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 (Essential Biblical Doctrines)
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I.       Origin of the Sacrament of Footwashing

A.     There is a Clear Difference Between the Footwashing Jesus Performed and that of Jewish Custom

The Lord Jesus poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ feet during the last supper (Jn 13:1­–5). This passage in John chapter 13 is the foundation of the church’s practice of footwashing. From this passage in John 13, we understand that Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet was clearly different from the Jewish practice of footwashing. Likewise, the passages dealing with the establishment of the Holy Communion clearly differentiate the events of the last supper from the usual Passover feast. The Lord’s consecration of the bread and the cup gave both a significance beyond mere commemoration of the Passover feast (cf. Lk 22:19–20). In comparison, the Lord Jesus’ footwashing event, in John 13, also had a significance beyond mere Jewish customs and practices. Jesus said to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me” (Jn 13:8). Jesus also said, “You are clean, but not every one of you” (Jn 13:10). If the Lord’s footwashing was simply a customary practice, then why does the Bible clearly relate the Lord’s footwashing to having a “part with the Lord” and being spiritually clean?

B.     The Lord Jesus Commanded Us to Perform the Footwashing Sacrament (Jn 13:15)

After the Lord Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he commanded them, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15). Furthermore, before his
ascension, Jesus told his disciples “to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). Since footwashing is one of Jesus’ commandments, we cannot simply neglect to perform footwashing because we think it is insignificant. Jesus commanded us to follow his example and we ought to do so.

C.     Blessed Are They Who Do All That the Lord Has Commanded (Jn 13:16, 17)

We dare not ignore, nor should we refuse to heed, the Lord’s commandments. For as obedient children of God, we must perform the sacrament of footwashing with due diligence and care. The Lord Jesus handed down to us an example and said, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them” (Jn 13:17). If this is the Lord’s command, how can we not do them?

II.    Significance Of The Sacrament Of Footwashing

A.     The Life-giving Significance of Symbolic Action in Footwashing

Many Christians today feel that footwashing is merely symbolic of certain teachings, e.g., the teaching of humility. Thus, many Christians feel they can forego the sacrament of footwashing so long as they embody the teachings of the sacrament. There are many reasons why this type of thinking is wrong. First, Jesus commanded us to perform footwashing (Jn 13:15–17). Second, footwashing is related to our salvation (Jn 13:8). Third, we cannot separate the symbol from the significance in sacraments. In as much as we cannot do away with the bread and cup from the sacrament of Holy Communion and simply remember the Lord, we also cannot do away with the actual footwashing sacrament and simply observe the teachings. In regards to Holy Communion, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In regards to footwashing, Jesus said, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” So symbolic action and significance are intricately connected in the sacraments, which while mysterious, must be followed for the sake of our salvation and obedience to the Lord.

B.     Footwashing Illustrates the Lord’s Great Love (Jn 13:1)

1.        The Lord called his disciples out of his great love for them. Even so, the disciples argued about who would be the greatest among them (Mk 10:30–45). In addition, Jesus’ disciple, Judas Iscariot, was deceived by Satan to betray the Lord (Jn 13:2). However, in order to illustrate the extent of his love to his disciples, Jesus set an example for them by washing their feet (cf. Ezek 18:32; Mt 12:20).

2.        As Jesus’ disciples today, we must learn to follow the Lord’s footsteps and love with the love of Christ. Jesus loved with all his heart, strength, and life; we too must follow the Lord’s example (Jn 13:34–35; 1 Jn 3:16–18).

C.     Footwashing Illustrates Jesus’ Requirement that His Disciples be Holy (Jn 13:10–11)

1.        The Lord said, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you” (Jn 13:10). “Feet” is a symbol of a person’s behavior and deeds (cf. Prov 4:14, 26–27). The word “wash” signifies a cleansing. Jesus essentially is saying that once a believer is baptized, i.e., spiritually “bathed,” he or she need only cleanse their paths or “feet.” If believers can keep their “feet” clean after having been baptized in the name of Jesus, then they are truly “clean all over.” At the time Jesus was speaking, his disciple Judas was unclean; therefore, by washing all of his disciples’ feet, the Lord Jesus made it clear that they should all remove the evil from their hearts. In the end, however, Judas did not repent. Rather, he walked down a path that led to a horrible demise (Jn 13:26, 27).

2.        Those who have been baptized and have received the sacrament of footwashing commanded by the Lord should understand its significance. Disciples must always examine the path they are walking on, making sure to keep their feet from the way of iniquity (Prov 4:26–27). If believers should ever be defiled, they should receive the spiritual washing of the word in order to keep their complete body and soul clean (Jn 17:17, 19; Eph 5:26–27).

