Washing Dirty Feet
Tim Temple


One of the most moving stories I have heard was one that Dr. James Dobson told on his radio program a few years ago. It was a secular story, but it had touched Dr. Dobson's heart as he read it, and he aired it for his audience. It was about a surgeon in New York who got his relaxation from time to time by going to the public library near his office in downtown New York. There he met a number of interesting characters who used the library partly for shelter, but also as an opportunity to read the newspaper and news magazines and those kinds of things. He was quite intrigued with the intelligence which some of those people had. The doctor's friendship with one of the men, who was in the library often, developed to the point that he actually cut this man's toenails. He went to his office and got some surgical tools. The toenails had grown so long that the man couldn't walk without limping. This surgeon, who spent most of his time in antiseptically clean rooms, went into the men's restroom with this man and peeled off his worn shoes and his dirty socks and cut his long, dirty toenails.

If you think that is a worthy expression of love and of humility, the passage that we come to now in our study of the Gospel of John will mean even more to you because if we understand what happens here in John, chapter 13, the story of the surgeon and the homeless man is only a small representation of what Jesus does in the first part of this chapter.

At first reading, it isn't as sickening or as impressive as the toenail story, but when you stop to think about the relative depth to which Christ stooped and to which the surgeon in that story stooped, you will realize it was infinitely more amazing.

The story forms the first of three sections to this chapter. We have divided the chapter into three parts. In this study, we want to think about the first of those, which has to do with an example of humility. The Lord Jesus came on the Passover night, and He gave His disciples an example that is hard for us to even comprehend.

The Setting for the Example of Jesus' Humility

We have in the first four verses the setting for this example, and we read there that part of the setting was the time which it took place. It was when Jesus knew that the Passover was near. The Lord Jesus was acutely aware and involved in all of the Jewish ceremonies and human activities that were going on around Him. As a young Jewish boy and then as a Jewish man, He had been trained and schooled in all that was involved in the Passover. He knew that this was the most important feast of the year for the Jewish people because it represented the covering of their sins. From year to year, that sacrifice was made and those sins were covered, and it all went back to that sprinkling of the blood on the doorposts on the night before the deliverance from Egypt all those years ago.

It says that He also knew that His time was about ready to come when He would bring about everything that that Passover feast pictured. He was about to be sacrificed as the Lamb that was pictured in that Passover ceremony, so a part of the setting was this Passover observance. It was not just the Passover, but the fact that He was about to be sacrificed as the Lamb of God, this time not just for the covering of sins, but for the forgiveness of all those sins that had been covered down through the years. He knew that He was about to be the ultimate pinnacle fulfillment of that great Jewish tradition of which He had been a part.

It says that He knew that once that had been accomplished, He would return to the Father. This was the place that He had had from eternity past. Proverbs, chapter 8, says that He and the Father had rejoiced in each other's presence. It was a place of honor and glory. Paul describes it in Ephesians, chapter 1, verses 21-22, as a place far above all principality and power and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. It was a place of exaltation. For 33 years, He had been on the earth with all of the sin and dirt and problems and failures, and all of that was about to come to a close. He was about to go back to the Father.

The Tenderness In This Setting

It is significant then that in that kind of time frame, we would see the tenderness that forms the next part of the story. Look at the last part of verse 1. He talked about all those things that He knew from the standpoint of time, and then it says:

John 13

1…having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

It is true that Jesus loved His disciples to the very end of His time on earth. Some of His most moving moments with the disciples were actually after His Resurrection, and so in the sense of the wording of the verse here in the English translation, it is true that He loved His disciples to the end.

The wording of this verse in the Greek is even more significant than that because what it actually says in the Greek is that He loved them to the fullest extent. He loved them to the very end of His capacity to love them. The translation in the English is not incorrect in the sense that it is true as far as it goes, but the Greek text is more significant than that and fuller and richer than that: “He loved them to the fullest extent.”

You know, that is very reassuring because it points up the fact that His love didn't stop when He left the earth. His love for His disciples kept on being strong. He loved them to the fullest extent that it was possible, and He loves you and me to the fullest extent that it is possible for the perfect God to love us.

