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Bible studies

Bible studies from Encouraging good hygiene and sanitation – a Pillars guide

Group discussion guide with 12 Bible studies about cleanliness

2005 Available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese

Close-up photo from above of children washing their hands under a tap

Children wash their hands at a water point in Kerara Edo Primary and Junior School in Kuyera town, Ethiopia. Photo: Will Boase Photography

Pillars magazines on a desk

From: Pillars guides

Practical, discussion-based learning on community development for small groups

These Bible studies are designed to use in small groups. They may provide a useful introduction to a meeting where different topics from the Guide are being discussed. Choose a study that will be linked to the topic you plan to study or that is relevant to your situation. During the studies, encourage people to think about what they read, to discuss the meaning and the implications of what they learn and, finally, to pray together about what they have learnt.

BIBLE STUDY 1: Water for life

The Bible has over 300 references to water and another 80 on rain.

  • Which is the first verse that comes to your mind when you think about water?

The Bible looks at water in many different ways, using it as a symbol of blessing (Jeremiah 17:8), cleansing (Exodus 30:18), spiritual need (Psalm 42), and even destruction (Genesis 6-9).

Read Deuteronomy 28:12 and Psalm 65:9.

  • What is the Bible saying here about our need for water?
  • What does it say about God’s provision for our spiritual needs?

BIBLE STUDY 2: Spiritual cleansing

In the early chapters of Leviticus we learn of many rituals that people used to cleanse themselves from anything unclean. They typically would do this before putting on sacred garments or entering sacred spaces (Leviticus 16:4, 16:24 and Leviticus 17:15).

Read Psalm 24:3-4.

  • Take a few moments to reflect on our need to be made whole, and the sacrifice Jesus made to cleanse us and restore our relationship with God. 
  • Reflect on how Jesus treated anyone considered ‘unclean’ or unworthy, during his ministry. What does Jesus’ attitude towards them (Mark 8:3, Mark 2:13-17) say about how God views people who were considered unclean?

Read Isaiah 41:17 and reflect on God’s promises to us.

Pray and consider God’s provision of water and its symbolic meaning.

BIBLE STUDY 3: Water as a symbol of blessing

In the Bible, water is used as a symbol to show several different aspects of God’s power. It can be used as a symbol of cleansing, as seen in the ceremonial washings of the Old Testament sacrificial system (for example: Exodus 30:18-21). It can be used as a symbol of destruction, as seen with flooding (Genesis 6-9:17). But the most common use of water is as a symbol of blessing.

One of the many passages in the Bible which uses water to symbolise blessing is Isaiah 35. Much of the book of Isaiah concerns Isaiah’s prophecies of God’s judgement on the sins of the people. But, this chapter also looks ahead to God’s glorious promises to those who trust him.

Read Isaiah 35:1-7.

  • Why did the desert suddenly burst forth with joy?
  • What were the signs of this joy – both in the desert, and in the lives of those who believe?

Read Isaiah 35:8-10.

The highway is God’s path for us – the path which leads to eternal life. Remember that Isaiah wrote this prophecy hundreds of years before the coming of Christ.

  • What signs are there in your life of the joy of trusting in God?
  • Can you think of a moment where joy ‘burst forth’ within you?

Pray that as the desert brought forth streams and springs of water because of God’s presence, we also will be filled with the joy of believing and trusting in God.

BIBLE STUDY 4: Sanitation

Read Deuteronomy 23:12-14.

There is very little teaching in the Bible about sanitation, apart from these verses where the Israelites were given clear instructions thousands of years ago. Today, however, a huge number of people still live without sustainable access to clean water and good sanitation.

  • What responsibility do we have to ensure that everyone has adequate sanitation today?

Verse 14 talks about how this command was given to keep the camp holy, but the practice would also have kept the camp healthy. God was aware of the need for good sanitation long before people understood about the diseases caused by poor sanitation. 

  • How much do our sanitation practices and personal hygiene show that we care about our own health and the health of our families? 
  • How does our way of life cause others to suffer illness because of a lack of hygiene in and around our homes?

BIBLE STUDY 5: The Bible’s teaching on hygiene

The Bible’s main teaching about physical cleanliness appears in Leviticus 11-15. Some of the rules may seem strange and harsh to us. However, our modern understanding of how many diseases are transmitted shows other rules to be very sensible.

Read Leviticus 11:32-40 and 13:29-59.

The Old Testament emphasises the need for isolation and washing to prevent and stave off infections and diseases. Even today, we understand that the transmission of diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis through blood and bodily fluids show clearly the need for care and good sanitation. 

Read Philippians 2:4.

  • What impact do our lives and hygiene practices have on others?
  • How can we ensure that we consider the needs and interests of others first in terms of hygiene or cultural practices?
  • Are others put at risk by our own poor hygiene? How can we show Christlikeness in our care for good hygiene? ? (Philippians 2:4)

BIBLE STUDY 6: Holiness in practice

Read Leviticus 19:1-18.

The command to ‘love your neighbour’ first appears in Leviticus 19:18. It summarises verses 1-18, which contain various Old Testament rules and regulations. Look at this passage in Leviticus.

Divide the commands (verses 3, 4, 9, 12, 14, 16 and 18) into those concerned with: 

  • worshipping God 
  • personal holiness 
  • holy living standards in relation to other people.

These commands are given with a note of authority. Whose authority is this? Note the general nature of some commands (verses 2, 3 and 11) and the precise detail of others (verses 5-9, 13 and 14). God desires for us to be holy, both in large matters and in the small details of our daily lives.

