Thursday, May 14, 2009

Washing Feet

John 13:12-17; 1 Peter 4:7-11

Friends enjoy doing favors for each other. Friends don’t do favors just to have favors done in return. But, they do know that they will receive favors - because friends do return kind deeds. But with friends, there is never a sense of manipulation. You know what I mean by manipulation, don’t you? A manipulator is someone who does you a favor when it is convenient for them and then, in a short time, calls you back and says, "Remember when I did you that favor? Well, now I need you to return it." After a while people quit accepting that person’s favors, because they always come with a price tag.

Jesus just did a favor for his disciples in John 13. Thirteen hungry men with dirty feet are gathered for a meal. Jesus does the service of taking a towel and basin of water and getting on his hands and knees to wash their feet. He humbles himself to serve them. He does them a favor.

What is the next step? If he is like some people he would say, "Hey guys, remember the favor I did for you? Well, now I want you to do me a favor." But Jesus doesn’t resort to manipulation. He does make a demand: he does place a heavy burden of the Gospel upon them. But it is not manipulation. V.12b-16: "Do you understand what I have done for you? Now that I ... 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." Jesus doesn’t look for any favors to be done for him. His whole focus is ... "I have served you. Now you serve others."

This is a nice saying. Whenever the story of the washing of feet is recited, this part of the story is read. "I did you a good deed, now you do others a good deed." But this is not nice saying. If we think this is nice, we don’t understand it. There is nothing pleasant about it. This is a challenge. A challenge that if we understand and accept, will push us farther than we would ever care to go on our own in ministering to other people.

"I have set you AN example ..." Jesus said. "This is ONE example of my service to others," Jesus said. And his example of service to others continues later in this story. Jesus serves until it kills him. This is not an example of doing each other nice little favors. This is a story about dying for each other. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Remember about 20 years ago the plane that crashed landing in Washington D.C.? It was riding low and landed in the water, so not all of the passengers died on impact. It was winter time, and a number of passengers could be seen floating in the icy waters. One man couldn’t be content with just watching from the bank and waiting for boats. He jumped into the water, grabbed people, and swam to the shore with them. He managed to save the lives of several people. Finally, when he came to the bank with the last person, he sank under the water. Exhaustion and cold overtook him. He sank. He drowned. He saved the lives of several people, but he died himself. He lost his own life. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Remember almost 8 years ago when planes crashed into the World Trade Towers? While thousands of people were rushing out of the buildings, policemen and firefighters were rushing in. They were going in to save lives. They were going to serve the needs of the people who were trapped inside. Then a horrible thing happened ... the buildings collapsed. Many of the people trapped inside and killed were ... policemen and firefighters who went inside voluntarily. They saved the lives of other people. They served people they didn’t even know. But they died themselves.

Most of us will NEVER be called upon to jump into icy waters and pull people out of the water. Most of us will NEVER be called upon to rush into burning buildings and pull people out of the fire. But all of us are still called to wash feet. To give of ourselves. To serve others. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Warren Baldwin


  1. I think the everyday kind of serving may be more difficult than the catastrophic serving. Often in those situations we see more clearly what's most important and give it the merit it derserves. In the everyday, I think we are more apt to consider the services of less importance or more easily forgiven if passed by.

    A company I once worked for shared a building with another company. The restroom facilities were shared by the employees of both companies. The other company paid for janitorial services until they ran into financial difficulties. Our company wouldn't pick up the tab so two of the female employees started cleaning the ladies room regularly on their own without being asked.

    I always thought of that act as this type of service. Most would say "It's not in my job description."

    Good message Warren.

    From your "To Do" list it looks like you got the important stuff done anyway. :)

  2. Thanks Edie for this story about cleaning. These two women showed great hearts.

    I like the illustration of being given $1,000,000 and having to spend it helping people. You might spend it all in one swoop. But, most of the situations in life call for a quarter here, 2 dollars there, a dime here. The point: it is the every day, little opportunities that are important and add up over a lifetime.

    Thanks for you good input. And, yes, I did get some good things done!


  3. Warren

    Thank you for the deeper thoughts on the trite way we often see the foot washing story. I love this line "Jesus serves until it kills him" Wow.

    I have been blessed by your writing.

  4. Warren, I always love reading your blog. It always makes me think and ponder. Thank you for always sharing.
    God Bless you and your family!

  5. Thanks TwoFinches for the nice comments. Your article on used on the radio program was well received. Several people commented to me about it.

    Klay - You are welcome, and, as always, thanks for stopping by!

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  7. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed reading your thoughts here. As I read there was this thought that would not leave me alone. The thought that came to me is that in service of the Lord we are most often not expected to die in the physical sense, but we are drawn to lay down our own selfish (human) nature as we make room for the nature he wants to replace it with. In essence we must die to self in order to make room for him. We will serve the Lord on his terms, when we live by his terms.

    Lord I pray you open my heart to the areas in my life that are standing in the way of my ability to serve you as you have designed me to serve. Thank you for loving me just as I am, but thank you even more for showing me your ways and expanding my abilities. In my weakness you are strong and your grace is sufficient. Amen.

    This was a thought provoking post. Thank you.