“If I Wash Thee Not”
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
Chapter thirteen begins with a peculiar comment: John 13:1 concludes, “…He Loved Them to the End.” We might take that in several ways, I suppose, but we must consider the context, that He was about to be offered up as our sacrifice: we can see that He did not just say, “All right, fellows: I’m going to be preoccupied for the next few days, being tried, crucified, buried and resurrected! You all can just take a break: I’ll meet you in Galilee next week!”
No; He loved them to the end! He included them in everything right up to the point where they were separated from Him by force. 1st Corinthians 13:8 says, “Love never fails.” The Agapé Love personified in Jesus did not fail, at any point. (It never has!) But in the next several verses, we see something else that is rather strange:
Why did Jesus Wash the Disciples’ Feet?
2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
From a historical, Biblical perspective, and especially from the disciples’ point of view, it was culturally and relationally out of place for Jesus to take on the clothing of a servant, and to wash the (dirty) feet of the disciples. (Keep in mind that, without “indoor plumbing, closed sewers, concrete sidewalks,” etc., all city streets were truly filthy, and anyone walking anywhere arrived there with dirty, smelly feet.)
How did they Deal with Dirty Feet?
As a rule, then, a courteous host at least supplied water, with which a guest could wash his own feet. In a wealthy household, the homeowner might assign their lowest servant to do the “dirty work” of washing the feet of the guests.
But one would never expect a respected Teacher to set aside His position as “Master,” and take up the position of that lowest of servants. Peter saw the “discrepancy,” there, and he tried to refuse. But Jesus told him that submission to this cleansing was absolutely necessary.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
How could He deal with Peter in such a “harsh-sounding” way? What was really going on, here?
Why does this passage begin with the fact that Judas had already received the notion to betray Jesus? It says Satan had given him the idea…perhaps he wasn’t committed to it, yet, but he was getting there. (…the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;)
Why was that even part of the story, here? And why does John remind us, in this place, that Jesus knew He came from God and was about to return to Him? This whole passage raises some questions!
Context is Important:
Jesus knew exactly what was going on in the hearts of each of His disciples. He knew which ones had believed, and which had not, as we saw in John 6:64. He also knew that Judas had received from Satan the notion to betray Jesus, and that he was already beginning his plans to do so. Finally, He knew His own origin, and His own destiny…which is more than we can say.
So, within that context, Jesus set aside His position as “Teacher” and “Master,” and took upon Himself the form of the lowest of servants. (That is nearly an exact demonstration of what we see in Philippians 2:5-7.) Then, He began to cleanse the disciples’ feet; removing the accumulated dirt of their journey, however small or great. He was not suggesting that they were unclean, as a whole, but just that, in the process of normal living, they had picked up something unclean. They needed to clean their feet.
Understanding the Cleansing
Peter resisted the offered service, saying he would never allow Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus said that without such a cleansing, he could not share in the walk with Jesus. Then Peter reversed his stance, and asked that he have his head and hands cleansed as well. Possibly Peter was beginning to understand the cleansing…that it was in reference to sin, not “just dirt.” Maybe he realized that his thoughts and actions were faulty, not just where he had walked. We can’t be certain, but that seems to fit what Peter said.
9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
But Jesus corrected that thinking, as well: The believers did not need a bath, again…they only needed to wash their feet. So… let’s think through what that means: You see, Jesus went on to say that not all of them were clean.
10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye (plural) are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.
How are We Cleansed?
As we read in John 6:64, Jesus knew who believed, and who did not. And that faith is what made the believers “clean.” But unbelief had left the unbelievers “unclean.” How do we know? Skip ahead to John 15:3… (after Judas had left, in John 13:30), Jesus told the eleven remaining disciples, that they all were clean. How were they clean? He said “Now ye (plural) are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” They were cleansed through the Word!
In Ephesians 5:26, we see that Jesus cleanses the Church with “the washing of water by the Word.” And Psalm 119:9, says that the way a young man can “cleanse his way” is to “take heed thereto” according to God’s Word. No matter whether the Word is applied by another brother or sister, or by our own reading in the Word, Jesus, as the Living Word, is still the One doing the cleansing! This is not a “physical process,” such as soap and water, nor is it truly “self-help.”
What is our Part in the Cleansing?
Yes, we are told to “go to God’s Word,” for wisdom, and we are told to “apply God’s Word to our own lives” and to “take heed to God’s Word, as unto a light that shines in a dark place.” (And the World is a very dark place! We need His Light!)
But, regardless of how we go to the Word, or the Word comes to us, Jesus is the One who cleanses His Church. Why? Because He is the Living Word, and He uses His Written and Spoken Word to cleanse His Church.
What is the difference between “Washing” and “Foot washing?”
All the disciples in John 15:3 had been cleansed (fully washed) by the Word. Yet, in chapter 13, He said that though they had been washed, and thereby they were clean, they still needed to wash their feet. (One did not usually sit down to a meal in someone’s house with one’s feet still reeking of filth from the street.) What is the significance, then, of that comparison?
Jesus said they had been cleansed by the Word which He had spoken unto them. He spoke all the same words to Judas Iscariot! Judas was there for all the miracles, and he heard all the same teaching that the other disciples had heard. So, why was Judas different?
Judas did not believe in Jesus as his Savior. He did not believe that Jesus was really who He claimed to be. So, he had never been “washed” by the Word and he was “not clean.” He had one last chance to repent, in chapter 13, but he pressed on to his destination, and finally, in John 13:30, we see him committed to the betrayal of Jesus, and he left. And the scripture says, “…and it was night.”
