That’s In The Bible Somewhere…: Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness
I John 1:5-9
Last year, the folks at Good Housekeeping magazine created a handy list for their readers. It is a checklist of how often certain elements around the typical home should be cleaned. In the list, Good Housekeeping categorizes the grouping into items that need to be cleaned daily, weekly, monthly, once a quarter to twice a year and finally once a year. Their daily list includes chores such as making the bed, cleaning all of one’s dirty dishes and doing laundry. Those items for once a week include dusting the furniture, cleaning the microwave and mopping floors. In the monthly category are things like vacuuming the vents while once every quarter to twice a year includes cleaning the shower curtain liner and, get this, washing the car (Only twice a year for washing the car? Again, this is from Good Housekeeping we are talking about not MotorTrend). Finally, according to Good Housekeeping, once a year one should clean the fireplace and clean out the gutters. (“The Ultimate Cleaning Schedule for Your Day, Week, Month and Year”, Lauren Smith and Caroline Picard, March 22, 2019, Good Housekeeping)
Now, I think there are several conclusions that we can make here. First, we can affirm that we all have different opinions on the importance of cleanliness in general. Some of us are way too clean and others of us find a kindred spirit in Pig Pen of Charlie Brown and Peanuts fame. Second, I think we can say that we have different ideas about how often things need to be cleaned. Again some of us would move washing the car to the once a week category while others would move cleaning the shower curtain liner to the once a lifetime grouping if there was such an option. Finally, while we can come to some different conclusions about the list, I think we can also agree on at least one thing. To clean things is only to expect that they will get dirty again.
This is the nature of cleaning things is it not? To wash the car this afternoon, means to expect that it will get dirty again. To run the dishwasher last night and to unload it this morning means to expect it to be full again by tomorrow. As we all know, taking out the trash is an ongoing act. It never ends.
This is the spirit I think we take with us into a conversation about the phrase Cleanliness is next to Godliness as we seek to find the truth of the old statement as it relates to Holy Scripture. First, we can say that the phrase is not found in scripture in exactly this form. In other words, Cleanliness is next to Godliness is not a Bible verse from Proverbs. In fact, most experts think the statement originated in a sermon by John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, in the late 1700s. At the same time, we must also say that at least part of the idea behind the statement is indeed very Biblical and in fact there is much in our text for today that speaks to its Biblical foundation. (Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness, dictionary.com)
Simply and succinctly put, dirt and cleanliness are images in scripture of sin and forgiveness. In the Bible, what we learn is that God expects us to be serious about the sin of our life (hear the word dirt). God desires that we recognize our sin, confess our sin and try to move beyond it. Further, God invites us to understand that this is not a one time act. Yes, when we invite Christ into our lives, we confess our sins and we embrace God’s forgiveness and God’s grace which we cannot provide to ourselves (hear the word cleanse). Yet, the problem for the folks to whom I John was written was that they had convinced themselves that this was the end of the story. Now, they believed they were done with sin, confession and the battle with the temptations of life. Today, we don’t necessarily think we are ever done with sin, but, I do believe that we often ignore it and rationalize it.
In turn, Paul writes in I John 1:8 to say that we must be regularly aware of our sin. Further, in I John 1:9, Paul insinuates we must be in a regular mode of confessing, seeking forgiveness and here is the word, being cleansed. In turn, the truth of Cleanliness is next to Godliness is this – the housekeeping and cleansing of the soul is daily business for all believers that never ends. When cleaning house in our hearts and souls is a daily activity we are becoming more of who God wants us to be. If this is what we mean by saying Cleanliness is next to Godliness then we are on to something.
The question is can we affirm this idea with our lives? Can we reach a place where a part of our daily prayers include the act of heart and soul cleaning as we confess our sins, seek forgiveness and try to live better? Can we get serious not about the sins of others but about our own sin – naming them, owning up to them, seeking forgiveness for them and moving beyond them? Can we worry less about everyone else and worry more about ourselves by developing humility as people in need of cleaning, purifying and renewal?
When I was at the conference in Alaska on Harvester Island, our kitchen didn’t have a dishwasher or hot water. The water was first heated on the stove and then poured into the sink. Then all of the pots, pans and dishes for about 20 folks were washed by hand. Our group gave me a hard time because I became a bit of the de-facto dishwasher as the week went on. I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Even though others offered to wash, I enjoyed doing it. Part of the reason was that it is my job at home. I am used to it. It just came natural. It was already part of my routine.
That is what God is looking for in us I think. God is not looking for people who naturally wash the dishes, but, instead people who daily clean their hearts. Amen.