Summary: God’s desire is that we be holy and pure. Soap is good for cleansing the outside of the body, but doesn’t get below the skin into the heart.
This message is the first in a series I’m calling “No, that’s NOT in the Bible.” There are dozens of popular sayings floating around that people think are from the Bible and they’re not. There is a great deal of biblical illiteracy in the pews of our churches. Here is a top ten list of signs that you may not be reading your Bible enough:
10. You think the “epistles” were the wives of the “apostles.”
9. You think the Minor Prophets worked underground extracting coal.
8. You think Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
7. Your favorite Old Testament hero is Hercules.
6. You think Abraham, Isaac & Jacob were a rock group from the 1960s.
5. You find the book of Micah and a WWII savings bond falls out.
4. You’re frustrated when you can’t find Charlton Heston in the Concordance.
3. You catch your teenager reading the Song of Solomon and demand, “Who gave you that trash?”
2. You tell your kids the story of “Jonah the shepherd boy and his ark of many colors.”
1. You think the verse “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” is found in the book of I Impressions.
Since this is the title of the first message in this series you probably realize the expression “cleanliness is next to godliness” doesn’t appear in the Bible at all. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at several more of these aphorisms mistakenly attributed to the Bible. For instance, next week, we’ll learn the Bible doesn’t say, “Spare the rod; spoil the child.”
The phrase “Cleanliness is next to godliness” was probably a Hebrew proverb that had been around for many centuries, but it first appeared in a printed sermon entitled “On Dress” by John Wesley in 1769. Wesley said, “Slovenliness is no part of religion…Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.”
My wife, Cindy, is so obsessed with cleanliness that the only parts of our home that don’t stay clean are my desk and my side of the bathroom! She is so clean-minded that before we can leave on a trip, she has to make sure everything is left spotlessly clean. That’s in case if we are killed on the trip she doesn’t want people to come over to our home and find it dirty. I’ve often said she is so clean-conscious I once got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and when I came back the bed was made! Not really–but she believes “cleanliness is next to godliness” should be in the Bible.
Today, studies have shown the majority of Americans believe this phrase is in the Bible–and it isn’t. Every time I hear it I think of the man who came to me years ago to tell me he was divorcing his wife. One of the reasons he was leaving her was because she was a messy housekeeper. To justify his decision he said to me, “Like the Bible says, ‘Cleanliness is godliness,’ and my wife is a slob.” He didn’t like it very much when I told him the phrase wasn’t in the Bible! He left her anyway. What you don’t know in the Bible can hurt you, so let’s see what the Bible says about “being clean.” First let’s notice that:
I. THE OLD TESTAMENT TAUGHT THAT ONE MUST AVOID DEFILEMENT
In the books of Leviticus and Numbers, God gave the Jews many laws about the importance of being both ceremonially and physically clean. To be unclean was to be “defiled.” God gave them directions about certain foods that were clean and unclean. Many of these rules were precautions God gave to keep the Hebrews from getting sick. For instance, God told the Jews not to eat pork. We know today pigs are susceptible to bacteria like trichinosis, and undercooked pork can be dangerous to consume. Another example of this is found in God’s prohibition about touching dead bodies. Today, we know infectious diseases can sometimes be spread from corpses, so God gave them some clear directions about hygiene. Numbers 19:17-19 says, “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over then. Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were here. He must also sprinkle anyone has touched a human bone or a grave or someone who has been killed or someone who has died a natural death. The man who is clean is to sprinkle the unclean person on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify him. The person being cleansed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and that evening he will be clean.”