The Tenderness of the Towel–A Servant’s Heart

Having A Servant's Heart

“[NOW] BEFORE the Passover Feast began, Jesus knew (was fully aware) that the time had come for Him to leave this world and return to the Father.  And as He had loved those who were His own in the world, He loved them to the last and to the highest degree [1]”

[JESUS] “Got up from supper, took off His garments, and taking a [servant’s] towel,  He fastened it around His waist [4]”

“Then He poured water into the wash basin and began to wash the disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the [servant’s] towel with which He was girded [5]”

(John 13:1, 4 and 5 AMP).

The Washing of Feet:

One of the most hated thing of going to the beach when I was a kid, was coming home after spending all day and into the night was the coming back home.  I grew up in the San Diego area of California so going to the beach on a regular basis was commonplace in my family.

Mom would gather all the necessary implements before going; towels, picnic basket, paper plates and cups, wiener forks for roasting and of course…marshmallows!  We would leave the house about 2 PM and return home at 10 PM, a long day in the sun.  We were tired, sandy all over and ready to shower off and go to bed.

But it wasn’t that simple with mom.  Before entering the back door, she would stand with her back to the screen door and say to my brother and I, “You boys are not going into the house that way until I wash off your legs and feet with the garden hose.”  Our whining would immediately begin and we would moan and gripe, “Oh mom. We are sleepy and tired.  Can’t we just go to the shower and wash the sand off in there? And besides, the water coming from the garden hose is cold!”  I already knew the answer as the manufactured tears would roll down my cheeks, mom said nothing.  She would bend down and turn on the water, unwrapped the neatly coiled hose and bring it over to where we stood shivering in defiance.  Those memories are imbedded in my mind and to this day, I hate walking through beach sand to venture into the sea.

Old Testament References to Feet Washing:

– Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24

– Judges 19:21

– 1 Samuel 25:41

– 2 Samuel 11:8

– Psalm 58:10

– Song of Songs 5:3

By reading the referenced verses, the first act before entering the tent or house was the washing of their feet after a journey.  The Oriental culture of wearing only sandals on the feet fulfilled several purposes. They were light on the feet, they were cool in an arid climate, they slipped off the feet easily and they could be purchased or made inexpensively.  The problem was cleanliness; walking in dirty streets and roads with animal dung everywhere along the way.  So even if you had taken a bath before going to someone’s home for supper, your feet would be filthy as you were knocking on your neighbor’s door.

Washing the feet in the quest for adventure was also refreshing after a long day’s journey.  The average host would furnish a basin of water and a towel and the guest would wash his own feet.  Richer household would have the washing done by a slave; the lowliest of services to be performed.

  “And she arose and bowed herself to the earth and said,

Behold, let your handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of

servants of my lord”  (1 Sam. 25:41).

The word “humble” can give us a picture.

Humility doesn’t require us to be self-depreciating.  Humility is about self-awareness and not about having a low self-image or poor self-esteem.  If you see yourself for who you are and embrace it honestly, humility is the natural result.  God isn’t asking you to say something about yourself that isn’t true.  God is asking that we take a good, long. look in the mirror and see ourselves for who we really are, and then after that, to have the courage to ask for help.  Our humility allows God’s intervention.

Strength down low.

I read a story in Erwin McManus’ book, UPRISING – A revolution of the soul.  He tells the story of a trip that he and his wife to Japan.  He says that they took the time to visit the ancient castle of Shogun.  One of the unusual features of this highly guarded home was how the doors were shaped on the outer wall.  The doors were at least a foot off the ground, and for a man of average height, about two feet too low.  To enter the house of the Shogun, you have to lower your head and pass through the door headfirst.  In other words, to gain admission to the home of this warrior master, you would have to expose your head to his sword.  This was both a physical and visceral expression of submission.  You would place your life in the hands of him whose home you entered.  No enemy would position himself in such a way or allow himself to be vulnerable.  Submission came before admission and admission was necessary for communion.

The Disciples Pride Is Addressed – John 13:1-16

Lets begin by setting the scene before The Tenderness of the Towel–A Servant’s Heart is displayed to us by Jesus.

It’s just before the Passover Feast and Jesus and His disciples were all gathered together to eat, fellowship and enjoy the Passover Seder.  Jesus was fully aware that His time had come and for Him to leave the world.  He wanted them to know that He loved them to the last and to the highest degree (John 13:1).

Now the disciples pride had already been heightened by the anticipation of a place in the Messianic kingdom and they were expecting an immediate crisis was about to happen.  Their conversation amongst one another might have been revealing about their character; the Bible doesn’t say that but perhaps pride surfaced earlier in the evening; a controversy of  where they were going to seat themselves before the table.

Jesus’ act of service and the demonstration of humility was meant to actually cleanse their hearts from selfish ambition; killing their pride and a lesson of love for them to follow after His leaving their presence by the resurrection.

The events of John 13 was not the first time we read about the washing of feet.  The Gospel of Luke gives us the story of Jesus being invited for dinner; dinning with the religious leadership of the day.  Now this was BIG NEWS in the religious community of that day.  It might be attributed to the Reverend Billy Graham, Jentezen Franklin. Tommy Tenney, or someone who everyone knew in the church, coming over to your house for dinner one night.

And behold, a woman of the town who was an especially wicked sinner, when she learned that He [Jesus] was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment (perfume)”  (Luke 7:37 AMP).

I once heard a definition given of the word sacrifice we sometimes throw around in church as a practice every Sunday.  It says, “something given that comes with a cost.”  If it doesn’t cost you something, then it isn’t a sacrifice.  So, when “a woman of the town” came to worship Jesus, and at all places…a house of a Pharisee, there was a cost, a sacrifice of worship to be given.  Given in the cost of an alabaster flask and a cost of humility through her LOVE; brokenness of an expensive container and the brokenness of ‘self’.

