Cleanliness—Why Is It Important?
For thousands of years, plagues and pestilences have afflicted mankind. Some people assumed that these were a sign of the wrath of God and were sent to punish wrongdoers. Patient observation and painstaking research over many centuries have revealed that the culprits were often small creatures that live alongside us.
Medical researchers discovered that rats, mice, cockroaches, flies, and mosquitoes can all serve as hosts for transmitting disease. They also found that people often invite infectious diseases simply by a lack of hygiene. Cleanliness, it seems, can make the difference between life and death.
Obviously, standards of cleanliness vary according to customs and circumstances. In areas where there is no running water or adequate sewage disposal, hygiene can be a real challenge. Nevertheless, God gave the ancient Israelites instructions on cleanliness while they were traveling through the wilderness—some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable for practicing good hygiene!
Why does cleanliness matter to God? What is a reasonable view of cleanliness? What simple precautions can you and your family take to reduce disease?
SCHOOL is over, and little Max,* who lives in Cameroon, arrives back home. Hungry and thirsty, he enters the humble home where he lives, gives his waiting dog a hug, puts his schoolbag on the dining-room table, sits down, and eagerly waits for his food.
Mother, who is in the kitchen, hears Max come in and brings a plate of hot rice and beans for him. But her expression changes when she sees his schoolbag on the clean table. She looks at her son and slowly utters one single word, “Maaaax!” Her son understands, quickly takes the bag away, and rushes out to wash his hands. Soon he returns for his long-awaited meal. “Sorry, Mum. I forgot,” he mumbles guiltily.
A caring mother can do a lot when it comes to health and cleanliness, although she needs the cooperation of all members of her household. As the account about Max illustrates, long-term training is necessary because cleanliness requires tireless effort and children need constant reminders.
Max’s mother realizes that food can get contaminated in various ways. So she not only washes her own hands carefully before handling food but also keeps food covered to prevent contamination by flies. By making sure that food does not sit unprotected and by keeping the house neat and clean, she has few problems with rats, mice, and cockroaches.
One important reason Max’s mother takes such care is that she wants to please God. “The Bible says that God’s people must be holy because God is holy,” she explains. (1 Peter 1:16) “Holiness is similar to cleanliness,” she adds. “So I want my home to be clean, and I want my family to look clean. Of course, this is possible only because everyone in the family helps.”
Family Cooperation Essential
As Max’s mother observes, family hygiene is a family project. From time to time, some families sit down together to discuss what their needs are and what improvements can be made, both inside and outside the home. This also serves to unite the family and to remind each one of his or her share in caring for the welfare of all. For example, Mother may explain to the older children why they must wash their hands after using the toilet and handling things like money and before eating. They, in turn, can make sure that the younger ones take the matter seriously.
Different chores could be divided among all in the family. The family may decide to clean the house regularly each week and to schedule a thorough cleaning once or twice a year. And how about outside the house? Conservationist Stewart L. Udall, referring to the United States, said: “We live in a land of vanishing beauty, of increasing ugliness, of shrinking open space, and of an overall environment that is diminished daily by pollution and noise and blight.”
Do you have the same impression of your surroundings? In the old days and in some towns in Central Africa even today, a town crier rings a bell in order to get people’s attention. In a loud voice, he reminds the citizens to clean up the town, empty the sewer (drainage or gutters), trim the trees, pull out the weeds, and take care of the garbage.
The disposal of garbage is a worldwide problem and a nightmare for many authorities. Some municipalities fall behind in collecting garbage, which then piles up in the streets. Local citizens may be invited to help. As good citizens, Christians are among the first to respond and comply with Caesar’s laws without complaining. (Romans 13:3, 5-7) True Christians are willing to go the extra mile to make a contribution in this regard. They are interested in a clean environment and take the initiative in cleaning up, not always needing a town crier to remind them. They understand that cleanliness is a reflection of good training and responsible behavior. It starts with each individual and each family. Simple application of sanitation and cleanliness around the house will lead to better health as well as improve the overall appearance of the neighborhood.
