There are several times in the Bible that are recorded where Jesus is trying to teach an important lesson, in particular his disciples with who he spent most of his time with. One of those times is in the book of John where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. This was typically done by servants back in that time.
It would have shocked the disciples because they would not have expected someone like Jesus, who was their leader, to do something like this. Jesus washing feet does have a purpose. It would teach the disciples about a new way of life that he was going to usher in with his death and resurrection
What Is the Story of Jesus Washing Feet?
We find the story of Jesus washing the feet of disciples in John 13:1-7. Jesus and the disciples were celebrating Passover. In verse 1 it says, “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” Jesus knew that he did not have much time left with his disciples, and he had something that he wanted to teach them before he left earth.
In verse 4 it says, “So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” Peter could not understand why Jesus was doing this, and at first, he did not allow Jesus to do it. This was not something that was common for a religious leader to do. Jesus tries to explain to him that “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (Vs.8).
Peter assumes that his whole body needs to be washed then, but Jesus responds by telling him that only his feet need to be washed because he is already “clean.” The reason Jesus is doing this act of service for them is to set an example of how they should treat others. There was going to be a new way of doing things if the disciples were going to follow him. It was no longer going to be a competition of who was greater than who like the disciples had been arguing about previously.
Now all that call Jesus “Lord” would become like servants for the benefit of others. As Jesus says in verses 14-15, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
If Jesus took the time to demonstrate this act of serving his disciples, there must be some important things that we can learn from his example.
4 Significant Lessons We Can Learn from Jesus Washing Feet
1. Jesus Came to Serve, Not to Be Served
It’s hard to imagine coming into this world, knowing that you are not here just for your personal benefit, but that you came to be a servant of others. This is exactly what Jesus came to do. Often we think of people who are leaders as people who are here to be served due to their position and status. Jesus was God in the flesh, and he didn’t expect special treatment. Instead, he came to show us a different way. He set an example that we should follow.
I wish I could say that it is easy to follow the example of Jesus, but it can be hard to do in the world that we live in. Our society is one where it is common to look out for our own good, not so much looking out for the good of others. We seek to be in a position of leadership, have celebrity status, or get an important position somewhere.
People in these positions are usually treated better than most and are given favor over others. What Jesus shows us is completely backwards to what society does. If we know Jesus and have a relationship with him, we are to take the place of a servant. This does not mean that others are more significant than we are, but we are to be like our Savior who did the exact same thing for us.
2. We Are to Show Others the Same Kind of Love That Jesus Shows Us
When Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, not only is he serving, but he is showing what sacrificial love looks like. He was about to be crucified on a cross and make the ultimate sacrifice with his life. The disciples did not understand what was about to happen, but Jesus was trying to set an example for them.
After he washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them in John 13:15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus expressed his love for the disciples when he humbly washed their feet, and we are to follow in his footsteps and do likewise to others.
3. Jesus Had a Healthy Understanding of Who He Was, and Where He Came From
There was no doubt that Jesus was secure in his identity. In John 13:3 it says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” Jesus put his trust in the Father that he was completely loved, had a future, and knew his sacrifice had a purpose.
Being secure in who he was, he was able to love others perfectly, and not feel inferior because he was serving them. When we know we are fully loved and know where our identity comes from, we don’t have to try to get it from our status or position in life.
4. It Is Not True Humility to Deny Someone Who Wants to Serve Us
Sometimes it can be hard to let others serve us. When Peter found out what Jesus was going to do for them, immediately he responded, “You shall never wash my feet.” (John 13:8) In that same verse, Jesus responded by saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Peter was not responding out of humility, but out of pride instead. He didn’t think that he could possibly receive what Jesus was about to do.
If he had not allowed Jesus to serve him like this, he might have missed out on one of the most important things that Jesus was trying to teach him. We must not assume that we are not good enough to be served by others. If we are too prideful to accept what others want to do for us, we might completely miss what Jesus has done for us as well. We must be humble enough to allow others to minister to us as well.
How Can We Apply These Lessons to Our Lives?
We can learn so much from the example that Jesus sets for us, but it is also important for us to learn how to incorporate this into our own lives. If we follow Jesus, we are called to become more and more like him. It is not always easy to be like Jesus because we are imperfect human beings, but the good thing is we don’t have to do it on our own. We can rely on the power of the Holy Spirit in us to serve and love others well. All we need to do is ask for help to carry it out, and for the wisdom to see who we can minister to.
Another important thing we need to realize from Jesus washing feet is how much He loves us. If we are trying to love others on an empty tank, we run the risk of serving and loving others for the wrong reasons. It is hard to genuinely love others well, if we don’t understand how loved we are. We may end up thinking that we are above serving others, or doing it and expecting something in return. This is why we need to spend time with Jesus and grow in our relationship with him. When we get to know him more, eventually loving others will be something that flows out of our relationship with him.
It doesn’t have to be complicated to love others, we can actually look for practical ways to do it. The first step is asking Jesus to show us who we can love on, and then looking for a need that needs to be met. This can be writing a note to encourage someone, paying for a meal for another person, opening a door for someone, or watching someone’s kids for them. There are many other ways to serve others, we just need to pay attention, step out, and meet a need.
When we start serving and loving others well, this is when we start to make an impact. Jesus can take the simple acts of kindness that we do for others, and change lives. We can play an important part in helping others come to know Jesus. This can be the result of following the example Jesus has given us when he washed the disciples’ feet.
Becky Weber is a wife, and mom to 4 kids. She loves to write and speak. She is a pastor’s wife in Sioux Falls, SD where her husband Adam is the lead pastor of Embrace Church. Her passion is to encourage others (especially women) to learn how to walk with Jesus on a daily basis. You can find more writing over at www.becweber.com and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.