“And standing behind Him at His feet with [her] tears; and she wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed His feet [affectionately] and anointed them with the ointment (perfume)”  (Luke 7:38 AMP).

As in today’s culture, a woman’s long hair was an ornament and glory given to her for a covering by God.  So wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair as ‘the tenderness towel‘ showed Jesus of her sacrifice of self; her glory given back to the Son of the living God.

Years before I gave my life to follow Jesus, I had been attending a small church in the area; The Church of the Brethren.  I was doing so for two completely different reasons.  The first, I was asked by my former Junior High Choir teacher to come and sing in their choir for Easter.  The second reason for a healthy 19-year-old young man was of course…GIRLS in the church!  That’s a whole another story.

That particular Easter, the church held Communion on Good Friday in the basement of the church and I certainly didn’t mind going.  Men on one side and women on the other.  My first reaction was…this isn’t what I came here for!  But rather than just leave, I decided to see what this was all about.  I looked down toward the end of the table, a large basin of water and a towel was placed on the floor and the Elder told us to remove our shoes and socks.  The same ceremony was being done at the women’s table also.

I want to stop right here and tell you that there is nothing more humbling than having relative strangers on both sides of you sitting with bare feet. Then washing the feet of someone else on the other side of you…period!

This procedure went on at both tables for about an hour or so and then we all participated with clean bare feet, in taking Communion.  It took me years to fully understand the TRUE meaning of this ceremony.

Having someone else wash your feet at a church event isn’t the real issue here.  Nor was my mom’s washing my sandy, dirty feet after a day at the beach the issue.

Jesus said to a mouth-opened Pharisee, the woman who has denied herself has done so much more than you have observed with your UN-spiritual eyes:

“You did not anoint My head with [cheap, ordinary] oil, but she has anointed My feet with [costly, rare] perfume.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, many [as they are] are forgiven her–because she has loved much.  But he who is forgiven little loves little”  (Luke 7:46-47 AMP).

False Humility:

Looking humble while serving, but still full of pride while doing the service is FALSE HUMILITY.  Someone might ask you to come help do a little painting on your day off at the church this weekend.  You might say to yourself, “With all my Bible learning, teaching and training you would think I could serve the church more significantly than just painting.”  After you get to the church on Saturday morning, you find that you are not going to paint, but to scrape wallpaper in the man’s and women’s bathrooms.  Now that’s when SELF raises its ugly head as you mumble to yourself while peeling, and peeling, and scraping wallpaper.  We in the church have perfected phoniness even in the church bathrooms.  We want to appear to be charming to those who are around us on Sunday mornings in the bathroom or the sanctuary.  By the way, charming means ‘con’; charming for the moment;  it is who you are for the moment while character is who you are all the time.  In other words, it is not how we look to others but it’s the heart that people will fall at the feet of Jesus.  Falling at His feet gets the results of defeating self being in the way of life.

Some Daily Challenges Are Presented.

We can see that Jesus gave credibility and integrity to whatever He did so because of who He was.  While most of us are inclined to get it backwards.  We define who we are by what we do.  How many times when I have attended a function and some stranger will come to me and ask, “So what do you do for a living?”  Our character is often identified by what we do rather than who we are.

Humility and the Service of feet-washing:

The apostles had been quarreling one evening of who would be the greatest in the Kingdom that Jesus was about to set in motion (Luke 22:24-30).  Then Peter’s question comes up in the conversation in John 13:6–

“Lord, are my feet to be washed by You?”

What was Peter’s objection?  Jesus, his Lord and Master would offer and perform such a humble service.  But Jesus was trying to teach His disciples that true greatness in His kingdom comes from humility and service.

“For who is the greater, the one who reclines at table (the master), or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table?  But I am in your midst as One Who serves”  (Luke 22:27).

Now compare what was  said in Luke and what Jesus says in Matthew 23:11-12:

“He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself [with haughtiness and empty pride] shall be humbled (brought low), and who ever humbles himself [whoever has a modest opinion of himself and behaves accordingly] shall be raised to honor.”

Radical Self-Denial in the House:

In Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” , he wrote:

Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure [but] service banishes us to the mundane,

the ordinary, the trivial…   Therefore the spiritual authority of Jesus

is an authority not found in a position or a title, but in a towel.”

Jesus was fully aware of Who He was in God, Where He was from and Where He was going.  He was not serving His disciples while waiting for God to bring Him into His ‘real’ ministry.  He didn’t wash feet while passing time before He got on with His studies at Seminary; waiting for His first call as pastor of a church.  But instead, service was at the heart of the life He was laying down for His friends.

A Problem in Serving:

We often want to serve in a more glorious way than just washing someone else s feet.  We can be in obedience to Jesus’ call to deny our mother and father, our home and our ‘stuff’, take up our cross and follow Jesus.  IF…self can be denied!

I heard a young husband once say, “Our marriage  has to be a fifty-fifty situation for it to succeed.”  Friend, if your marriage is going to be successful, it has to be 100/100 proposition to work.  You give 100 % and your new wife gives 100%.  By the way, that method never ceases in a Godly marriage. After 47 years of marriage, I need to remind myself of that percentage.

The Tenderness Towel In Marriage

Are you thinking about an up-coming marriage ceremony soon or perhaps the renewing of the marital vows?  This might be a great way to remind yourselves of denying you self in relationship.  Instead of two flames becoming one in the Unity Candle, the washing of each others feet can show your giving of 100%; a true servant’s heart with the tenderness of the towel.  Just a glancing thought.


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