I don't know that this applies to anybody reading this message, but it may apply to someone—people who feel that nobody loves them. They feel that there is nobody who really understands or cares very much about them. But let me tell you, this verse tells you that Jesus Christ loves you to the fullest extent that it is possible for Him to love you, to the fullest extent that it is possible for Him to love anyone. That is how much He loved His disciples and how much He continues to love them.

Treachery In This Setting

There is more to the setting of this story than just the timing and the tenderness. Verse 2 brings out the fact that there was treachery involved in the setting also. Verse 2 says:

John 13

2And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;

These verse divisions sort of interrupt the flow of the sentence, but they are divided according to thought here, so even though it is not a complete sentence, notice the situation. Among the things that Jesus knew there that night was the hypocrisy and shamefulness that was in Judas' heart. From a human standpoint, it would have been easy to let that knowledge cause bitterness in Jesus' heart. Remember that Jesus was fully human, and that is the kind of thing that for most of us would have caused us to be very jittery around Judas and less loving of him than the others, but with Jesus is produced a confidence of God the Father's power to use even this to His own glory. Skip down to verse 18, where He says:

John 13

18I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: [notice this] but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.

He is talking there about Judas' betrayal. We will come to this verse in more detail later, but the thing that I want to emphasize there now is that He understood that even Judas' betrayal of Him was to be a fulfillment of Scripture and that it would all work together in the Father's plan. So there is that sense in which He loved Judas as fully as He loved the others. Because of that, we are going to see that Jesus gave Judas as least two more opportunities to repent. In a few moments, He is going to wash Judas' feet right along with the other disciples. Later, at the supper where the Lord's Supper was instituted, He handed Judas the sop, which was another opportunity at that point for Judas to repent. We will not get to all of that today, so I am previewing some things for you that we will talk about later, but Jesus did give Judas opportunity to repent.

When we mention something like that, inevitably somebody says, “Well, what would have happened if Judas had repented? Wouldn't that have blown the whole story?” Of course, those what if questions are the kinds of things that even computers can't solve adequately. Most accounting programs have some kind of what if scenario, but suffice it to say that Jesus' offer to Judas was a legitimate one. If Judas had repented, there would have been some way found for Jesus to be betrayed. Have no doubt about that. Jesus would still have gone to the Cross and died for our sins because that was all a part of prophecy. But Judas didn't repent. He was still a free moral agent just as you and I are. He could have repented. It was a genuine offer, but exercising the gift that God has given to every human being of making a choice for or against Him, Judas exercised his choice against Jesus. He was not a robot, and he was not even constrained by prophecy to do nothing else. But He chose against Jesus, and that turned out to be the way that Scripture was fulfilled, just as Jesus knew it would be.

That forms a beautiful lesson for us for being calm in the midst of things that would seem to be against us. That was what Jesus did. He knew that Judas was going to betray Him in a matter of hours, but He didn't go all to pieces about that. He didn't scramble around, trying to find some way to talk Judas out of it, trying to find some way to solve that problem.

Remember, I am speaking from Jesus' human standpoint. He knew that whatever happened would be in the Father's hands, would be a fulfillment of Scripture, and so He calmly went on with what He had to do. Judas probably had no idea that Jesus even knew what was about to take place. That was because He could rest confidently in God's promises to Him as a human being, just as you and I can rest confidently in God's promises even when it looks as if things are about to come apart and things happen that would keep God's promises from coming true.

That ties in with and leads to the next part of the setting of this story. In verse 3, Jesus' temperament is shown. Notice:

John 13

3Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;

Here again is just a segment of this one long sentence that makes up those first four verses, but here is the thing that tells us what Jesus' concern is. Jesus realized that He was going back to the Father and He was going to have all those things that He had on His mind, so He was not concerned about that. Jesus, out of that background, comes to the technique of the example. Another part of the story, but actually a transitional verse, is the technique that Jesus used in giving the example. Look at verse 4:

John 13

4He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.

