Wash your hands, you sinners!
The Sayler home has a sign hanging in the main-floor bathroom that says, “Wash your hands and say your prayers, because Jesus and germs are everywhere.” It’s cute. And now more than ever, a very timely reminder.
We’re well on into our 5th week of “social-distancing” due to the spread of the Coronavirus. There are all sorts of community, state, and national efforts to help slow the spread of the infection, but one of the simplest and easiest things each one of us can do is wash our hands.
I found this picture that shows the effectiveness of handwashing:
My boys and I also enjoyed watching this video on hand-washing:
In short, 20 seconds of hand-washing with warm soapy water is the best way to help prevent getting and spreading viral infections. While you’re washing your hands, sing a song (Amazing Grace) or recite Scripture or catechism questions, which you can put on index cards and tape to your mirror.
But all of this begs the question, were people not washing their hands before this? I’m reminded of my favorite quotes of R.C. Sproul, “What’s wrong with you people?”
The fact that we needed to be reminded to wash our hands is bad enough. Then there was a run on soap and hand sanitizer, so that you can hardly find it in stores today. This tells me that some of you weren’t washing your hands like you were supposed to. What’s wrong with you people!
It has always bothered me that we have to have signs in the bathrooms of restaurants and stores that remind employees they are required to wash their hands. This should just be a given. But then I’ve watched in amazement as people come into a bathroom, do their business, then leave without even approaching the sink. They’re out touching the groceries – argh!
Sorry – Where was I? Oh yeah, hand-washing.
While the text above from James reminds us to wash our hands, we have to remember that’s not really what James is talking about. James wasn’t worried about the spread of a virus. Instead, he was pointing us to a deeper sickness that had infected the Church. James was addressing a worldliness that had crept into the Church, and still lurks in the heart of the church today. In his letter he comments on an arrogant, selfish, and quarreling spirit that all stemmed from unchecked pride. This is not what the Church is meant to be, and James unequivocally calls the Church out on it.
Sproul’s video that I shared early relates to this as well. We tend think so little of the holiness of God that we think his punishment for sin too severe. We then think the peccadilloes that we harbor in our hearts are inconsequential and will be overlooked in the end. What’s wrong with the church if this is our attitude?
James is calling the church to repentance. “Draw near to God” – you’ve been distant from him because of your sin – “and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands” – they are covered in sin – “purify your hearts” – for your love for God has been mixed with worldliness.
How do we come clean? There’s no amount of hand sanitizer or pumice soap that will clear the stain of your sin. James is pointing us to something else. “Humble yourselves before the Lord,” he says, meaning: repent. Confess your sins to Christ, come clean. Look to Jesus alone for your salvation, your hope, and your peace. Be obedient to him, for He is your Lord. Let his grace cover you, but also humble you, so that you can love, forgive, and be forgiven.
James is calling us to wash our hands of the stain of sin, that we would live as the true Church of God in Jesus Christ. That is what the world needs now more than anything else: A Church that will live and proclaim the Gospel clearly. The worst part about this viral epidemic is not that so many people are dying (that is tragic enough indeed), but that they are dying in their sin, not knowing the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. May they come to know that grace through the witness of the Church today.