of a woman who serves those around her.

Jesus provided us an example of humility and servanthood though washing the feet of His disciples. We should have the same humble attitude and servanthood regarding those near us.


Related Truth:

Is serving God important? How can we serve Him?

Servanthood—What does the Bible say? What does the Bible say about being a servant?

In the Bible, what is a 'love feast'?

What is alabaster? What are the stories in the Bible with an alabaster box?

How do ordinances and sacraments differ?


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