D.     Footwashing Illustrates the Lord’s Humility and Service (Jn 13:12–14)

1.        The Lord said to the disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14). At the time, Judas was unclean. Furthermore, the disciples, envious of one another, fought among themselves over who would be the greatest (Mt 26:20–28). As a result, the Lord Jesus voluntarily debased himself to wash his disciples’ feet—a lowly and servile act—in order to show his disciples what humility, service, and love for one another really consisted of. So Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master” (Jn 13:16). While Jesus was the disciple’s Master, he was humble enough to take the form of a servant. We too must do likewise.

2.        In principle and organization, a church ought to be different from an ordinary social community (Mk 10:42–45) or a hypocritical religious body (Mt 23:1–12). In humility and service, we must remember the spiritual teachings imparted in footwashing. We should not aspire to the vain glory of this world, rather, we must humble ourselves and learn to serve others (Rom 12:16; Gal 5:26; Phil 2:3).

E.     Footwashing Illustrates the Lord’s Forgiveness

1.        Judas was initially called by the love of the Lord Jesus, but in the end he intended to betray the Lord. Although the Lord knew about Judas’ betrayal, Jesus showed his forgiveness of Judas by washing his feet, hoping that he would turn away from his evil intentions. In this sense, Jesus’ footwashing of Judas was an act of forgiveness at its highest level (cf. Ps 41:9; Jn 13:11–12).

2.        In the household of God, misunderstanding and conflicts among members can and do occur. However, when we remember the extent of the Lord’s forgiveness and love, demonstrated as he washed the feet of his disciples, we should hold no more grudges. Rather, we must forgive one another in love (Mt 18:21–35; Col 3:12–13).

F.      Footwashing Signifies Having a Part in the Lord (Jn 13:8)

1.        Peter was shocked to hear the Lord say, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me,” because he knew each and every word the Lord spoke was significant in truth and dealt with eternal life (cf. Mt 5:37, 24:35; Jn 6:68, 12:48). To have no part with the Lord simply means having nothing to do with the Lord, i.e., an outcast from God’s salvation (cf. Eph 2:12). Jesus’ serious remark illustrates the striking difference between the sacrament of footwashing and the Jewish practice of footwashing as a form of customary hospitality. From here we understand the life-giving nature of the sacrament.

2.        In order for us to have a part in the Lord, we should always be ready to receive the washing of the word which cleanses us of our faults, i.e., the word corrects and disciplines our faults (cf. Mt 18:15–18; Rev 22:14).

III. Performance Of The Sacrament Of Footwashing

A.     The Administrator

1.        The person who performs the footwashing sacrament represents the Lord as those who are “sent” (Jn 13:16). In the sacrament of footwashing, one accepts the Lord’s washing by accepting the washing of those who are “sent” by the Lord. Jesus said, “He who receives me receives him who sent me” (Jn 13:20). As a rule, the elders, deacons, deaconesses, or preachers represent those who are sent, i.e., those who are sent are generally God’s holy workers.

2.        We should follow the example Jesus set for us in footwashing (Jn 13:15–17). The administrator is in the position of Jesus, therefore, the person must perform footwashing with an attitude of humility and loving service. The person must humbly pour water in a basin and wash the recipient’s feet one by one before drying them with a towel (Jn 13:4–5).

3.        The sacrament is performed in the name of Jesus. Since the administrator represents the Lord when conducting the sacrament, footwashing should be performed in the name of Jesus (Col 3:17). According to church custom in performing the sacrament, brothers’ feet are washed by an ordained male minister and sisters’ by an ordained female minister.

B.     The Person Who Receives the Footwashing

After believing in the Lord and receiving the sacrament of water baptism, one must also receive footwashing. This sacrament need only be performed once. One should understand the significance of this sacrament, receive it with thanksgiving, and determine to obey the Lord’s teachings. At the same time, one must be willing to accept and receive continuous spiritual washing all their life, in order to be sanctified and remain in fellowship with the Lord (cf. Jn 13:8).

C.     To Wash One Another’s Feet

The footwashing of the Lord is a sacrament endowed with spiritual teachings which are very important to the establishment of the church. Regarding the places where the practice of footwashing is still a customary practice, we should all the more perform it with humility and love. However, if we live in a place where footwashing is not a common custom, we should embody the teachings and significance of footwashing in our daily lives after receiving the sacrament. Jesus told us that we should “wash one another’s feet,” therefore we should embody this teaching actively (Jn 13:14).

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