We all have a built-in ability to determine good from bad. Every day we make all kinds of choices based on what we think would be good. No one intentionally orders a meal they dislike unless there is a greater good, like not wanting to offend a friend who is dying to share that same dish. There are basically two views of good. The base view only looks at what would be good for ourselves. My definition of a “good day” and yours may be completely different. The other view considers what would be good for others, even it if costs us something, like trying something again that we’re not particularly fond of. That idea of looking out for the good of others at our own expense is what the Bible calls goodness.
If you are just joining us, this is the fourth article in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit. And yes, we’re working backward having begun with self-control. For this series we are looking at three things, what does the fruit look and taste like, how can we encourage its growth, and how can we give it away. The fruit of the Spirit that grows in us by walking with Jesus is not only for our benefit but also for those around us. In addition to this article, there is a link to a short story I wrote in 2004 which portrays in some way a Fruit of the Spirit that is being given away.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NASB95)
What does the real fruit of goodness look like? To understand goodness we need to get a grasp on what it means to be good. Our sense of good is mostly taught to us by our parents. Being called a “good boy” or a “good girl” was the reward of doing something praiseworthy, even if we didn’t’ like it. For some reason, I see this picture of a young mother spoon feeding mashed up peas to a youngster who doesn’t particularly like their taste. We grow up learning that there is a connection between being good and obedience. “Take a bite, now that’s a good boy.”’ The Biblical idea of goodness is not simply about following the rules, but something deeper.
There is an example of goodness recorded in the book of Acts. “Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.” (Acts 9:36, NASB95) Tabitha demonstrated goodness. For clarity sake, most English translations replace the Greek word for good (agathon) in this verse with kindness. To rephrase, Tabitha/Dorcas abounded in doing good. We read a few verses later that Tabitha’s goodness took the form of making clothes which she may have given away to the needy. There is an outwardness to goodness with a strong sense of giving ourselves to others. And this is where it gets interesting because we each have something unique to generously give away. Even if we think we have nothing we still have the treasure that is in our heart. Words of grace and encouragement that are given when needed are also acts of generosity and goodness. So, you could define goodness as generously giving to others the good that we have, whether that is words, compassion, abilities, time, or something material.
How do we encourage the real fruit of goodness? One way we learn goodness is through imitating others. John writes, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 11, NASB95) Wisdom is required in choosing whose goodness to imitate. Paul reminded the Romans, “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” (Romans 16:19, NASB95) We don’t need to experience evil to learn what is good. We grow goodness by doing the good we see in others. Eventually, that imitation becomes a part of us. Jesus said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45, NASB95) Like all the other fruit, goodness is encouraged by abiding in Jesus and his word (John 15). Reading the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John we see the goodness of Jesus. Reading the stories and watching how Jesus interacted with folks shows us plenty of goodness we can grow into.
How do we give away the real fruit of goodness? The key, of course, is generously giving of ourselves to others. While this may start with writing a check, goodness needs to grow beyond that. It’s easy to put a few bucks towards a cause and feel good about ourselves. It’s much more difficult to go and see the wreckage of sin and Satan, and choose to become personally invested on levels deeper and more profound than our bank statements. Like the fruit that tastes best when freshly picked, goodness is best when personally offered. Lastly, there is a planned spontaneity to goodness. We never know when there will be a need for goodness to meet. There is an always ready quality to this fruit that we see in the ministry of Jesus. How many of Jesus’ encounters were “chance” and unplanned? I doubt that Nicodemus phoned ahead for an appointment. How many folks cried out for Jesus’ mercy has He chanced to walk by? Yet Jesus was always ready to offer God’s goodness for the need before Him. Whether that was a quiet conversation, a healing hand, or a meal.
To wrap up. A few years ago a TV show called Breaking Bad followed the downward spiral of a character named Walt. He started has a chemistry teacher and ended up a murderer and a drug-maker. Followers of the show watched Walt grow into badness with one wrong decision after another. My hope for you is exactly the opposite. That you will “break good” and grow into God’s goodness as you follow Jesus. That a spiral of goodness will take hold as you generously offer to others the blessings God has given you.