Even though John has reminded us very clearly of who Jesus was and Jesus' own realization of who He was, He symbolically humbled Himself and got ready to give this great example of humility. If you and I are going to follow Him in that example of humility, we will have to take specific steps to prepare ourselves for it. He is going to tell the disciples, “I have done this to give you an example of some things that you should do.” If we are going to do this, we, like Him, are going to have to do some things to get ready for it, not necessarily in our clothing, but Jesus had to make an adjustment to His clothing in order to do this, and we may have to; but the adjustment has to come and the lesson in the story really is in the adjustment of our opinion of ourselves and what a person in my position ought to do, what I ought to do or ought to be expected to do.

Most of us operate on that principle. It is probably subconscious, but most of us have in our minds a general description of what we ought to do and what we ought not to do, how we deserve to be treated and how we can expect not to be treated. That is the very thing that Jesus is dealing with in this example.

You know who you are and God knows who you are, so what does it matter what other people think about who you are? Do you ever stop to think about it that way? We are so anxious that people give us our proper place, that people think highly of us and think that we are as good as we would like for them to think we are. In reality, only you and God know what you are really like, as much as you and I might try to cover it up, and all that matters is that God be pleased with us. If we can know in our hearts that we are doing the things that God has told us to do and that we can be honest as we look in His face about what we have done and what we are doing, then we can look at ourselves as He looks at us, and we don't need to worry about what other people think.

Of course, all of that is wrapped up in the slogan that my mother used to quote more often than I liked, “We would think less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” Most of us worry a whole lot more about our place in life than we should. Jesus wasn't worried about what it looked like for Him to wash the disciples' feet, so in order to follow the example that Jesus is going to set for us, most of us are going to have to make some mental adjustments about how we think, just like Jesus had to take off His garments in order to do this. We may have to take off some garbage and some baggage emotionally and mentally.

Jesus' Example of Humility and Servanthood

All of that forms the setting for this example of humility that Jesus is about to give. In verses 5-17, we find the actual showing of the example. The action is in verse 5:

John 13

5After 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.

You are all probably familiar with the setting here in that Jewish economy. The disciples had probably come into the banquet room from the street. In those days, everybody walked or rode on a donkey or a cart, and even if they had taken a bath, their feet would get dirty. One of the amenities of that day and one of the accepted cultural norms of the day was to wash their feet. It was somewhat like the way we wash our hands before we eat. That had developed into not only a practical custom, but a social custom as well.

Ordinarily in a situation like this, whoever was the host in a rented room as this was, would have designated somebody—probably a slave—to have that menial task of removing the sandals of the guests and washing their feet. But we are told by John, in the previous chapter, that Jesus was moving secretively at this point in His life, and this meeting was obviously meant to be secret, so there were no slaves present there. There was nobody from the outside there. Obviously, Jesus had not delegated any one of the disciples to do the foot washing, and even more obviously, none of them were willing to volunteer to do it. They came into the room, and they began to sit down at the table. In fact, if you notice back in verse 2, it tells us that the dinner had been finished, and He took off His outer garments and girded Himself about with a towel.

Here they are, far past the time when feet should have been washed, and nobody volunteered to do it. John the Baptist gives a little hint at the lowliness of this kind of task by saying that he was not worthy to loosen the sandals of Jesus of whom he was the forerunner. He was saying that Jesus was so great that even the slave who unbuckled His sandals would be a highly honored person, and John said, “I am not that highly honored.”

You can see that this is a shocking illustration for John to use because it was a very menial task. You can imagine that feet smelled as bad in those days as they do now, and to most of us, that would be a pretty repulsive task to take somebody's shoes off and actually wash their feet, but Jesus Himself took the job.

