I remember when growing up in my parent’s home, my mother had very low tolerance for a dirty house. My mother was never in the military. But, I tell people all the time that mom Dorothy would have given most drill sergeants a run for their money in her younger years. She was one tough cookie.
Under the scrutiny of mom’s ever watching eye, the bed better be made up with those sheets pulled taut. The dirty dishes mustn’t remain in the sink too long. The floors should be swept first and then mopped. Here is one detail that speaks for itself. My mom would iron underwear. Who does that? Well, as it turns out, some actually say it’s healthy.
For my mom, cleaning was not an occasional process reserved for when company is coming. No. Cleaning is a lifestyle. One of which I believe she was quite proud. In fact, she was so good and efficient at cleaning that others hired her to come in and exert her mastery in their homes. Sometimes, I humorously thought my mom created the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness”. As it turns out, that phrase is first recorded in a sermon by the Methodism founder John Wesley in 1778. But, I’m pretty sure my mom does have a gospel of cleaning?
Growing up under my mom’s room meant one thing for sure. You would keep things clean to my mother’s standard, whether you liked it or not. After living in my mom’s house for eighteen years, I was very opinionated as to what a clean house looks like. Very few other houses that I saw were kept to mom Dorothy’s standard. Most others just don’t have that as their priority.
God’s Standard of Cleanliness in Marriage
When I think about a ‘clean’ standard for marriage, I think of my mom’s devotion to a clean house. God sets a high expectation as to how we should live our marriage. God challenges us husbands to love our spouse like He loves the church. He insists that wives show respect for their husbands. Best selling author, Dr. Emerson Eggerich’s captures this standard w
ith clarity in his book, Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs.
The Bible (Ephesians 5:25-31) shows us how this love-respect dynamic is the precursor to the “one flesh” standard to which God holds us. But, this type of love is more than saying ‘I love you’. God’s standard of love is for husbands to demonstrate greater care for their wives than for their own bodies. This type of love leaves everything behind to become one with one’s wife. Similarly, the respect that wives should show their husbands transcends the shallow ’submission’ upon which most of us focus. Rather, it is empowering his identity and his dreams.
This love-respect tandem fosters a sense of oneness that the Apostle Paul dubs a ‘profound mystery’ that helps us better understand Christ’s relationship with the church. The clean standard of Christian marriage is a mysterious and transcendent unity that propels the couple to transform everything in their path.
God wants the sheets of our marriage bed pulled tight. He wants the dust bunnies swept from every corner of our marriage. He wants the marital furniture polished so well that His reflection is clearly seen in them. He even wants us to iron the wrinkles out of the parts of the marriage that others may not see—“the underwear”, if you will. Maybe mom Dorothy was on to something with the whole underwear ironing thing.
The Failing of Our Humanity
Our efforts to meet God’s standard for marriage within our human capacity are badly failing. It’s practically impossible because the level of self-self-sacrifice is so high. It reminds me of Jesus’ chastisement of the Pharisees and Scribes who wrongly thought themselves righteous and living out a godly standard.
"Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:39-41).
It is not good enough to look good on the outside while excusing yourself of the love and respect needed for a godly marriage.
It is not good enough to have a better marriage than what you saw in your own parents.
It is not good enough to stay out of divorce court.
It is not good enough to have less fights than other couples that you know.
These are all good things. But, they are not even close to the standard that God is asking for your marriage. In far too many instances, our marriages are unacceptable offerings to God with dire consequences noted in Malachi (2:13), "You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.” I am convinced that many of our petitions to the Lord inside and outside of marriage are falling short of God’s ears because our marriage offering is unacceptable to Him.
May I encourage you to look under the bed, in the closets, and in the neglected corners of your marriage and ask yourselves whether there is any aspect of your marriage that is an unacceptable offering to God. Ask God to bring people in your marriage that will encourage purity without compromise. Then, when you know better, do better.
Without question, we all need grace in pursuing this godly standard. However, it always starts with the conviction to pursue God’s clean standard with the same dogged zeal that mom Dorothy pursued that clean house. In marriage, cleanliness is not for special occasions. Clean is a lifestyle. Listen to how this Christian ministry couple had to clean house.