You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. — John 13: 13–14
The serving of Christ is the standard for the serving of the Apostles and the congregation. On Jesus’ path to the cross, the washing of the feet takes on special significance. This event—which immediately precedes the account of the Lord’s Supper in the gospel of John—already reveals that which comes to expression in the suffering and death of Christ, namely the unconditional love of the Lord (John 13: 1), as well as His abasement and devotion to others. Just as He abased Himself in the washing of the feet to perform a service usually reserved for slaves, He—who is, after all, our Teacher and Lord—would later put Himself on the same level as the sinner doomed to die, and sacrifice Himself in service to others.
Teacher and Lord
When Jesus describes Himself as Teacher and Lord, this refers to the rank of honour bestowed upon Him by God. As our Master, He is the Teacher sent to us by God. As Lord, He is the ruler who knows that the Father has “given all things into His hands” (verse 3). Both positions are now completely redefined by Jesus. The Teacher is not condescending as He teaches, but bows down before His disciples and serves them. The Ruler does not rule by power and might, but in lowliness. In so doing Jesus set standards for the Apostles and His church that are fundamentally different from the standards that prevail in the world (Luke 22: 25–26).
What does the washing of the feet signify?
In the context of the time, foot-washing was the work of slaves. Indeed, it was the lowest form of service a slave could perform. At the same time, it was a sign of respect and honour accorded to guests. The washing of the feet signifies the threshold between outside and inside. Those whose feet were washed were, in a manner of speaking, accepted into the home. It is not difficult to see the connection between this and the washing away of sin, which liberates sinners from the remoteness of God “outside” and gives them access to the fellowship of salvation “inside”—in other words, to the house of God.
What does this mean for the disciples?
By instructing His disciples to follow His example and wash one another’s feet, Jesus set a standard for their service to the congregation.
- Just as they themselves felt the devoted love of Jesus, they are also to serve one another and others in love.
- Just as He, the Majestic One, laid aside His garments and made Himself a servant by girding Himself with a towel, so too they are to treat and serve human beings in humbleness and lowliness.
- Just as He allowed them to have part in Him and have intimate fellowship with Him through His service (verse 8), they are also to share in one another and have fellowship with each other.
Such serving on the part of the Apostles, which serves as an example and then becomes the standard for the congregation’s members and their dealings with one another, is a sign of diligently following Christ, which is a requirement for entering into lasting fellowship with God.
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle, adapted for service held on Sunday, 15 March 2015 at Midrand Congregation