In this setting, this was a real demonstration of humility and of servanthood on His part. It was probably aimed right at the disciples, because Luke tells us in his version of the story in Luke, chapter 22, verse 24, that as they came into the room that night, they had been arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

I have always enjoyed the references that are made to that. Each of the Gospel writers makes at least a passing reference to that argument somewhere in their Gospel. On the one hand, it does show great faith on their part. They really did believe that Jesus was the Messiah and that He was going to bring in the kingdom, but it also shows their humanness. It points its finger right at me and right at you. Because they did believe it, their minds immediately jumped from that faith acceptance of Who Jesus was to that selfish acceptance of who they were going to get to be. So many times I am afraid we look at the promises of God from a selfish standpoint: “Boy, if God does that for me, look how great that will make me look to other people.” So they were arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven as they came in there that night. This would have been a slap in the face for the disciples. This was a shocking thing for them for Jesus to do this.

Objection to Jesus' Example

In verses 6-11, we find the objection to this example that Jesus is setting. Notice verse 6:

John 13

6Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
7Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
8Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet…

Peter's answer here is a mixture of shame and reverence at the same time: “Lord, You are washing my feet!” Think about this. If you really did believe that Jesus was God, as Peter and the disciples believed to the extent that they could believe at that point [they were going to believe it and understand it more and more fully as time went by, but at this point they had enough faith to really believe that He was the Son of God and that He was the Messiah], how embarrassing for the Messiah to wash the feet of a lowly fisherman. I think that we should admire Peter for feeling that way. It was the way that he should have felt, but notice what he says in verse 8:

John 13

8Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet…

Of course, this shows Peter's impetuousness and his high regard for Jesus. He was saying, “I will just never allow that.” But the explanation is given in the last part of verses 8 through 10. Jesus explains it to him. Peter says, in the first part of verse 8, “You will never wash my feet,” and then Jesus explains it to him. Notice:

John 13

8Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
9Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.

This is why we love Peter so much. He is just like the rest of us, isn't he? He goes from saying, “You will never wash my feet,” to saying, “Wash my whole body.” Then Jesus said to him in verse 10:

John 13

10Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.

The thought of separation from Jesus was abhorrent to Peter. Above everything else, he wanted to be a part of what Jesus was doing. He didn't understand it all. He didn't see how it could all come together, but he knew that he wanted to be there. He wanted to be a part of it.

Jesus said, “If I am not going to wash you, you cannot have a part with Me,” so Peter goes completely to the other extreme and says, “Well then, wash my whole body.” Then Jesus explains to him that he only needs to wash the part that has become dirty after a bath.

Here is another place where the Greek becomes important. In verse 10, the New King James Version gives a better translation than the old King James . In verse 10, it says, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet.” There are two different words in the Greek, and in the older translations it used the word washed in both instances, but here he makes the difference and it is important to notice this: “He who has bathed…” In other words, “He who has had a bath and then goes out in the street to go somewhere, doesn't need to take a whole bath. He only needs to wash his feet.” The clue to the meaning of this whole episode is in the last words of verse 10:

John 13

10…and ye are clean, but not all.

Judas has already been identified by John for us as the betrayer, and verse 11 is going to underscore that, but at this point, the disciples didn't know what Jesus knew and what we know because John has told us. Obviously, Judas was as clean as anybody else physically, so Jesus had to be talking about spiritual cleaness here. We already know that physically they all looked the same. They didn't know that there was anything wrong with Judas. He wasn't all smelly and dirty while all the rest of them only had dirty feet. John includes this little statement here, and I am sure that he is quoting Jesus accurately, but it tells us that He was talking about spiritual things, not just physical things: “You are clean, but not all of you.” All of them were clean physically, but not all of them were clean spiritually.

The lesson to be learned from this is not primarily the physical lesson. The lesson to be learned from this is a spiritual lesson. Of course, one of the lessons that we learn from it is that after the bath of salvation, when sin comes into our lives again, we don't lose that salvation and have to be bathed over again. After the bath of salvation, when sin comes into our lives, it is just a matter of contaminating that part of our life and having to have that washed just like dirty feet would need to be washed without taking another bath.

