Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cleanliness and Godliness


All right…Bible Quiz time. Book chapter and verse for the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. Good luck…you aren’t going to find that one. It is funny how we get sayings in our heads that sound biblical, but they are nowhere to be found. And by the way, “confession is good for the soul,” likewise cannot be found. Yet, there are some principles found in the Word that are closely related to such statements...and this is where are going to focus our attention today. Holiness is a prominent theme in the book of Leviticus. God placed a high emphasis on this principle…and it is seen here in Leviticus 11-12. For the Jews, cleanliness and godliness were closely tied together. They were always cautious so that they would not become ceremonially unclean because of something they had touched or eaten. This was more than just simply health concern…it was their religion. Whether it was selecting food, preparing food, caring for a mother and new baby, diagnosing a disease, or disposing of waste…nothing was left to chance.

Someone might ask…how do these principles apply today? I am not certain that they all do, per se, but they lead us to a greater discussion concerning morality and spirituality that is relevant for us. Today, we live in a society that rejects moral absolutes and promotes a “fluid,” “humanistic” morality that isn’t really morality at all. The excuses for immorality are rampant in our current culture…to our detriment. A popular magazine writer or newspaper columnist can excuse and defend immorality…and be applauded for a skillful diagnosis. Why? “The heart is deceitful and beyond cure. Who can understand it”? (Jeremiah 17:9) People “love the darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). The traps of the world are numerous…how many are easily recognized and avoided…and how many others do people willing step right into -- it is a serious concern.

Working at being clean means, in part, avoiding that which is unclean…but also clinging to that which is clean, pure. When we consider Genesis 7, Noah knew clean animals from unclean. The tradition goes back to before Moses here in Leviticus. “Clean” and “unclean” had nothing to with the quality of the beast, but concerning what God said about the animal. The Lord has the health of His people in mind when giving these laws. It is easy to see certain hygienic reasons behind the regulations. It helps the Jews avoid sickness, contamination. But, the main purpose is to remind them that they belong to Him and that they are to remain undefiled.

There are four categories of creatures that Moses gives information about, whether clean or unclean – land animals (vv.1-8), water creatures (vv.9-12), fowl (vv.13-19), and flying insects (vv.20-25). In the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear to His disciples that all foods are clean (Mark 7:1ff). God teaches this lesson to Peter before He sends him to minister to the “unclean” Gentiles (Acts 10:9-16). (See also Romans 14:1ff). The emphasis here is avoiding defilement caused by touching certain dead creatures…both clean and unclean. If a person did become defiled, it was so until the end of the day. He or she would have to wash completely, including clothes, and could not enter the camp until sunset. If the Jewish people are going to keep themselves clean and pleasing to the Lord, they need to exercise discernment. They must respect and obey the message of the Lord. It was when Israel rejected His message and refused to obey it that His people began to follow the abominable practices of the heathen nations that led to their discipline and defeat. It is not any different in relationship to the church today. Being able to walk in love, distinguish between right and wrong are among the marks of spiritual maturity.

Considering chapter 12, God graciously makes provisions for the cleansing and restoration of anyone who might become defiled. In the case of childbirth, a mother would experience the loss of body fluids, which would make her ceremonially unclean. This is not about personal holiness…all is well with mom and baby…but it is about ritual purification in order that mom could return to normal life. Circumcision would follow for a baby boy…a special mark of the covenant God had with the people of Israel. This symbolizes the “spiritual surgery” God wants to perform on the human heart (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). Finally, after the birth of a son or daughter, the parents were required to go to the sanctuary and offer sacrifices for the mother’s cleansing, dedication to God. All of these regulations were to be closely followed for the good of the people

James Wilson shares this story about his friend Roger Williams III. He was sitting in the window seat on a plane and was looking forward to thumbing through a magazine on a short flight from Sacramento to attend a National Youth Ministry Conference in San Diego, CA. He’d fastened his seat belt, made sure his chair was in the full upright position, his tray table was locked and that his luggage was properly stowed when two well-dressed Ally McBeal look-a-likes sat down next to him. Their conversation competed for attention with his magazine. They talked about the club scene -- what they enjoyed drinking, who they were "dating," their intimate relationships with men…both single and married. Then it turned into a gripe session. "Why do guys have such a hard time committing?" One asked. "And why don’t they ever leave their wives like they promise to?" Another complained. They talked about work for a while, and about the time Williams was tuning out, one of them said, "But you know, if it wasn’t for church, my life would really be terrible." By now, Williams was only pretending to read his magazine, they had his full attention. "Wow, you go to church too. I know exactly how you feel. If it wasn’t for church, I don’t know where I’d be." "Yeah, I know what you mean," the other lady said, "if I miss more than two weeks of church everything in my life goes nuts." The plane started its descent into San Diego and everything got quiet, and Williams sat still…stunned by what he’d just heard. He concluded that worship, to these ladies, was simply a "religious fix."

This “Christian experience” is altogether too common in our current culture. Many times, people think that they can live however filthy that they want to live…and somehow that they can and will still be pleasing to God, Jesus Christ. This is truly self-deception at its worst. Many Christians do not live much different than the worldly society around them. It is easy for people to excuse sin, as if it is acceptable to some degree, when in fact it is an abomination that hurts the Lord, the church, as well as their own spirits, souls. God desires that we remain clean, as He commanded His people under the old covenant. Do we have all of the tedious regulations associated with cleanliness and godliness that they had to observe? No. But, the principle is simple – if we truly love the Lord, we are going to seek to be clean, pure, holy…and remain unstained by the world. If we are growing, maturing, we will identify that which is clean from that which is unclean…avoiding the impure and cling to that which is good, pure. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)

Blessings, Don

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