Strong Humility

Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you” (John 13:10–12, esv)?

Question: Did Judas get his feet washed?

Answer: Yes. Jesus washed Judas’s feet. There’s no indication in the story that Judas didn’t get his feet washed. In fact, the text makes it clear that Judas was present during the foot washing. (Jesus exposed Judas and then dismissed him in 13:27–30.) So Judas and his dirty feet and unclean heart were still there when Jesus donned servant garb and knelt before His disciples.

Imagine what that must have been like. Jesus knew. Judas was starting to know that He knew. Jesus knelt before His betrayer and washed his dirty feet. I would have found it understandable if Jesus took a pass on Judas’s feet. I would lose no respect for Jesus if He’d dismissed Judas from the room before the foot washing began. Jesus could have reasoned, Judas is going outside now anyway. His feet will be dirty again in five minutes. Instead He made a point to wash Judas’s feet.

Was this a moment of weakness on Jesus’ part? Was He afraid of the conflict? Of course not! As we see so clearly in Jesus’ actions, humility is not weakness. Someone once said, “If you think meek means weak, try being meek for a week.” Meekness is not weakness.

Jesus is never weak. At that moment, He could have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world and to set Him free. Instead we see Him stooping, washing the disciples’ feet. He is in total control. All of that power concentrated in a conscious act of humility, which teaches us three things about humility:

Humility is not groveling. “Oh, please, please, please love me. I beg you. I’m just scum. My life is not complete without you.” Never overdo humility—or warp it so that it’s no longer humility. Jesus washed their feet; He didn’t lick their feet. There’s a limit here. If you’re destroying the servant of God for the sake of the service, that’s not honoring God, and that’s not humility.

Humility is not enabling. Let’s not mix these up. Think about the woman who’s dealing with an alcoholic husband. Every Saturday afternoon, he picks up a six-pack, and by 9:00 that night, he’s sloppy drunk and cursing his family. If he calls his wife at 4:00 and asks her to pick up his beers on her way home, she doesn’t need to say yes because she thinks that’s a humble response. That’s not humbling herself—that’s enabling him. You never have to help someone sin. That’s not humility.

Humility is not manipulating. Jesus didn’t wash Judas’s feet and then look around for the disciples’ adoring response. He didn’t think, I’m washing my betrayer’s feet. This has to be blowing them away. No, Jesus didn’t humble Himself as a means to an end. Nor did He try to manipulate Judas. He didn’t say, “Are you still planning to betray Me? Don’t you feel stupid now?” That would have been manipulation. Jesus demonstrated pure humility. He didn’t demand an immediate outcome, like “I humbled myself; now where’s your humility?” You’ve ‘humbled’ yourself for the wrong reasons if you quickly revert to pride when you don’t get the results you wanted. That’s false humility, and it’s a fail.

As usual, Jesus did this perfectly, and He showed us how strong true humility is. Let’s dispense with these false notions of humility and embrace the Lord’s example.

“Do you understand what I have done to you?” Jesus asked after He had finished. Do we get it? Following His’ example, we must humble ourselves and serve—which is an ultimate act of strength.


  • Why do we sometimes perceive humility as weakness?
  • “Do you understand?” Jesus asked. In your own words, what was Jesus teaching His disciples? And how can you apply that in your own life today?

Lord God, renew my mind. Give me a clear understanding of humility, as modeled by my Lord and Teacher, Jesus Christ. Jesus restrained His power, and as an ultimate act of strength, He humbled Himself and served. I admit it, Lord—that’s hard for me. Help me to understand Jesus’ lesson for me, and help me to do it. If Jesus could get low and serve, so should I. I humble myself before You and pray in the name of Your Son, Jesus, amen.