Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

Matthew 15:1-2

“Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?” – Mark 7:1-5

Have you ever been told, “Cleanliness is next to godliness?” I know I heard it a lot as a boy trying to encourage me to clean up not only my hands but everything else about myself. I just wonder if everyone that ever said that to me thought about what they were saying and by what authority they said it. Because…

The phrase is not in the Bible.

Now, let me start by saying this. Wash your hands before you eat because it’s good hygiene. Bacteria and diseases spread quickly when we don’t keep our hands clean. In fact, the Israelites were probably saved from many plagues that destroyed other nations because they had laws for handling dead things and other laws for cleanliness in the book of Leviticus. So, wash you hands before you eat!

But know this, is does not make you more holy than someone else!

The Pharisees and other religious leaders had developed so many traditions to make themselves appear more holy than others that I doubt anyone could remember how to do anything. One of those “laws” was that you must ritually wash before meals in order to be holy. This idea was never taught in the Old Testament law. The religious leaders of the day created this statute and others so that they could present themselves as more holy than other people. This kind of will worship does nothing but make the person doing it feel better about themselves. None of these acts make a person more righteous or just so that they can be closer to God.

The Apostle Paul addresses these sorts of practices in very strong language:

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

Colossians 2:20-23

If we add anything to the word of God to make ourselves feel more holy then we are actually denying the need for a Savior. If we find ways to justify ourselves then we declare that we have no need for the justifying blood of Jesus. We may appear to be more righteous than others and feel better about ourselves. But the truth of the matter is this – without the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, no man can stand before a holy God.

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