We believe that Jesus Christ calls us to serve one another in love as he did. Rather than seeking to lord it over others, we are called to follow the example of our Lord, who chose the role of a servant by washing his disciples’ feet.
Just before his death, Jesus stooped to wash the disciples’ feet and told them, “So if I, 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 also should do as I have done to you.”1 In this act, Jesus showed humility and servanthood, even laying down his life for those he loved. In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus acted out a parable of his life unto death for them, and of the way his disciples are called to live in the world.
Believers who wash each other’s feet show that they share in the body of Christ.2 They thus acknowledge their frequent need of cleansing, renew their willingness to let go of pride and worldly power, and offer their lives in humble service and sacrificial love.3
Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 9:30-37; Luke 22:25-27.
- Foot washing was common in first-century Palestine, where people wore sandals to walk the dusty roads. Normally, people washed their own feet. Occasionally a disciple would wash the feet of a teacher as an act of extraordinary devotion (see John 12:1-8). No one would have expected Jesus, the master, to wash his disciples’ feet.
- John 13:1-30 recounts Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet. The act is followed by a commentary (13:31-17:26), which explains what it meant for Jesus to love his own who were in the world unto the end (13:1), even those who would betray or deny him. His love reached all the way to laying down his life for them (15:13). He laid aside the privileges of power, although “the Father had given all things into his hands” (13:3). He showed the true power that comes through servanthood: “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:8-9).Those who follow Jesus are likewise called to let go of privilege and pride in order to love others more fully, even those who are hard to love. By this life of love, they show that they are cleansed and a part of Christ (John 13:8-10). Washing one another’s feet is a way of expressing this commitment to follow Jesus in powerful, humble service.
- Among our congregations, some practice foot washing, while others have discontinued the practice or have never observed it. Congregations are encouraged to practice foot washing when it is a meaningful symbol of service and love for each other. “Washing the feet of the saints” (1 Tim. 5:10) is one way of representing Christ to each other in acts of hospitality, service, and love.