Many and varied are the vital lessons learned from John 13.
One of the best loved portions of the Bible is the Upper Room ministry of the Lord Jesus to His disciples. John 13:1-17 is a passage rich in actual and symbolic teaching as we study this lowly act by the Lofty Sovereign, the Lowly Servant, and the Loving Savior. He is lofty in that we see His deity shining through in the expressions of His omniscience. We read that “Jesus knew,” “Jesus knowing,” “for He knew.” We see His lowliness in that He laid aside His garments and clothed Himself in the garments of a slave as He washed the feet of His disciples. He is the Loving Savior for we read that, “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (13:1) or uttermost.
The Doctrine of Forgiveness
He that is washed all over needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.
To understand our text we need to see that there are within the text two distinct words for “wash.” The first washing is from the word “louo” and means “to bathe, to wash all over.” The second washing is from the word “nipto” and means “to wash part of the body.” The first washing refers to our regeneration and the second to our restoration. The first refers to conversion and the second to cleansing from the defilement we contract as we go through the world. The Lord Jesus spoke of this first cleansing when He said, “Already ye are clean because of the Word which I have spoken unto you” (15:3). He referred to the second cleansing when He said, “Every branch that beareth fruit, He cleanses it that it may bring forth more fruit” (15:2).
The Defiling of the Feet
He that is washed all over needeth not save to wash his feet.
As we have shown, the first washing refers to our cleansing at conversion. The second one refers to our daily cleansing from the defilements of the world through which we are passing. This is why the Lord Jesus stated that there is a necessity that our feet be washed. We can be defiled by our actions, our thoughts, and by our contact with the mass media of a world that is controlled by the god of this age. David was greatly defiled by his sin with Bathsheba and needed restoration. His prayer was, “Purge me … wash me … restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.” He had not lost his salvation but had lost the enjoyment of it (Psalm 51). Achan was defiled and defiled the whole company of Israel. He described his sin in the words, “I saw … I coveted … I took” (Joshua 7:21). However, it is not only the great sins that defile. David prayed, “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults; keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous (arrogant, proud) sins; let them not have dominion over me” (Psalm 19:12-13). Paul wrote of the things which grieve the Holy Spirit of God: “corrupt communication, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking” (Ephesians 4:29-32). The cleansing of the feet takes place when we allow the Lord to apply the Word to our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit. John wrote also of cleansing in his first epistle. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Do you seek regularly to experience this cleansing, this foot-washing, from the defilements of the world?
The Desire for Fellowship
If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me!
Peter’s first reaction to the Lord’s desire to wash his feet was to refuse. He said, “Thou shalt never wash my feet!” When Peter was told that he would have no fellowship with the Lord if his feet were not washed, he said, “Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” It was then that the Lord said that those who were bathed all over, needed only to wash their feet, for it was the feet which contracted the defilement of the world. But Peter did show his intense desire that his fellowship with the Lord not be broken. “Thou hast no part with Me!” The words evidently rang in Peter’s ears. The Psalmist showed the intensity of his desire for fellowship with the Lord when he wrote, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God!” (42:1).
John tells us in his first epistle that there is a fellowship based on what we believe. That fellowship is a chain that cannot be broken. John also tells us of a fellowship with the Lord based on the way we behave. That second fellowship is our communion with Him and is a very fragile thread (1 John 1:1-10). It is broken by sin; it is restored by confession. How intense is your desire to be in unbroken communion with the Lord?
A Demonstration to be Followed
He riseth from supper and laid aside His garments, and took a towel and girded Himself . . . If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet.
The Lord said, “I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you!” His was a demonstration of love and of lowliness as He clothed Himself with the garment of a slave and did the work of a slave. Peter wrote later that “He has left us an example that we should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). The lesson in love and lowliness is also a lesson in Lordship and leadership for He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet.” He left them an example in John 13:34, “As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” Again in 15:10 He said, “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
Are we demonstrating the love and lowliness of the Lord? Are we showing to others our willingness to take the most humble of places? Such is the example He has left us. Have we followed Peter’s exhortation to “be clothed with humility”?