This is another of the many reasons why I do not believe in the doctrine of eternal insecurity. This is a reason that I believe that when we are saved, we are saved completely and fully and can't lose that salvation. When we sin after salvation, that sin has to be dealt with. I John, chapter 1, verse 9, tells us that washing of the feet is done by confession of sin, but it is not a matter of getting saved all over again. We don't need to get saved all over again. We haven't lost our salvation, but our fellowship with God has been broken. Isaiah says to us that our sins have separated between us and God so that He will not hear when we sin, so fellowship has to be restored. That is done by confession of sin.

As I have pointed out many times before, that word confess means to say the same thing about that thing that God says about it—to recognize that this thing I have done is sin. There may be a lot of feelings and emotions that go on with that, but confession is not emotions and feelings. Confession is the mental assent to the fact that I have done something that God said not to do.

I don't want to digress too far here, but I think that is one of the problems that we humans have, and I think one reason that people sometimes get so emotional about things, is that it is a little bit easier than being logical and dealing with it as a cold, hard fact that I have sinned. I am afraid there are some people who, when they are confronted with their sin, get all emotional about it and cry and weep, and in all that, they never come around to getting down to the business of the fact that “I have sinned.”

This extends to all those menial things that the Scripture tells us to do. When we talk about confession of sins, we think in terms of the big things such as murder, drunkenness, adultery and whatever else it may be in the big categories, but the Bible has so much to say about anger and about pride and about jealousy and about covetousness and about disobedience to the laws of man. All of those kinds of things are sins, too, and when we make choices that are against what God has told us to do, the washing of our feet has to take place. That is in the form of agreeing that that thing which I have done is sin, even though in our society, they have found some way not to call it sin, even though I don't see why that thing should be considered sin, even if nobody knows how mad I was. It didn't show, and nobody saw it.

You see, this really gets down to the deepest details and that is why Jesus was willing to do such a menial, objectionable kind of task that only a slave would do, because no one else wanted to do it. The Lord of Glory Himself washed those men's feet, and that was only a tiny picture of what He was getting ready to do in a few hours in going to the Cross, an even greater humiliation than washing their feet and a much more painful thing.

The Exception to Their All Being Clean

In verse 11, John comes back to the main subject to clarify Jesus' meaning, and there we find the exception to what Jesus had said about them all being clean. Notice verse 11:

John 13

11For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

One of the anomalies of the incarnation of Christ is that Jesus was both God and man simultaneously. I don't think that I will understand that until I get to Heaven, and I don't think most of you will either. In fact, if you do understand it before we get to Heaven, please call me, even if it is in the middle of the night, and explain it to me. Our human mind can't fully comprehend how He could be fully God and fully man, but Jesus did. He knew who would betray Him as God, and yet as a man he would be just as disappointed by that and as shocked by that as He would have been if He had not known it as God. I can't reconcile it. The critics love to find things like this, because our human minds can't grapple with it, but the Word of God says it is true.

John mentions this kind of thing more than the other Gospel writers. For example, in the last part of chapter 1, He showed that He understood the potential of the disciples. He understood that these men would be able to carry His message and be the foundation upon which God would build His Church. They would be the first stones of the foundation upon which God would build His Church. These guys were bumbling, uneducated fishermen, but because Jesus was God, He could understand and see the potential that these men had, unlikely as it seemed.

In chapters 2, 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12, He predicted His death and resurrection. As God, He knew that; as a human being, He would not have known that except to the extent that He knew the Old Testament Scriptures, and they are full of it, of course. In chapter 5 and again in chapter 10, He enunciated His distinct kind of relationship with God the Father. He obviously knows how everything is going to wrap up in His death, burial and resurrection. This also illustrates an eternal principle that I like to point out from time to time and that is a principle that is stated in II Timothy, chapter 2, verse 19: “The Lord knows those who are His.”

Judas looked just like a believer outwardly. He was doing all the same things that the other disciples were doing. He was going off to all the same places and singing the same hymns (in a couple of places it mentions that they sang hymns together). Everything about him looked like a true believer. Jesus had even washed his feet. He was included in the number, and as I have pointed out, he could have become a believer that very night, even though he didn't, but the Lord knew that he wasn't a believer. He looked like one; he did all the things that believers do consistently over a long period of time, but Jesus knew that he was not a believer. He always does. He is the only One Who does know for sure who is a believer and who is not.

