The Danger of Limiting the Blessing, John 13. 6-11
J. Boyd Nicholson, St. Catharines, Canada
The Lord in His sovereignty has given man a will to exercise. This freedom is not taken away on salvation's day. Obedience brings its special blessings, John 14. 23, and disobedience will bear its bitter fruit. The Lord Jesus had risen, taken the towel and girded Himself, pouring water in a basin and had begun to wash the disciple's feet. What a sight! The Lord of Heaven on His knees humbly ministering in love, to His needy creatures. Where is boasting? Where is pride? Where is argument as to whom shall be the greatest? How can there be the lifting up of oneself in the light of such lowly and loving service?
The incident before us now takes the form of a dialogue between the Lord and Peter. There are three exchanges and the first two arc marked by the words, 'Peter saith' and 'Jesus answered', the last one by, 'Peter saith' and 'Jesus saith'. In each of these exchanges there is an important lesson for every believer to consider.
The First Exchange, vv. 6-7, is a Query and an Explanation.
The Second Exchange, vv. 8 is a Refusal and a Warning.
The Third Exchange, vv. 9-11 is a Response and a Principle.
A Query and an Explanation
First notice the approach of the Master, 'Then cometh He to Simon Peter'. By this movement, the Lord Jesus conveys three things. It was to be something personal between the Lord and Peter. How beautiful is this revelation of the Lord throughout scripture, that He is the Lord of the individual. Thirty-one verses are used in Genesis to record the creation of the universe, then thirty-eight chapters go on to speak of one man and his family. The One who is the 'Lord of Hosts' is also the 'God of Jacob'. Every believer may be assured that we are each in His mind and on His heart. By this movement the Lord conveyed also there was something purposeful in the Lord's approach. In every slightest service to His own there is a purpose to fulfil and a lesson to learn. There was also something possible by the Lord's ministry. How wonderful are the possibilities when the Lord draws near to minister to His own. The disciples discovered that in the storm, on the Emmaus road and in the locked room.
The Query of the Disciple. 'Lord dost THOU wash MY feet?' The emphatic pronouns express Peter's incredulity. The Lord of heaven and earth washing his feet! He did not question the act, that was an acceptable courtesy of the day. The custom allowed it. He did not question the need, that was an admissible fact. His feet, soiled by the dust of the way, needed it. What he questioned was the propriety of it. He was puzzled by two extremes, 'Lord . . . Thou?', 'My feet?' Why was the Lord, into whose hands the Father had given all things, interested in taking Peter's lowest members into those hands?
Because they were defiled and no defilement of the believer, be it ever so slight, is unimportant to the Lord, He must deal with it. Because defilement hinders fellowship, and fellowship is important to both the Lord and His own. Because the defilement could be cleansed, and cleansing is vital to the disciple and his service. 'They that bear the vessels of Lord must be clean'.
The Explanation of the Master. 'What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter'. If the Lord had been merely removing the grime from Peter's feet there would be no need for an explanation. It would be evident what the Lord was doing. By these words the Lord would teach His own that there is always a deeper meaning behind the present circumstance, not always discernible at the time. What a comfort to know that nothing happens by chance to the child of God. By these words the Lord conveys that there is a spiritual lesson behind the physical experience. Oh that we had always been able to appreciate this in life! What tears would have been wiped away, what frustration we would have been spared. These words tell us also that there is an ultimate answer to the present experience. The Lord uses two words translated 'know'. The first is from the same root as 'to see'. The first is a knowledge gained by observation. Peter could not know the significance of the feet-washing merely by what he saw. He would later come to an apprehension that grows by instruction. He would gain a further insight of the spiritual significance of this experience in the hand of the Lord. We must all be grateful for God's 'afterwards'. Job certainly was, Joseph certainly was and Jonah certainly was. No trial is without its 'hereafter' for the child of God.
A Refusal and a Warning
Peter's adamant refusal had great force of expression. Literally 'Thou mayest in no wise wash my feet forever'. It is not 'Lord' now, simply 'Thou', for when we say 'No' to the Lord, we challenge His Lordship over us. By his refusal Peter raised three barriers to the Lord's ministry towards him. First he exerted the power of his own will. He placed self-will before the Lord's will and put himself in the place of opposition to the Lord. When self is on the throne, every noble attribute becomes debased. Love becomes self-love and cries 'Give me gratification'. Appreciation becomes self-appreciation and cries 'Cive me the praise'. The will becomes self-will and cries 'Give me my way'. Secondly he reserved the rights to his own body. He said 'Never . . . my feet'. He had forgotten that the Lordship of Christ extends to every part. 'Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's, 1 Cor. 6. 20. Thirdly, he extended the control of his own life to 'for ever'. That was clearly out of his province and beyond his ability. By this refusal Peter implied two things. He saw no pressing need for cleansing now and he saw no profit to instruction 'hereafter'.
To reverse his stand, Peter must come to the place of submission to the will of the Lord. This is the spirit of contrition. He must be willing to expose his defilement to the eye of the Lord. This is tantamount to confession. Then he must be wilting to wait for the explanation of the Lord 'hereafter'. This is the contentment which, with godliness, is great gain.
The Lord's solemn reply took the form of a warning to Peter, 'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me'. The Lord thus reveals the consequences of Peter's refusal. It would mean that Peter would remain untouched by the ministry of the Lord. There are many worse things than the hand of the Lord upon us. One of these is the hand of the Lord not upon us. To cry out of an aching heart, '1 sought him whom my soul loveth; I sought him, but I found him not', It would mean also that Peter would remain unwashed from the defilement of contact with the world. Nothing distresses the child of God more than a sense of broken fellowship as a result of personal defilement. Further, it would mean to remain unblessed by the allotted portion of the Lord. The unsubmissive spirit must forego all these benefits.
A Reaction and a Principle
The third exchange between Peter and the Master begins with Peter's enthusiastic submission, 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head'. Peter moves back again to the literal and the physical, still seemingly unaware of the spiritual lesson, but that would come shortly. First he wanted to make sure that he would not miss the blessing. He wanted to have his share and not be excluded from the Lord's portion. Knowing something of our own hearts, we can hardly blame Peter for his enthusiasm. But enthusiasm is not enough; it must be controlled by the rein of truth. To go beyond the will of God is an error as serious as lagging behind. David gives a warning of instruction in Psalm 32. 9, 'Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule . . .'
The Lord now gives Peter an assuring principle. 'He that is washed all over needs not to wash save his feet, but is wholly clean', jnd. This principle expresses three important truths. Once the disciple has been bathed (at salvation), this need never be repeated, nor can be. If the disciple becomes defiled in the way, he needs to be cleansed. Once this defilement has been dealt with, the disciple need never doubt the blessed portion of the Lord and His fellowship is his to enjoy.
The incident closes on a solemn note, 'Ye are not all clean'. There sat Judas the traitor. He had walked with the Lord in the way. He had worked with the Lord in the world. He had witnessed the Lord in His works. He had wondered at the Lord in His words. Yet he was none of His. He was one of their number, but not one in their nature. They were sons of God by faith, he was the son of perdition. He kissed the 'Door of heaven' and went to His own place in a lost eternity.
If it could be that one who reads these words has a profession of things without ever having bowed the knee before the blessed Lord and received Him as Saviour, now is the moment to do so, while there is yet time and opportunity. Then it will be to join that select company who know the tender, faithful ministry of the 'Hest of Masters'.