Question: Where does the Bible say, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” and just how does it apply?
Answer: It doesn’t. This is the easiest question I have had and there is the direct, simple answer. The Bible just plainly does not say that, as far as I know, but this will come as a shock to some folks who have heard that quoted for Scripture all their lives, as I have myself. I do not quote it as Scripture myself because I could never find it, but I hear it quoted every now and then.
Since the question is presented and the door is open, I think I would like to make a few comments on this point. The question raises an important point whether or not the Bible spells it out that way.
God was very particular and specific in His instructions regarding cleanliness throughout the Old Testament. In the cases of the sin offering for ignorance (Leviticus 4:12), and the burnt offering (Leviticus 6:11), it is specified that after all the parts of the bullock were removed which were to be burned on the altar, all the remains were to be carried forth without the camp “unto a clean place,” and burned there. God did not allow them to burn even the refuse of His offerings which were not acceptable on the altar out in a garbage dump some place, but in a place that was kept clean and maintained for that purpose. In Leviticus 11:29-47, is an extensive discussion of unclean beasts, fowls, etc., and in verse 33, it is said, “And every earthen vessel, whereinto any of them falleth, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean; and ye shall break it.” That vessel could never be cleansed sufficiently for use any more. In Isaiah 66:20, it says that the children of Israel were to bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord. In Numbers 19:1-10, the water of separation and the sacrifice for providing it is discussed and in verse 9, we read, “…A man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place,…” Verse 10 says that the man who gathered the ashes had to wash his clothes and be considered unclean until the even.
There is much teaching in the Old Testament regarding cleanliness which is ceremonial, ritualistic, and typical of spiritual cleanliness and holy living. But all of the above texts refer clearly to physical and material cleanliness: the washing of the body, clothes, and a clean place to burn the refuse parts of the sin and burnt offerings and to store the ashes, etc. These things were all sacred to God and He required the proper care of the entire sacrifice, even the refuse parts of it, in a clean and properly prepared and maintained place.
Now let us make no mistake about it. Malachi 3:6 tells us that God changes not. Therefore, we must conclude that God still appreciates and requires cleanliness. Just as those sacrifices of old were sacred and holy unto the Lord and He required all of them to be taken care of in a clean and proper manner, so are our bodies and all that pertains to them (all the material appurtenances thereto; the houses we live in and the surrounding premises, etc.), are sacred and holy unto the Lord (I Corinthians 6:15, 19-20; I Corinthians 3:16), and He requires the proper care of them for His glory.
Titus 2:5 teaches us that young married women should be “…keepers at home,…that the word of God be not blasphemed.” In I Timothy 5:14, they are instructed that they “…bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” Both of these texts speak specifically of the adversary speaking reproachfully and the Word of God being blasphemed in direct reference to the way the wife and mother takes care of her home and children. God requires something of us in this area of our lives.
One man said that he could always tell what kind of people lived in a house by the appearance of the yard and the premises on the outside. If the yard was all littered with papers, debris, and the like, you would not expect to find a very orderly house and people inside. Disorderly and unkept houses and children have sometimes brought strong reproach upon a Christian’s profession. Littered houses, unmade beds, unwashed dishes and unkept children have sometimes nullified people’s testimonies for Christ. The enemy takes great advantage of these things and cashes in on them to bring reproach upon the Christian profession and to blaspheme God’s Word and God’s people. And God cannot prevent it because it is contrary to His plan for His people. His approval is not upon it and there is no way He can justify it and defend the people involved.
In the over-all picture, the Bible teaches that a husband should provide and properly maintain a house and all the necessary things of life for his wife and children. Then it teaches that the wife and mother should make it “home.” This is the responsibility of the one designated as the “keeper at home” to make that house a livable, comfortable, and attractive place to live; something that is inviting for the children and husband to come home to when the day’s activities are finished. The more attractive she can make it for her husband and children, the better it will be.
No man, who has been out battling the odds that are against him on his job or in his business all day long, enjoys coming home to a cluttered, unkept house with unwashed dishes in the sink, beds not made, and looking like a disaster. He is looking for a haven of comfort, love, and understanding at the end of a difficult day and would like to find it in his home and with his family.
Evelyn told of going one time some years back with her family on a camping trip to Big Bear Lake Recreation Area which is east of Los Angeles. There were several families and couples camped there and one single man. This lone man spent a lot of time going among the other campers, talking religion to them and giving them tracts, etc. The campers said amongst themselves, “We will just watch and see how he leaves his campsite when he leaves.” Sure enough, when he was ready to leave, he just loaded up and left, leaving his campsite all cluttered and littered with papers, scraps of food, etc., for someone else to clean up. All this man’s influence, from all the commendable work he had done, was nullified because of the way he left his campsite. This same thing happens over and over again in camps, in get-togethers, at public or general dinners, in homes, and premises not properly cared for and in order.
The same thing applies to personal hygiene also. We all should be diligent to keep our bodies and the bodies of our children bathed regularly. We should have our clothes washed and clean clothes ready for everybody when needed.