The reason I am mentioning all of this is really twofold. First, be very careful not to assume too much one way or the other. You may be a person who has come out of a life of deep, long-standing sin, and Christ has found you and drawn you to Himself, and you have trusted Him as your Savior. You have claimed all of these eternal promises, and everything is going well. Then once in a while Satan, through some circumstance or through something that someone says, will remind you of your past, and the thought goes through your mind: “You hypocrite. How can you talk about these kinds of standards and these kinds of goals of Heaven and loving God? Think about what you have done.”

Listen, if you have trusted Christ as your Savior, it doesn't matter what you have done or how long you did it. You are God's child, and the Lord knows those who are His, even if sometimes Satan tries to get you to doubt it yourself. The Lord knows those who are His.

The other side of that coin is that we may look at a person and think, “How could that person be a believer? Look at what he does. Look at what he doesn't do.” He may not be a believer, but that is not for us to know. Certainly, the Scripture says, “By their fruits you shall know them,” but a lot of the fruits of the Spirit are things that are not all that visible outwardly.

In my position as pastor through the years, I have had the opportunity to know many things about many people that others do not know—good things as well as bad things. In fact, as I look back over it, I probably know more good things that are secrets about people than bad things, although I know some of both. You would be amazed to know some of the things that people right here in this congregation are doing for Jesus Christ, and you don't know the good things that they are doing because they want only the Lord to know. I have only been involved in it as a channel through which money could pass, for example, or a message could pass so that the person can retain their anonymity.

You cannot always tell by looking at what a person is doing whether he is a child of God or not. Someone has said that we are going to be pretty surprised at some of the people who are in Heaven when we get there and at some of the people who are not there, but the Lord knows those who are His. Jesus knew about the hearts of all twelve of those men. He already knew exactly where Judas was and what Judas was going to do, and the other disciples didn't. So it is an important lesson to keep in mind.

Explanation of Jesus' Example

Finally, in verses 12-17, we have the explanation of this whole example that Jesus has given, and it is in the form of two principles that we all need to keep in mind. First, there is the principle of rank. Look at verse 12:

John 13

12So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
15For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.

Down through the years, some groups of Christians have practiced foot washing as a rite, and that is all right. There are groups who have practiced it occasionally, physically washing each other's feet. That is all right, but that is not the primary meaning of this. It is much more likely that Jesus meant it to be figurative. Again, I say, it doesn't mean that we should not wash feet physically, but it is not something that is included, as I understand the Scripture, on the level with the Lord's Supper and baptism. The whole context is figurative. Verse 15 says, “I have given you an example,” and His command was to do these things , plural.

So what is the lesson here? The primary lesson is not that this is something that we should be doing in the church every Sunday as we do the Lord's Supper or even on a somewhat regular basis as we do baptism. I believe that the lesson here is when we are faced with an opportunity to meet a need in another person's life, we should never think that we are too important or that we outrank that person and it would be beneath our dignity to step into that situation and help. God says, “If you see a need, if He allows a need to come to your attention and you are able to do something about it, you should not let anything stand in the way of doing that.” Your rank, and it may be genuine rank, should not keep you from meeting that need, even though you may be more important than the other person in the church or in society. Jesus was tremendously more important than any of the disciples, but it didn't stop Him from washing their feet. He says, “Spiritually speaking, emotionally speaking, we should be careful that we not think that we are too important or too busy or too good to step into the meeting of that need.”

You may handle that need by asking someone else to see that it gets done, but I am afraid that too many times we find reasons not to get involved. Everything in our society militates against this kind of concept, and we are good at disguising our reasoning on those kinds of things: “I'm too busy. It's really not my responsibility. Somebody else can do it better than I can.”

