Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Who Does the Washing?

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

A very simple thought this morning, but perhaps an important one.

It is helpful to recognize what is being symbolized in our Lord’s marvelous display of love and humility at the very beginning of John 13. When Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, the spiritual issue being addressed is not their eternal salvation. Judas had his feet washed right along with the rest of the disciples, and subsequently went to “his own place”. So the “share” at stake in allowing the Lord to wash our feet is not our “heavenly portion”. Salvation is settled separately, as Jesus told Peter: “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”

One man had his feet washed who had never consented to take a bath: Judas. His footwashing did not help him in any way, shape or form. He went right out and betrayed the Lord only moments later. If anything, the footwashing he had received testified against him.

The Bath and the Basin

William MacDonald puts it nicely:
“The bath speaks of the cleansing received at the time of one’s salvation. Cleansing from the penalty of sin through the blood of Christ takes place only once. The basin speaks of cleansing from the pollution of sin and must take place continually ... there is one bath but many footwashings.”
So we needn’t spend much time on that. The washing of feet speaks to us of the daily spiritual maintenance required in order for saved disciples to properly enjoy their “share” with Christ.

The word “share” is meros, which refers to an allotment of territory, an inheritance or even one’s portion of a meal. The man who does not allow himself to be regularly washed by Christ is failing to claim the territory already won for him through salvation. He is shortchanging himself on his inheritance. He is failing to show up to partake of the food and fellowship provided for him daily by Christ.

“If I Do Not Wash You ...”

All that is background, and most Christians are familiar with the concept. But here’s the very simple point I wanted to make: it’s not me who does the washing. It’s Christ who is ministering to me, either directly or through others: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

When it comes to the removal of defilement that occurs to us unconsciously as we travel through this world, it’s not we who do the washing, it’s the Lord Jesus. What a wonderful, gracious accommodation to our ongoing need. In fact, it is absolutely necessary, since we cannot always see the grime that sticks to us anywhere near so clearly as may an objective third party.

My feet are my point of connection to this world. If I wear sandals, as was often the case in the first century East, my feet will become dirty rather quickly, for the most part through no fault of my own. Certainly if I choose to deliberately trek through mud, I am at fault. But many sorts of defilement happen to us simply because we must live in the world and interact with its fleshly inhabitants and fouled atmosphere, often — most often, perhaps — when we are engaged in serving Christ.

Earworms and Dirt

Say, for example, I am having lunch in a restaurant with another believer. We may even be talking about the things of God. I hope so. But some foul rap song is playing through the sound system and a line from it sticks in my head, as these things have a way of doing. That cursed earworm then follows me around all day. I find myself humming it later in my kitchen. Is that my fault? Of course not. I didn’t go out and buy the album. I didn’t deliberately expose myself to it. But try coming into the presence of God with a graphic sexual metaphor tripping off your tongue. You can see the problem. It is absolutely inappropriate, and it needs to be dealt with.

The Christian is perpetually in the process of being “footwashed” by the word of God. As that line plays in my head, some verse of scripture comes to me by way of the Spirit of God to remind me exactly what’s wrong with that sort of thinking. In working it through consciously, I am able to banish that idea, or at very least think correctly and righteously about it when it reoccurs in my mind. There will be nothing about that worldly notion that appeals to me. I will see the dirt on my feet for what it is.

Other times defilement may not be so obvious. Perhaps by habit or acculturation I have become used to thinking wrongly about this or that. Maybe it’s the way I was brought up. Some untested assumption is defiling me, and I’m not only unaware that I am defiled, I am completely unequipped to deal with the problem. My own knowledge of the Bible has not progressed to the point that the Holy Spirit can speak to me to wash me with it. After all, he can only use the parts of scripture with which I am actually familiar.

Seeing Things I Can’t

This is where it is so important that I am not the one tasked with washing my own feet. If it were solely up to me, I could never be completely clean. Thank God that the Lord Jesus has taken on that burden for me. He has provided me with brothers and sisters who can see things I can’t see; who grew up in different circumstances and maybe even got used to different sorts of defilement, but happily, not the kind currently afflicting me. They can gently point out to me the error of my ways. I need your Spirit-directed conscience to inform my own imperfect understanding of right and wrong. I am not an island. I do not live and die to myself as a Christian. I must consider, when dwelling among the people of God, not only what I think about my own state, but how others assess it. They may have a much clearer picture of the condition of my feet than I do.

Is that a fun job, cleaning other people’s feet for them in this spiritual sense? Not really. It’s not an exercise that appeals to our flesh, nor does the world around us understand its purpose or regard it as an important job. It also requires scrupulous care of our own condition in order that we don’t attempt to perform a “cleanup in Aisle 9” with obstructed vision. That’s what we call hypocrisy. Anyone attempting to wash the feet of others needs to make sure his own have already been washed first.

Messy, Grimy and Defiling

Footwashing is messy, and grimy, and humbling, and maybe even a little bit defiling at times. Some of that dirt can inadvertently rub off on the servant doing the cleaning. That might be why so few of us engage in it regularly, except perhaps when we broadly address a principle of scripture from the platform, speaking in vague generalities about sin without actually singling anyone out and going, “Brother, you have a real problem there. Let me fix that for you.”

And yet the process of washing one another’s feet should be ongoing. It is our Lord’s way of making sure we continue to enjoy unimpaired and full fellowship with him.

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