“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” 1 Timothy 5:9-10
Hmmm…washing the feet of the saints. How do I perform this good work? All of the other good works in this verse seem realistic and doable; but bathing a fellow-Christian’s dirty, smelly feet seems a little outlandish.
Actually, it’s really not all that peculiar. And most likely we are carrying out this good work already. All we need is an explanation of what foot-washing really means in order to know if we are fulfilling this task.
This is where biblical commentators can help us out, and Pastor John MacArthur does just that in his commentary on First Timothy (p. 208). He provides both the context and clarification for a widow having “washed the feet of the saints:”
That menial task was the duty of slaves. Since the roads were either dusty or muddy, guests entering a house had their feet washed. Paul does not necessarily mean that she actually did that herself each time. The menial task of washing the feet spoke metaphorically of humility (Jn. 13:5-17). The requirement, then, stresses that a widow have a humble servant’s heart. She gives her life in lowly service to those in need.
So, we see that “washing the feet of the saints” is a willingness to give ourselves to any menial task that would serve another Christian in need. It could be as simple as what my daughter Janelle did for my other daughter, Kristin, yesterday.
Because all of our husbands have been out-of-town this week at the Together for the Gospel conference, my daughters and I snatched some time “together for fun.” Yesterday morning, we took all of the children out for breakfast and to a park. At one point during our outing—while Kristin was taking Andrew to the restroom—Janelle noticed that Liam needed a diaper change. Now, this was no ordinary messy diaper. It was, shall we say, a blowout. Yet Janelle cheerfully did this dirty job to care for her sister.
I’m sure she thought nothing of it, but through this simple act Janelle was, in fact, “washing the feet of the saints.” That’s the idea behind this particular good work. It involves doing the humblest, most menial, and sometimes even downright dirty tasks in service of others. It could be making a bed for a person who is ill or scrubbing toilets for a woman with an extra-heavy workload, or changing a diaper to help out a mother with small children.
We should never think we are above doing these “foot-washing” kind of jobs. Neither should we underestimate their significance. Even the grubbiest of tasks are holy, if done for the glory of Jesus Christ. After all, didn’t our Savior Himself stoop to wash the feet of his disciples? We should consider it an honor to do dirty jobs for Him.