Why We Practice Feet Washing

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A Bible Devotional from Bethel

By: Pastor Larry Aikens, Jr.

Bethel Church of the Brethren

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels

April 1, 2022


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Scripture Lesson: John 13:12-17

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing?

13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.

14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.

15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.

16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.

17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.


I want to start out with a bit of humor.

A lot of the old-timers would correct me. They would say we practice “Foot washing” not “Feet washing.” We are trying to correct this old term, because for the most part we all have two feet—and we wash both of them. I guess the same fella who gave us the term “foot washing,” also gave us the stuff you brush your teeth with: toothpaste. Have you ever wondered why we don’t call it teethpaste? And, why isn’t it a teethbrush instead of a toothbrush? I don’t know about you, but I have a head full of teeth. I guess that poor fella that gave us toothpaste and foot washing had only one tooth in his head and just one leg to stand on.

On a more serious note, please notice verse 12 again: “After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing?”

Do you really understand what Jesus did? Do you understand why we follow in his footsteps?

Brethren, and other churches who practice Christ’s command of feet washing have at times been the object of criticism and scorn. (By-the-way, this is nothing new. Years ago, outsiders called the Brethren, “Dunkers.” At first, that was not exactly an affectionate term, but it came to define our movement.)

Feet washing, our critics say, is an outdated practice, meant for another time or another culture. Some criticize us for being literalists—taking literally Jesus’ command to wash feet. These critics say that Jesus’ command was meant to be taken symbolically. To them the point Jesus was making was that of humility and service. Jesus didn’t intend us to actually wash feet, they say. While we agree that humility and service are at the very heart of Jesus’ teachings, we humbly reply to our critics with the words of Jesus, “Since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

Here is why we actually practice feet washing:

  1. We are following Christ’s example.

Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk. 22:27).

  1. The essence of feet-washing is service, born out of an attitude of humility and commitment.
  2. The basis of that commitment is love.
  3. You know, that is why we are called brothers and sisters. We have a love that says, “We are in this together, we are deeply committed to each other.”
  4. There is a mutuality. We are not seeking our own; rather we are seeking the welfare of the other person.

There is a wonderful illustration of this great love that we are to have for each other:

The story comes from Huldrych Zwingli, the leader of the Swiss Reformation in Switzerland in the early 1500s. He and Martin Luther were locked in a serious dispute, and Zwingli was at a loss in trying to resolve the conflict. He found the solution one morning while gazing at the side of a mountain.

He observed two goats approaching each other on a narrow path on the mountain-side, one going up and the other going down. Upon seeing one another they stopped, then lowered their heads. It appeared they were about to charge each other. However, instead of butting heads, the goat ascending the mountain laid down on the path. The descending goat was able to step over the other’s back, and the animals were able to proceed unimpeded.

If the goats had chosen to butt heads, one may have prevailed. But the result might also have been disastrous for both. So one bowed before the other, in effect humbling itself, which eventually enabled it to advance higher.

We are to have the attitude of, “I will let you walk over me, if that is what it takes to keep the peace between us.”

  1. See the great love of Jesus (Read John 13:1).
  2. Jesus commands that we also love each other (Read John 13:34-35).
  3. True love demands commitment to each other (Read John 13:8).

John Staples explains the love communicated in feet washing:

The washing of one another’s feet is an act of loving dedication to one’s partner, who is also a representative of all humanity, of our willingness to do for that one whatever may be necessary, even to the point of death. When we take the feet of our brother or sister in our hands and wash them, we are saying to him or her, “I love you as a brother or sister in Christ, and you can count on me to be of service to you, however humble it may be, even to the point of giving my life for you.” Unless one enters into it in this spirit, prepared to make this commitment, it cannot be said that one has truly taken part in the service and has “washed one another’s feet.” (John M Staples, The Adventist Review, August 11, 2005)

  1. We are an extension of Christ’s ministry (John 13:16).
  2. Thank God for grace!
  3. We are made clean by the blood of Christ.
  4. We are cleansed by the washing of the Word of God.
  5. We gather in our feet washing service to offer God’s love, grace, and mercy to others; even as we are receiving such.

John 13:20: “I tell you the truth, anyone who welcomes my messenger is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming the Father who sent me.”

  1. God’s grace meets us in the feet washing service. This Grace is given through us—the Grace of God that can transform even the hardest heart into a loving heart.
  2. There is also God’s grace extended to us through our brothers and sisters. There is something about kneeling before another that heals us and changes us. Jesus knew this—we need to give Grace, but also we need to receive God’s Grace.
  • We are examining our hearts and making adjustments (John 13:17).


Do you understand what Christ has taught us to do?

Will you humble your heart in simple obedience to this command? Jesus invites us to:

  1. Repent of all known sin (John 13:10).
  2. Repair all relationships possible.

Jesus said: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and present your offering” (Mt. 5:23-24).

  1. Then as God’s children, we are free to celebrate God’s love and commune together before the Lord.

Will you receive a blessing from the hand of the Lord? We invite you to join in our Love Feast and take part in giving and receiving God’s wonderful Grace. At our church, we offer the Love Feast on Maundy Thursday, and we would be happy to include you this year.

Learn More:

Learn more about the vision of our pastor and teacher, Larry Aikens, Jr. by clicking HERE and then following the different links! We also invite you to visit Bethel’s website to learn more about Larry, our ministries at Bethel, and our wonderful congregation. Just click HERE and look around!