But the other disciples, though they had all been washed by the Word, through faith, still had a sinful nature, and they would continue in failures, both small and great. Peter wept bitterly over his terrible failure in denying the Lord, after he had boasted that he would die before he would deny the Lord. So…was Peter still clean? As a matter of fact, yes, he was! But he had dirty feet!
Where do we find answers to our questions from John chapter 13?
In 1st John 1:5-10, we see a passage, dealing with “sin in a believer’s life.”
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. (The Holiness of God is pointed out, here, compared to light. Sin is compared to darkness in contrast to the Light of God.)
Contrasting Light and Darkness: Righteousness and Sin
The result of seeing the moral and Spiritual Light of God’s Character, is that if we “say” that we have fellowship with Him (Meaning we are walking in light) but are clearly walking in darkness (sin) then at best, we are fooling ourselves. He does not sugar-coat it, though: He says, “we lie, and do not the truth.” (Whether it is only lying to ourselves or to another person, it is still a lie.)
Then He says, “if we walk in the light, as He is in the Light, then we have fellowship with one another, and his blood cleanses us” on an ongoing basis. But he says, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
So, if Peter had continued to deny that his feet needed washing, he would be deceiving himself, and contradicting Jesus. The result would have been that fellowship was broken. He had already been cleansed, and that was not in question. The fellowship was the issue. A sinning believer, though eternally secure in their position in Christ, cannot have fellowship with Him and is acting just as if he had never been cleansed.
Salvation and Fellowship
Verse nine says, “If we confess our sins (agree with God about them) then He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Peter agreed with Jesus about his need, and submitted to cleansing, on a fellowship basis. He had already been cleansed positionally. His condition was that he needed his feet washed.
What about Judas? Evidently he fell under verse 10: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” Believers are permanently indwelt by the Living Word of God! Judas did not believe. He was not cleansed. God’s Word was not in Him.
Years ago, I had a friend, right here in church, crying in pity over “Judas losing his salvation.” But Judas did not “lose his salvation;” He was never saved! Jesus said so! Furthermore, in John 17:12, during His high priestly prayer, Jesus called Judas “the Son of Perdition.” The only other person in the Bible called “the Son of Perdition” is the Antichrist! (2nd Thessalonians 2:3)
If you have heard the Good News of Jesus’s completed work at the Cross, and if you have believed God’s Promise: you have trusted in His shed Blood as the full payment for your sins, then according to Jesus’s promise in John 5:24, you are already cleansed, Your sins already have been taken away. You are already saved. So, you have eternal life now! You do not need to wait until you die to “know for sure.”
But How do we regain fellowship when we have sinned?
1st John 1: 9 This should be a “memory-verse” for every believer.
This is how we regain fellowship when we find that (again) we have sinned. There is no need to remain out of fellowship, feeling the burden of guilt. Confess your sin to Jesus and be cleansed! If you have wronged someone else, then you may need to deal with that, as well: But there is no “waiting for an appointment,” with God. Go to Him immediately, and be freed from guilt! Go back to enjoying your relationship with your Savior!
Do you think Peter was “feeling good” about his relationship with Jesus, after he had denied that he knew Him? Of course, not! He went out and wept bitterly! But, in 1st Corinthians 15:5 we see that Jesus had a “private talk with Peter,” before he met with all the disciples together. (What did they talk about? Evidently it was private, as we are not told anything about that meeting beyond the fact that it happened.) But after that, we see Peter in fellowship with Jesus again… at least until the next time he needed correction. And the same is true of each of us!
So, How do we “wash one another’s feet?”
Looking ahead to verse 15, we see that Jesus told us to imitate what He had just done. Does that mean we should physically get soap and water, and go wash people’s feet? (There are churches that practice this, but it misses the point.)
No, we go to another brother (or they come to us) in full humility and gentleness, showing a sinning brother or sister that he or she needs his or her “feet washed;” That they are out of fellowship. That they need to confess their sin, repent of their hardness of heart, or whatever the issue is. (This is not attacking or criticizing one another!)
A Personal Example:
I had a brother come to me in Bible School, when I had become bitter and cold toward God. In total gentleness and humility, that young man begged me to repent. Initially, I rejected his plea, but I knew it was God speaking to me, and after a few more minutes of conversation, I was convicted by the Word, and my stubborn resistance crumbled. I finally prayed with him, confessing my bitterness and anger, and I was restored to fellowship.
Jesus says that we are to do this for one another. And we have already seen the need in our lives for such cleansing. So, we need to be receptive when someone shares a concern with us. Will “they always be right?” Not necessarily, but if our hearts are closed to them, then, just as Peter was initially wrong to reject Jesus’s ministry toward him, we will “always be wrong.”
What is your Motive?
This is a matter of mutual care: we are not to be “attacking one another.” And both parties need to see it that way, or it will have no fruit. Galatians 6:1 makes this abundantly clear: we are to seek restoration. We are not there to “Straighten each other out.”
Humility, gentleness and a genuine desire for restored fellowship are the key…and we need to constantly be aware that we could be mistaken. Perhaps we are wrong in our perception. This is not a “sly way” to criticize others, camouflaged by “pious concern.” Check your heart. Why are you really wanting to speak to them?
This is a tough subject because we are proud people. We are touchy and oversensitive, and usually quite blind to our own faults. But Jesus said we need to deal with our own issues, before trying to correct someone else. So, take this teaching cautiously: Don’t seize upon it as a license to go around “policing” other people. They have the Holy Spirit. Let Him do the convicting.
Lord Jesus, correct our proud hearts and give us a deep, genuine love for the believers around us. Help us to pray for one another, and not to criticize. Fill us with Your Love, for Your glory and honor.