It is true that there is a realistic way to divide responsibilities in the church, as the deacons and apostles in Acts, chapter 6. The apostles said, “It is not good that we should leave the teaching of the Word of God and prayer to serve tables.” They didn't walk away from the situation; they appointed some men who were filled with the Spirit who could do those things. I am not saying that you have to do it yourself, but if you see a need and it is within your ability to do something about it, you either need to do it or have it done, no matter whether you are too important to be doing that or not.

This is talking about those day-to-day, personal relationships and situations that come out in our activities and our relationships with other people. It may be a financial need. It may be a health need. It may even be a sin that needs to be confronted in that person's life, and that is probably the most difficult one of all, but I think that is certainly part of the picture. It may be the reassurance of someone who has sinned and repented and everybody still treats him like a pariah.

That is a problem that we have in our churches. I think that one of the biggest problems that people who have been divorced face is that sense of rejection they get from other people. I am sure that some of that is imagined, but I am afraid that some of it is genuine. Listen, where would you or I be if people treated us the way for some of the sins that we know that we have done, that we generally, as a church, treat people who have been involved in a divorce or in some other kind of more prominent sin?

The illustration that Jesus chose in washing their feet suggests that it might be something smelly or unpleasant. But where would we be if Jesus, who had every right to take that kind of attitude that we take sometimes about sin in other people's lives, had taken that attitude with us? He could have legitimately said, “They got themselves into that mess. Let them get themselves out.”

Have you heard that before? I had someone say that to me one time. I followed a coal truck up into the mountains in West Virginia in a blinding snowstorm going to visit my bride-to-be. I got way up in the mountains and the truck turned into a driveway in front of a house. I thought that we were on the main road. I drove a little farther and wound up in another front yard. That was the end of the road, and they were on the edge of a cliff. I got out and began digging the snow out from around the tires of my Volkswagen and some little kids came out on the porch, and I asked if I could use their telephone. This little girl, who couldn't have been more than six or seven years old, said, “You got yourself in here, Stupid. Now get yourself out.”

You know, there are so many of us as Christians who feel like saying that to somebody else. Again, it may not be that you have to do it. You may not have to give that person with a sign some money, but God might lead you to tell that person where the legitimate organizations are that have already been established for that purpose and to guide him to where you know there is help. I don't believe God expects us to hold up traffic to do that. He may speak to your heart about trying to help that person, and if He speaks to your heart about it, you are not too important in God's sight for Him to have spoken to you about it, and He will guide you in what means to take to help that person in a way that would really help them and not just prolong their problem, but that is a whole other subject. The main thing to keep in mind is, where would we be if Jesus had not been willing to wash our feet on an eternal basis by dying on the Cross for us?

The Principle of Reality

The second principle in Jesus' explanation of His example is what I am calling the principle of reality , in verse 17:

John 13

17If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

This little statement is one of the most important principles in the Word of God, and it is often overlooked. I call it the principle of reality because so many times in the Christian life we know what to do, but we're just not doing it. We know all these things, but we don't do them. I am as guilty of that as anyone.

There are a lot of Christians today who are not enjoying the peace and joy and happiness that people talked about being a part of the Christian life, and they wonder why. But if they are willing to analyze it realistically, they will find that in many cases it is because they are not doing what they already know God has told them to do, whether this or some other principle. But for the believer who is willing to get real, the principle of reality is if you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. Happiness is only a part of blessedness, only a small part. It is possible to thrill in the blessings of God even at times when we are unhappy. Did you know that? Blessing comes from obedience to God.

The word blessed is a much misunderstood word in the New Testament. It is almost always a translation of a Greek word for which there is really not an equivalent English word. The state that it describes is a mixture of being blessed spiritually and human happiness. The word satisfaction might come closest to being a translation of that word. But that is what God's promise is—the peace and the joy and the satisfaction which comes in knowing we are obeying God to the fullest extent that we know how to obey. Happiness may be there also, but blessing is there whether happiness is or not.


In this passage, Jesus teaches us a foundational principle of the Christian life, one that is much forgotten in our day. Not only does He teach us the lesson, He is gracious enough to promise us great reward if we practice the lesson.

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