Do you remember what Jesus said after He washed the disciples’ feet? "‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.... Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’" (John 13:14-17).
Jesus had just washed everyone’s feet. No one needed his feet washed a second time, did he? But Jesus knew He would be crucified the next day. He knew He was going back to the Father. And He knew His disciples would need to be cleansed again soon. So He commanded His disciples (and that now includes you and me) to wash one another’s feet.
How do we wash each other’s feet?
Naturally, we’re not in a position to forgive sins, but God can use us in the process of cleansing. Like Jesus, we can minister to a brother or sister in Christ who has become dirty or defiled by the world.
How often have you asked someone "How are you?" and he’s said "Oh, great," but you knew that person didn’t mean it? Instead of sitting down and gently encouraging that person to open up, we often resort to trivial chatter or simply walk away, don’t we?
If we’re serious about washing one another’s feet, we become sensitive to the feelings of others. We pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal signals they give. We discard any judgmental thoughts and ask, "Is something wrong? How are you feeling? Can I pray with you?"
Notice you don’t stand up to wash somebody’s feet, you kneel. Humility and servant hood are prerequisites to being used by God in this vital ministry. There’s no need to come on strong or pretend we have all the answers. We come on our knees (if not physically, by our attitude) and say, "If I can serve you, if I can be of any help, let me know." By doing that, we can unleash God’s blessing in the lives of others.
One of my team members (I’ll call him Greg) was directing a "united" evangelistic campaign in a city where two prominent pastors had fought for years. Many non-Christians knew about the feud between this Presbyterian minister and a Baptist preacher. My associate, Greg, tried to encourage them to patch up their differences, but it was no use.
For the sake of the Gospel, Greg decided to call these two pastors together and wash their feet. He invited both pastors to his home for lunch, but he didn’t tell either gentleman that the other pastor also was invited. He scheduled the Baptist pastor to arrive earlier than the Presbyterian.
At lunch time the Baptist pastor arrived and chatted with Greg while his wife finished preparing lunch. Half an hour later the Presbyterian minister arrived. Both pastors suddenly stiffened. Greg was scared, but he invited these two men to sit down and quickly got to the point.
"I know you must be shocked and perhaps even upset that I’ve brought you together like this," Greg said. Then he poured out his heart for these two older ministers. "It’s my responsibility to bring the Body of Christ together for the upcoming evangelistic campaign, but it isn’t happening. And it’s because you two men are fighting. All the Christians know about it. Even many of the unconverted know you don’t love one another, that you’ve had this bitter resentment against each other. You’re hurting the Body of Christ and the testimony of the Gospel.
"So I feel we shouldn’t have lunch today until you ask each other’s forgiveness. I’m here to be of any help I can. I realize I’m young, but nobody else in this city would do it. So before the Lord--if you will forgive me--I must be the person to do it."
Both pastors broke down and confessed how they had sinned against each other, harbored resentment in their hearts, and hurt their testimony in that city. Together on their knees they asked for the Lord’s forgiveness. And a tremendous breakthrough occurred.
People quickly learned about the reconciliation of these two pastors. The Baptist pastor, instead of marrying his son and future daughter-in-law in his own church, went over to the Presbyterian church and the two pastors performed the wedding ceremony together. As a result, the churches in that city united and we had a tremendous evangelistic campaign, with many making first-time decisions for Christ and several churches planted as a result. It was a thrilling crusade, but what would have happened if no one had obeyed the Lord’s command, humbled himself, and in love washed the feet of those two pastors?
It takes a great measure of love to wash someone’s feet, doesn’t it? Why else would anyone humbly exhort or rebuke or correct us? Proverbs 9:8 says, "Rebuke a wise man and he will love you." So why don’t we wash one another’s feet more often?
Speaking for myself, I know I can be quite indifferent toward others. I think thoughts like, "I don’t want to meddle in that person’s life. If I do, he might tell me off. She might hate me. They’re going to accuse me of sticking my nose into other people’s business."