Personal Cleanliness Honors the God Whom We Worship
Clean and dignified personal appearance is a reflection of our worship and often attracts attention. A group of about 15 young men and women entered a restaurant after attending a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Toulouse, France. An elderly couple at the table next to them expected the worst—noisy talking and heckling. However, they were impressed by the orderly conduct and pleasant conversation of these nicely dressed young people. When the group was ready to leave, the couple commended them for their fine behavior and told one of the young men that such exemplary conduct is rare these days.
Visitors to the branch offices, printeries, and residence facilities of Jehovah’s Witnesses are often impressed by the cleanliness they see there. Clean clothes and regular washing and showering are requirements for the volunteers who work and live at these places. Deodorants and perfumes cannot take the place of good bodily hygiene. When these volunteers, who are full-time ministers, preach to their neighbors in the evenings or on weekends, their clean appearance also reflects favorably on the message they bear.
“Become Imitators of God”
Christians are urged to “become imitators of God.” (Ephesians 5:1) The prophet Isaiah recorded a vision in which angels described the Creator with the words “Holy, holy, holy.” (Isaiah 6:3) This description emphasizes God’s superlative purity and cleanness. That being the case, God requires that all his servants be holy, clean. “You must be holy, because I am holy,” he tells them.—1 Peter 1:16.
The Bible encourages Christians to “dress in becoming manner.” (1 Timothy 2:9, The New English Bible) Not surprisingly, in the book of Revelation, “bright, clean, fine linen” is said to represent the righteous acts of ones whom God considers holy. (Revelation 19:8) On the other hand, sin is often illustrated in the Scriptures by a stain or by dirt.—Proverbs 15:26; Isaiah 1:16; James 1:27.
Today, millions of people have to live in areas where it is a constant struggle to keep physically, morally, and spiritually clean. The final solution to this problem will come when God ‘makes all things new.’ (Revelation 21:5) When that promise is fulfilled, filth and uncleanliness of all sorts will disappear forever.
Name has been changed.
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God Requires Cleanliness
During their wilderness trek, the Israelites were instructed to take great care when disposing of human waste. (Deuteronomy 23:12-14) This must have been a tiresome chore in view of the size of the camp, but it doubtless helped prevent such diseases as typhoid fever and cholera.
The people were commanded to wash or destroy any item that came in contact with a dead body. Though they might not have understood the reason for this, the Israelites were thus helped to avoid infection and disease.—Leviticus 11:32-38.
The priests were to wash both their hands and their feet before performing their duties at the tabernacle. Filling the copper basin that contained the water for this purpose could not have been easy, but washing was a strict requirement.—Exodus 30:17-21.
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Reminders From a Medical Doctor
Water is essential to life, but contaminated water can be the source of sickness and death. Dr. J. Mbangue Lobe, chief of the medical department at the port of Douala, Cameroon, offered some practical pointers in an interview.
“Boil your drinking water when in doubt.” But he warned: “The use of bleach or other chemicals are all right but may be hazardous if not handled properly. Always wash your hands with soap and water before a meal and after using the toilet. A bar of soap does not cost a fortune, so even poor people can afford it. Wash your clothes often, using hot water if you have skin problems or diseases.”
“Good hygiene in and around the house must be observed by all members of the family,” continued the doctor. “Toilets and outhouses are often neglected and automatically become a haven for roaches and flies.” Adding one important observation concerning children, he cautioned: “Beware of bathing in those small creeks in your neighborhood. They are full of dangerous microbes. Wash nightly at home before going to bed, brush your teeth well at night, and sleep under a mosquito net.” The general idea behind all these remarks is to think ahead, take action, and avoid trouble.
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Washing your clothes helps prevent skin problems and disease
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Christians take the initiative to clean up their surroundings
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A caring mother can do much when it comes to the cleanliness of her household