THE SIGN OF BROTHERLY LOVE IN FOOT-WASHING
The Lord’s washing the disciples’ feet was a matter of love to the uttermost. After He washed their feet, He charged them to do the same to one another: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, you may do also” (vv. 14-15). To wash one another’s feet, therefore, is a matter of brotherly love.
The commandment to love one another is the unique commandment in the New Testament. This commandment was first given in John 13, the chapter on foot-washing: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (v. 34). The commandment to wash one another’s feet is related to the commandment to love one another. Today Christians talk a great deal about brotherly love, yet not many realize that brotherly love is expressed in foot-washing. If we do not have the reality of foot-washing, we actually do not have brotherly love. If we love one another, we need to wash one another’s feet. Without foot-washing, there is no brotherly love. The Lord Jesus loved His disciples to the uttermost, and this love is seen in His washing their feet. Now we also need to love the brothers in washing their feet.
Perhaps you are wondering what we mean by foot-washing, since it is not our intention to become a foot-washing group, a group that has the requirement of practicing literal foot-washing. I think that the best way to explain what we mean by foot-washing is to use an illustration from our experience in Shanghai in 1948.
In two consecutive meetings of a conference a particular sister prayed in an offensive, unseemly manner. All the leading ones felt that in her praying this sister went too far, overstepping others. After she prayed this way the second time, we felt that we could no longer tolerate the situation. As some of us were fellowshipping after the meeting, we were wondering what to do. Brother Watchman Nee asked me to write a note to that sister. In that note we pointed out to her that in her prayer she had gone too far. In love we asked her not to pray that way again. We closed the note with the words, “The Lord’s grace be with you.” This letter was then signed by Brother Nee, an elderly sister who was a co-worker, and me. The person to whom that note was addressed was Brother Nee’s mother.
After the note was delivered, I was concerned about what the result would be. The next evening we were again meeting together, this time before the meeting. That elderly sister came to the door and spoke one sentence to us: “Foot-washing is good, but the water was too hot!” Then she walked away to the meeting hall.
The note that was written to that sister is an illustration of foot-washing. This loving activity can be found only in the proper church life.
In human society, including organized religion, there is no such thing as foot-washing. In both secular and religious society, people behave in a political way. Instead of foot-washing, there is backbiting. People may be nice to you, but they may criticize you behind your back. No one will wash your feet, and neither will you wash someone else’s feet. In order to be a member of a denomination, there is no need to practice genuine foot-washing. It is sufficient to be well-mannered and polite. However, those who behave in such a way may be filled with complaints about others. This should not be our practice in the church life. If we are political in the church life, we are through with the fellowship. If instead of washing one another’s feet we are polite and political, the defilement on us will make fellowship impossible.
Neither in secular society nor in religious society is there fellowship. But the church life requires fellowship, a fellowship that is crystal clear. Only by foot-washing can our fellowship with God and with one another be maintained.
Suppose we in Shanghai had done nothing about our feelings concerning the way that elderly sister prayed in the meetings. Suppose we had said nothing, and kept the feeling within us. If we had done that, that feeling eventually would have destroyed the fellowship between us and that sister. Furthermore, our fellowship with God would have been frustrated.
Because of the lack of foot-washing, there is not proper fellowship among many Christians today. Instead of being crystal clear, the situation is opaque. Furthermore, certain feelings are concealed within the hearts of the saints. As a result, there is no crystal clear fellowship among the believers. Such believers may not even be in the outer court of the tabernacle.
(The Fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Offerings in the Writings of John, Chapter 34, by Witness Lee)