Volume 12, Issue 2: Husbandry
Next to Godliness
We should all know by now that "cleanliness is next to godliness" is not in the Bible. (And neither is "a stitch in time saves nine.")
But although these exact words about cleanliness are not in the Bible, the concept most certainly is. In fact, the case could be stated even more strongly than our proverb puts it. Next to? Godliness necessitates cleanliness.
Of course, before pursuing the point, the fundamental qualification must be made. The fact that cleanliness is a fruit of godliness does not make it possible for us to attain godliness through getting out the scrub brushes. At the same time, when godliness is bestowed through the kindness of God, one of the results will be physical cleanliness.
First, it is not commonly understood that the sacrificial system of Israel was probably the basis for the manufacturing of soap. When the heifer was burned on the altar (Num. 19:5), it was burned along with cedar wood (v. 6). We have here two essential ingredients of soap-wood ash and tallow. The ashes of the heifer were then taken outside the camp for use in the waters of cleansing or separation (v. 9). That this is not mere speculation is seen in the New Testament. "For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ . . ?" (Heb. 9:13-14). Physical cleanliness was a type of forgiveness used throughout the Old Testament.
We may also note that if a deaf and dumb spirit makes a man deaf and dumb, what does a foul or unclean spirit do to a man? It makes him foul and unclean (Matt. 10:1; 12:43).
We may conclude from this that if a man or woman lives in a grimy or unclean condition, or in grimy and unclean surroundings, that person has a spiritual problem. Of course, the problem cannot be addressed through cleaning the outside of the cup-but neither was Jesus recommending cleaning the inside of the cup and leaving the outside gross.
Having made these points, it is necessary to bring it to the point of application. The issue here is what a husband needs to understand if his wife is not applying herself to cleaning the house the way she ought to do. Of course, this is not to say that this is the only application; only that it is one of the important ones. What a wife can do if her husband is the slovenly one is a separate topic for another time. The issue here is how a husband can lead and help his wife if she struggles in this area. The Bible calls wives to be domestic (Tit. 2:5), and thorough cleaning is part of this.
The problem is not in the hands, but in the heart and mind. Women who do not clean properly will often obscure the issue to themselves through various forms of confusion and self-deception.
First, tidiness is not the same thing as cleanliness. "Picking up" is not the same thing as cleaning. A clean house with the evening newspaper on the floor is in far better shape than a house with newspapers and magazines hastily stacked up, with grime steadily accumulating in all the corners. Second, on a related point, closet organizers, stacking bins and boxes will not do the hard work of cleaning. Women who have difficulty cleaning will often think that "if only" they buy this or that product, everything will be so much easier. Various organizers are a help, but only to the industrious.
A third excuse appeals to a lack of money-poverty. There is such a thing as a noble poverty, but there is no such thing as noble squalor. Soap is cheap, and water is almost free.
A fourth excuse is more understandable in one sense, but even less excusable in another. When a family is growing, little ones make a mess. Diapers, muddy shoes, and spaghetti all over everything the cost of doing business. If a mom was a marginal housekeeper to begin with, children can really put her under. All this is regrettable, but far from providing a standing excuse, children should provide the greatest possible incentive for getting on top of this problem. Children who grow up dirty will come to think of their surroundings as normal, and they will not understand the biblical importance of personal and cultural cleanliness. The prodigal son, when he was slopping the hogs, was able to distinguish between that environment and how it was back home. Some children, growing up in some homes, would have felt right at home.
For those who struggle with this temptation, it has to be said that there is no easy way of dealing with it. What has to happen is a complete restructuring of priorities. The solution is hard to do, but simple to understand. It is this: clean first. Here it is: clean before rest, clean before sleep, clean before leaving, before visiting. Clean first.