I believe we cause untold harm when we notice someone who is hurting or lacking peace but say nothing. It’s obvious our brother or sister has dirty feet. Maybe he’s even become defiant in his attitude toward the Lord. Something is wrong, but we ignore it. We don’t want to get involved.
A friend of mine was a successful businessman, an elder in his church, and an excellent lay preacher. One day while we were eating out I noticed that this friend was eying the waitresses. Most men will notice a nice looking woman. But there’s a difference between that and looking eagerly with lust in your heart. It seemed to me, and to several others, that our friend was struggling with lust. But because he was a respected Christian leader, we didn’t say anything. We were indifferent instead of doing what Scripture says and humbly washing his feet in love.
Looking back, I think our friend would have confessed his sin if we had washed his feet. Instead, one day, four years later, I received a phone call from a mutual friend. "Luis, I’ve got bad news. Our friend’s wife came over to the house last night, sobbing because she thinks he’s having an affair with a secretary at the office."
I couldn’t believe the news. But a few days later, while I was checking in at the airport for a trip to Los Angeles, a man accidentally shoved two heavy suitcases against my knee. I turned around and saw it was my friend. He was shocked to see me, but pretended nothing was wrong and quickly said, "Well, Luis! Good to see you. How are you doing?"
Tagging along behind this guy was a young woman...not his wife. At first he tried to distance himself from her, but it was obvious. Besides, his luggage didn’t look right for a business trip. "Uh, Luis, uh, meet Suzie.... She’s a secretary at my company...."
I wept in my heart because I felt that if we had been men of God, four years earlier we could have done something. I should have gone to this friend and said, "Look, we’re all tempted, but you don’t have to let lust overcome you. Let’s look at what God’s Word says. Let’s get on our knees and take this to the Lord." But I was indifferent, and now it was too late. He was committing adultery.
Later on my friend was filled with remorse and regret for what he had done. He repented before the Lord, was reconciled to his wife, and restored to fellowship in his church. But the scars will always be there--the agony, the suspicion, and all the other pain that follows adultery.
Galatians 5:1 says that "if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently." In Matthew 18:15-17, the Lord gives further instructions if church discipline is required. And in both of his epistles to the Corinthians, Paul models how to make those instructions work. The goal? To see our fallen brother or sister restored to fellowship with God and with others.
Sin always separates.
If we see someone who seems to be backing away from the Lord or a spouse or other believers, there’s no time to pretend everything is okay. We need to get on our knees before the Lord and intercede for that person. We need to humble ourselves and admit we’re tempted by sin, too. Then we need to go to our friend and gently say, "Listen, can I help you? Is something wrong? I’ve noticed...."
It’s easy to notice when something’s wrong in a friend’s life and still say nothing. I was speaking at Mount Hermon Conference Center one summer. A seminary professor and his wife on furlough from Asia were there. During the week I chatted briefly with this professor and noticed how sad he looked. I felt the Holy Spirit saying, "Talk to this professor. Find out what’s the matter. Try to encourage him...." But I was busy. There were lots of other people to meet. I let it go. Six months later I learned that while this professor was teaching at the seminary one day, his wife wrote a little note. He found it on the kitchen table after she had already boarded a plane for the United States. Her note said: "I’m sick and tired of your work at the seminary and all this missionary garbage. Don’t come looking for me. I never want to see you again."
That was it. The marriage was over. Again, I had disobeyed the Holy Spirit. At the time, it seemed ridiculous that a seminary professor needed me to talk to him. But I should have done it anyway. Maybe I could have helped. I thank the Lord for the men He used early in my ministry to confront me in love about my pride and cockiness and aggressiveness. They were godly men, men of integrity. They knew what it was to be washed by the Master. And so, even though it was tough, they took me aside and washed my feet.
We all need to be washed, don’t we? We need the Lord’s cleansing. And we need to wash each other’s feet. This is a critical element of radical renewal.
World evangelist and author Luis Palau and his ministry, Luis Palau Association, have shared the Gospel with more than 1 billion people through evangelistic events and media. He has spoken in person to more than 25 million people in 72 countries with close to 1 million registered decisions for Jesus Christ.