“Free from foreign matter or pollution” is one dictionary’s explanation of the word “clean”. Another states that clean is to be “free from dirt or filth”.
Clean can mean other things depending on the context in which it is used. If I were selling some object through an online auction, I might say it is “clean”, but I might also say that it is “new in its original box” to further emphasize that the object is in tip-top condition. Why? Once we take something out of it’s original wrapper, it gets dirty, scratched or smudged from handling and even the gentlest use. I mention this for a reason: the Oxford English Dictionary and most scholars state that sincerity from sincere is derived from the Latin sincerus meaning clean, pure, sound. Some have explained that sincere is derived from the Latin sine = without, cera = wax. According to one popular explanation, dishonest sculptors in Rome or Greece would cover flaws in their work with wax to deceive the viewer; therefore, a sculpture “without wax” would mean honesty in its perfection – it was pure or clean.
In a different context, clean could be used to describe an act done in an error free manner. As in “his skateboard trick was clean”. This connection between “clean” and “authentic or sincere” actions and deeds should weigh heavily on a scout: this is a start to defining “integrity” for our personal responsibilities and leadership. Because a scout is clean (and trustworthy, et.al.) he should “say what he means and mean what he says” and follow through with authentic care and concern.
In checking the online “Urban Dictionary” I learned some other ways the word clean might be used. It can mean that someone or something is attractive (as in “his new bike was really clean“); or that someone has stopped abusing drugs (as in “I’ve been clean for three weeks”). Another definition was of a song that has been pruned of all foul language and references to sex or drugs (as in “I downloaded the clean mix of that song”).
A phrase “…to come clean…” means to confess and in that context clean could also mean innocent or pure.
The Boy Scout Handbook (from 1911) offers these words to explain bravery; “A SCOUT IS CLEAN. He keeps clean in body and thought, stands for clean speech, clean sport, clean habits, and travels with a clean crowd.” The more recent wording is “A Scout keeps his body and mind fit. He chooses the company of those who live by high standards. He helps keep his home and community clean.”
From this description, we can also see that being clean starts with each of us, but it also has to do with our relationships and associations. “Hanging” with the “wrong crowd” can get us into trouble – can make us dirty by way of foul language, crude jokes, and bad behavior.
In the Bible, there’s plenty said about what is clean and what isn’t. [NOTE: you don’t have to be a “Christian” to be a scout; however, in our troop, our participating families share a common Christian faith and we look to see how Scouting’s ideals parallel what we believe in our spiritual faith]
Much of this discussion has to do with being “ceremonially clean” and eating only certain types of food. During the old testament times, this was part of how people had to live to protect themselves from disease, and to be able to live in harmony with God. Cleansing was also an outward sign of changing one’s inward thoughts and attitudes – to “come clean” meant to change our ways back to what is righteous and pleasing to God (ie. Isaiah chapter 1 provides a study on the contrast between sinful rebelion transitioning to proper reverence of God through the act of being cleansed (verse 16).
The eleventh point of the Scout Law is that a scout IS clean. The key word of the sentence is, literally “IS”. We don’t say “will try to be”, or “will work at being” clean, we say “IS” clean. The idea is that our behavior is sincere not faked. In Matthew 23:25-28, Jesus is calling out religious leaders who are more concerned about “appearing to be clean” by following rules, but have not behaved in a clean manner towards others. It says; “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” This passage also indicates that being clean wouldn’t include greed or self-indulgence. When we only care about ourselves, or how we appear to others, it would be easy to fail to help others for fear of being seen as dirty. Sometimes people who don’t look clean need our help the most.
Consider the story of the “good Samaritan” found in Luke chapter 10, verses 25 thru 37. In that parable, a traveler was attacked by robbers and left for dead. Several other travelers passed by the man on the other side of the road – not wanting to get dirty by getting involved. The Samaritan wasn’t concerned for his own appearance or reputation – he recognized the immediate physical suffering of the hurt man. He took action by providing “first aid” and then used his donkey to carry the hurt man to a nearby inn where he paid the innkeeper to look after the hurt traveler.
Each point of the scout law works together. We need to be ready to take action and “get dirty” to do tough, but valuable or noble work. Mike Rowe is an Eagle Scout, and the star of a TV series called “Dirty Jobs”. In this show, Mike profiles some of the ugliest jobs on the planet – situations where you can’t help but get filthy while doing the task at hand. At the National Scout Jamboree, he said; “Let’s agree, a Scout is clean… but not afraid to get dirty.” Although he may have meant something else, his quote makes me think of the good Samaritan – willing to get dirty when needed for a good work.
When we get physically dirty, it’s pretty easy to get clean. When we get mentally, emotionally, or spiritually dirty it’s not so easy to clean up. Our thoughts and actions stain us and the people around us with a smear of residual guilt or hurt. Additionally, when we get dirty in this way, how would we appear to God? Would He call us clean or dirty?
You see, we’ve sinned against Him – we’ve broken His commandments – and became “dirty”. He loves us despite our lack of cleanliness. In the bible, it says:
- Romans 3:23 – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
- Proverbs 20:9 – “Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?
- Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
- Ephesians 1:7 – “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”
So, we’ve gotten dirty through disobedience, but because God has made a way for us to get clean, we can be forgiven if we confess our sins to Him, and then change our ways, learn from our mistakes and place our trust in Him.
Each and every day, we need to think about how we act towards other people, and how we approach God’s directions for our lives. We know that we may sin, but God has a plan for us to deal with that sin.
Think about and try to practice all the aspects of being clean (physically, mentally, through relationships and by being willing to “get dirty” for a good work), and you’re on that road to honoring that point of the Scout Law. If you still have questions, talk to your parents about it!