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Spiritual Footwashing

By Timothy Binion

Humility is the primary evidence of true redeeming grace. One may be too high for God to bless him but one may never be too low. Our attitude of servitude one toward another displays Christian humility. The Apostle Peter learned this lesson from the examples of the greatest teacher, Jesus Christ. The definition of humility is “to lie low” and we manifest humility in a positional way by placing the one served in a higher respected position. Submitting to one another is the true form of humility taught in 1 Peter 5:5-7.

“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7)

The proper setting of 1 Peter contributes greatly to the text under consideration. This Epistle was written to Jews dispersed into foreign countries through the Assyrian and Babylon invasions of the Old Testament. The gospel regathered the dispersed Kingdom of Israel, under the cloak of Christ’s Kingdom. This regathering of Israel as spoken of in Isaiah 56:8 is the “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2) to whom Peter is writing. When they were cut off as the people of God, they adapted to their new found surroundings. Through the Gospel (foretold in prophecy and understood by Peter) these Jews who were “in times past not a people, (being cut off) but are now the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10).

Peter instructs these Jewish Christians experiencing persecution and undeserved suffering to accept it as the will of God. He called it the refining of their faith and admonished them to consider it normal. Their suffering convicted sinners of sin and exemplified the suffering of Christ.

The Apostle Peter wrote from Babylon (though many scholars disagree with this location) and according to Carroll there were large settlements of these disbursed Jews in Babylon (Carroll 183, 1986). The order used to address these five provinces of Asia Minor; Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia seems to support Carroll’s position. “The order, on the map, in which these places are named, furnishes an argument as to where Peter was when he wrote this letter; for instance, from Rome we would have to reverse the order . . . (Carroll 184, 1986). However, many dispute whether “Babylon” in 5:13, is used in the literal sense or symbolic sense.

The Apostle Peter defines his purpose of this book in verse twelve. He wrote. “By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand” (1 Peter 5:12). Humility is an important feature of true grace. If the King of Kings demonstrated a meek and lowly spirit and served us, we should do likewise.

In the paragraph proceeding 1 Peter 5:5-7 Peter exhorts the elders to take the oversight of the Church without lording over God’s heritage. He instructs them to lead the flock by example. The highest office in the Church deserves respect and proper acknowledgment by all believers. To have Pastoral leadership one must meet the qualifications and serve the flock out of a genuine love for the Lord. The pastor’s closeness to the Lord and concern for the flock, if genuine, should earn him respect from the flock he serves. The laity should “remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7). Also the flock is instructed to “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account . . .” (Hebrews 13:17). This unique type of ruling over the flock by example and servitude, exemplifies the Christian humility. A pastor completely surrendered to God, will in word and deed reflect a life worthy, to be followed. In 1 Peter 5:5 the parallel is drawn from the submission of the pastor (undersheperd) to the Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ: “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” There is a shift here from the Elder- pastor to the elder- aged. A. T. Robertson wrote: “Here the antithesis between younger and elder shows that the word refers to age, not to office as in 5:1” (Robertson 132, 1933). As the pastor submits to the Lord the younger are to submit to the older. If we stop reading here the church would have big I’s and little u’s. The lower group (in age) serving and submitting to the higher group or a more mature group in age. However, Peter goes on to say “all of you be subject one to another.”

The word “all” here refers to all ages, sexes, classes and offices, submitting to one another in the work of the Lord. The pastor, teacher, or deacon must be willing to serve in any capacity and submit to the smallest group or person in age. Here the evidence of humility surfaces in a mature elderly person succumbs to the needs and duties of the younger or less mature person. Christian grace hinges on humility\servitude. We find this exclusively attributed to Christianity, with a master working in the capacity of a servants servant. All are to submit to each other and all are to be clothed with humility.

Most commentators connect “clothed with humility” in 5:5 with Peter’s experience in John chapter thirteen. Robertson wrote: “It is quite probable that Peter here is thinking of what Jesus did (John 13:4) when he girded himself with a towel and taught the disciples, Peter in particular (John 13:9), the lesson of humility (John 13:15). Peter had at last learned the lesson (John 21:15-19)” (Robertson 132, 1933). Jesus said: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (John 21:18). Footwashing was the servants duty and was considered by people of that day as hospitable. The dusty roads soiled the feet (sandals being the footwear of that day) even on short journeys from the bath house to the home.

