Cleanliness—What Does It Really Mean?
BECAUSE of the shockingly unhygienic conditions in Europe and the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, missionaries of that period preached what might be termed “a doctrine of cleanliness.” This doctrine equated filth with sin, whereas cleanliness was said to bring one closer to God. Perhaps this is what made popular the axiom “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
This view was taken by the Salvation Army, founded by William and Catherine Booth. According to the book Health and Medicine in the Evangelical Tradition, one of their earliest slogans was: “Soap, Soup, and Salvation.” Then, when Louis Pasteur and others demonstrated beyond doubt the connection between illness and bacteria, it only added impetus to and a scientific basis for better public-health schemes.
Some of the immediate measures taken included not requiring a witness in court to kiss the Bible and abolishing the common drinking cup at schools and railway stations. Efforts were even made to replace the common chalice at religious services with individual cups. Yes, those early pioneers did seem to have considerable success in changing people’s attitudes toward cleanliness. So much so that one writer called the result “a love affair with cleanliness.”
This “love affair with cleanliness,” however, apparently was only skin deep. It was not long before enterprising merchants turned the humble soap into a beauty product. Clever advertisements led customers to believe that using certain personal hygiene products would give the user social status that others could only envy. Television perpetuates this fantasy. The successful and glamorous people featured in commercials and on soap operas are seldom seen cleaning the house, sweeping the yard, picking up trash, or cleaning up after their pet cats and dogs.
There also are those who reason that going out to work pays the bills, whereas housework or other cleaning chores are of no financial value. And as there is no monetary reward involved, why should they care for the environment? One result of this has been that some people today think that all there is to cleanliness is personal hygiene.
God’s View of Cleanliness
There is no doubt that those early efforts to teach cleanliness did help improve people’s living conditions. And rightly so, for cleanliness is a quality that belongs to and originated with the holy and clean God, Jehovah. He teaches us to benefit ourselves by becoming holy and clean in all our ways.—Isaiah 48:17; 1 Peter 1:15.
Jehovah God is exemplary in this respect. Cleanliness, as well as his other invisible qualities, is clearly seen in God’s visible creation. (Romans 1:20) We observe that the creation itself causes no lasting pollution. The earth with its many ecological cycles is a self-cleaning marvel, and it is designed for clean, healthful living. Such clean work could come only from a clean-minded Designer. We can deduce from this, therefore, that worshipers of God should be clean in all aspects of their life.
Four Aspects of Cleanness
The Bible identifies four aspects of cleanness that worshipers of God should strive for. Let us consider each of these.
Spiritual. This could be considered the most important cleanness of all because it has to do with a person’s prospects for everlasting life. However, this is often the most neglected aspect of cleanness. Simply put, to be spiritually clean means never to cross the line that God has drawn between true worship and false, for God views any type of false worship as unclean. The apostle Paul wrote: “‘Get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’” (2 Corinthians 6:17) The disciple James is also very specific in this respect: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: . . . to keep oneself without spot from the world.”—James 1:27.
God clearly demonstrated his disapproval of mixing false worship with his true worship. False worship often includes unclean practices and detestable idols and gods. (Jeremiah 32:35) Thus, true Christians are urged to shun any involvement with unclean worship.—1 Corinthians 10:20, 21; Revelation 18:4.
Moral. Here, too, God draws a clear line between what is clean and what is unclean. As a whole, the world has come to be as described at Ephesians 4:17-19: “They are in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God . . . Having come to be past all moral sense, they gave themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every sort with greediness.” Such immoral thinking expresses itself in many ways, overt and subtle, hence Christians need to be on guard.
Lovers of God know that prostitution, homosexuality, premarital sex, and pornography are violations of Jehovah’s standard of moral cleanness. However, expressions of these practices are commonplace in the entertainment and fashion world. Christians must therefore be on guard against such trends. Wearing skimpy, revealing clothes to Christian meetings or social gatherings draws unnecessary attention to the human body and shows a lapse of chasteness. Besides bringing unclean worldly thinking into the Christian association, dressing that way has the potential to create unclean thoughts in others. This is an area where Christians need to work hard at displaying “wisdom from above.”—James 3:17.
Mental. The secret recesses of one’s mind should not be a repository of unclean thoughts. Jesus warned against unclean thinking when he said: “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28; Mark 7:20-23) These words apply equally to viewing pornographic pictures and films, reading accounts of lewd sexual activities, and listening to suggestive lyrics of songs. Thus, Christians must avoid defiling themselves by entertaining unclean thoughts that could give rise to unclean, unholy speech and actions.—Matthew 12:34; 15:18.
Physical. Holiness and physical cleanliness are closely linked in the Bible. For example, Paul wrote: “Beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) True Christians, therefore, should strive to keep their body, home, and surroundings clean and tidy, as much as circumstances permit. Even where water for washing or bathing is in short supply, Christians should try to do the best they can to keep clean and presentable.
Physical cleanliness would also preclude the use of tobacco in any form, overindulgence in drinking alcohol, and any form of drug abuse, which befoul and damage the body. The shepherd described in The Song of Solomon appreciated the sweet fragrance of the Shulammite girl’s clothing. (Song of Solomon 4:11) Caring for our personal hygiene is a loving thing to do, as we want to avoid inflicting unpleasant odors on those around us. Perfumes and colognes may be pleasant, but they are no substitute for regular bathing and clean clothes.
Keeping a Balanced View
When it comes to physical cleanliness, people can go to extremes. On the one hand, being fanatic about cleanliness can rob us of the joy of living. It can also consume much precious time. On the other hand, dirty and unkempt homes may prove to be costly to repair. Between these extremes is the practical, sensible approach to keeping our home clean and presentable.
Keep it simple. Cluttered homes or rooms are difficult to clean, and dirt may not be so easily detected in such congested surroundings. Modest, uncluttered homes take less time to clean. A simple life-style is highly recommended in the Bible: “Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.”—1 Timothy 6:8.
Keep it tidy. A clean home is the responsibility of everybody living in it. Untidy homes often start out as untidy rooms. Tidiness means that everything is in its proper place. The place for soiled clothes, for example, should not be the bedroom floor. And more seriously, toys and tools left lying around are potentially dangerous. Many accidents in the home are due to untidy habits.
Clearly, cleanliness and the Christian way of life are inseparable. Concerning a godly way of life, the prophet Isaiah speaks of “the Way of Holiness.” And he adds the sobering thought that “the unclean one will not pass over it.” (Isaiah 35:8) Yes, cultivating good habits of cleanliness now gives strong evidence of our faith in God’s promise that he will soon establish a clean paradise earth. Then, in all parts of this beautiful planet, all people will glorify Jehovah God by complying fully with his perfect standards of cleanness.—Revelation 7:9.
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A clean home is the responsibility of everyone living in it
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The earth is a self-cleaning marvel