  • In verses 9 and 14, how does God’s law make provision for people living in need and those considered ‘outsiders’? 
  • How can we care for the disadvantaged as individuals, within our family, and within our church?
  • How can we express love and care for those suffering from ill health in our community?

BIBLE STUDY 7: Seen and unseen

Microbes are invisible, yet they spread and cause sickness, diarrhoea and even death. We need to keep ourselves and our water and food clean.

Sin, like microbes, can also be hidden and become increasingly damaging if not controlled. Even when a person looks clean and free from sin on the outside, their hearts may not be clean.

Read Matthew 23:25-28.

  • What did the Pharisees look like on the outside?
  • What were they really like?
  • Would Jesus say anything different to our religious leaders or to us today?
  • The Pharisees looked really clean. Does this story help our understanding of microbes and their impact?

Read James 1:13-15.

What happens when we allow sin and ungodly desires to persist? James 1:13-15 teaches that what we choose to say and do has eternal significance. Our words and actions can be used either to build the Kingdom of God, or further disconnect us from a loving God and keep us in darkness. 

  • How can we use our voices and actions to further God’s Kingdom?

Meditate on 1 Corinthians 10:31.

BIBLE STUDY 8: Feet washing

There are many references to washing feet in the Bible (Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; 1 Samuel 25:41 and 1 Timothy 5:9-10). Washing feet was not only for hygienic reasons, but also to make visitors feel comfortable and welcomed.

Read John 13:1-17.

  • What is said about Jesus in verse 3?
  • What does he do in response to this? (verses 4-5) 
  • How does Peter react to Jesus washing his feet? (verses 6-9)
  • What cleanliness is Jesus talking about in verses 10-11?
  • What challenge are we given in verses 12-17?

Read Luke 7:36-50. Here we read about another shared mealtime.

  • What does Jesus say in verse 47 that inspires the woman to wash, kiss and perfume his feet?
  • Do we love him as this woman loved him?
  • How might we ‘wash the feet’ of those in our community?

BIBLE STUDY 9: The need for cleanliness

We need clean water supplies and food to keep us healthy and growing. The physical and spiritual parts of our lives are interlinked and affect each other. Physical washing can be symbolic of spiritual cleansing. The Old Testament provides many examples of the need to clean ourselves before worshipping God.

Read Genesis 35:1-5.

  • What did Jacob’s household do before building an altar to God?
  • What impact did they then make on the towns around them?

Read Exodus 30:17-21.

  • What did Aaron and his sons do before entering the Holy Tent of Meeting or making offerings?

Read Numbers 8:5-15.

  • In verses 11 and 15, what did God command Moses to do to the Levites (verses 5-6) to prepare them for the work of the Lord?

Read Hebrews 10.

  • What are we able to do when our ‘bodies are washed’ and our ‘hearts are clean’?

BIBLE STUDY 10: Washing clean through baptism

Baptism involves a symbolic cleaning and washing away of our sin. It is one of several important parts of becoming a follower of Jesus. While different church traditions have varying views on baptism, it is generally agreed that Baptism is the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which in part symbolises our cleansing from sin, and our identification with Christ and his church.

Read Romans 6:1-14.

  • In baptism we are buried with Christ, dying to our sin. Then, in unity with Christ, we are raised to a new life. How does God then use us? (see verse 13).

Read Mark 1:1-5.

  • In verse 5, what did people do at their baptism?
  • What did they receive in verse 4?
  • Why are we called to be holy? See, for example, Leviticus 20:7; Isaiah 6:3 and Ephesians 1:4. What happens when we are not? See Isaiah 35:8; Ezekiel 36:20-21 and Ephesians 5:5.

BIBLE STUDY 11 The result of being clean

Dirty water has only limited uses, such as watering crops. When water is cleaned and purified, it can be used for washing, cooking and drinking to sustain life. Similarly, God can purify and transform our lives for his purposes.

Read Ephesians 5:25-27.

  • How did Christ make his church holy?
  • How do we continue to make the church dirty and unholy by our lives?
  • What is the result of Christ’s sacrifice for the church today?

The Son of God became a man so that mankind could become children of God (John 1:12-14) and a chosen, holy people (1 Peter 2:9-10). 

Read 2 Timothy 2:20-21.

What happens once we have cleansed ourselves from dirty or unholy things?

Read John 4:13-14 and John 7:37-39.

Jesus gives us a very special ‘water’ to help us live for Him.

  • What is this water?
  • What effect does this living water have on us? 

BIBLE STUDY 12: Staying clean

Once we have clean water supplies and healthy well-cooked food, we need to protect them. What forms of protection have we learnt about in this Guide?

  • Are we using the forms of protection that we need in our community?

Read Ephesians 6:10-18. God’s armour defends and protects us against the work of Satan.

  • How does the Belt of truth set us free (John 8:32) and clean us? (John 17:17)
  • In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, how will the Breastplate of righteousness keep us free from sin through self-control?
  • In Isaiah 52:7, what is the purpose of our feet in sharing the gospel?
  • How will the Shield of our faith keep us safe? (See 2 Chronicles 20:20; 1 John 5:4)
  • Are we wearing the Helmet of salvation by trusting in God? (See 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10)
  • How does the word of God act like a sword? (See Jeremiah 23:29)
  • How are we using all these different parts of God’s armour to protect us, as disciples of Jesus? 

Overall we have the weapon of prayer (verse 18) to protect all we do so that we are ‘strong in the Lord and in His mighty strength’.

Take some time now to pray for God’s protection in all we do.

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