Many Christian groups still maintain the literal act of Footwashing to display humility. Virkler made a valid point on this matter and wrote: “After all, would it be better to treat a principle as transcultural and be guilty of being overscrupulous in our desire to obey God? Or would it be better to treat a transcultural principle as culture-bound and be guilty of breaking a transcendent requirement of God?” Our Lord’s willingness to wash the disciples feet established the principle of humility\servitude that one must preserve in ways that are suitable to our present day culture. A humble servant of the Lord has an ornament of grace tied about his life. Each act of servitude displays the principle of humility as exemplified by Jesus. The principle of humility taught by the Lord Jesus, when he washed the disciples feet, continues to be carried out in the life of the believer. Each time we serve another we preserve the principle of Footwashing. Paul wrote: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (1Cor. 9:19).

This servant’s apron may be in contrast with the reference in chapter three. Peter on the mount of transfiguration saw the glory of Jesus as it will be at his second coming. Chapter three mentions the highest observed position of Christ witnessed by the disciple while on earth, during his first advent. The Footwashing may be the lowest witnessed state of personal servitude experienced by Peter at the last supper.

The reference to being clothed with humility is the key to universal submissiveness in the Church. According to A. T. Robertson the Greek verb translated “clothed with humility” occurs only once in the New Testament and is a 1st aorist middle imperative. He also describes this verb as very late and rare (Robertson 132, 1933). It causes the reader (of the Greek NT) to pause for a time of self examination. How do I serve others? Is my humility genuine? The word rendered ‘be clothed’ (egkombwsaq) occurs here only, and is a remarkable word. It is derived from kombos, a knot or band; the corresponding noun. egkoubma was the name of an apron worn at work, to keep their dress clean. The word seems to teach that humility is a garment which must be firmly fastened on and bound closely round us. (The Pulpit Commentary 207,1980). Peter exhorts suffering Christians; “You cloth (aspect – continual) your self (voice – middle) with humility by tying a knot in your apron string of servitude.”

Bending or Lying low for the service of others shows humility in action.

We must be a doormat for others to step on through self positioned humility. Constantly maintaining humility in the heart produces continual acts of serving others. If acts of servitude are removed, humility is false. Removing these acts of servitude would produce humility in flux or the humble one minute and proud the next attitude, which would suggest that a person may remove his apron. The garment of humility must be firmly secured in the heart by an open display of servitude. Removing this apron of servitude would bring resistance from the channel of God’s grace.

There are many Old Testament references that clearly teach that God wants humility. “Haughty spirit: is resisted of the Lord” (Psalm 131). “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before the fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The principle of humility has always met the acceptance of God.

However, under the New Convent, brotherly love and brotherly preference interact with humility to redefine the people of God. One who will not serve his brother will not be accessible to serve God in the Kingdom of Christ.

In verse six Peter expands the attributes of humility manifested through submissiveness and servitude from interaction with saints to the interaction with sinners. You accept your circumstances by humbling yourselves under the mighty hand of God. Here is where availability supersedes ability. This Old Testament terminology “hand of God” reflects the sovereignty of God. We must accept circumstances caused by others as the hand of God. One must surrender to his purpose in the kingdom. If it should be imprisonment, suffering, poverty, banishment, or death, a servant is not greater than his Lord. There are times when we humble ourselves before a lost and wicked person to advance the gospel of Christ. Even Jesus, the night of his betrayal, bent down and washed the feet of Judas Iscariot.

Cast all your worries and anxieties created by harsh circumstances upon Him for he careth for you. Concern develops in times of suffering. Serving others may cost us great loss of worldly possessions. Contentment results from a deep knowledge that He cares for us. Faith in God has a way of swallowing up all our worries.

There are many types of humility. One might even identify a devilish kind of humility or a bugle blowing, horn tooting Christian who is quick to inform you of his humbleness. Paul wrote: “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;” (Ephesians 6:6). Peter associates humility with a garment of servitude (humility in action).

There is a natural resistance in the depraved heart that avoids humiliation of any kind and it was a personal battle for the Apostle Peter. Humility without servitude meets the conditions of modesty but not necessarily the evidence of grace. The promise is fixed and proven. God exalted Christ after he experienced undeserved suffering at the hands of sinners. A Christian clothed with humility will submit and serve others. The knot in our apron of servitude won’t allow us to remove it when we are before a lost world. We become servants “to all” so that the ultimate purpose of God may be accomplished through us. If you feel like you’re unjustly suffering as a believer of Christ, just reach back and tie another knot in your apron string.

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