By Keith A. Butler
What do we mean when we speak of the fruit of the Spirit called “goodness”?
Goodness can be defined as the state of being kind, virtuous, benevolent, generous, upright, righteous-in short, being like God. How do we become like God? By partaking of His divine nature.
“His divine power has given to us everything we need for life and godliness,” wrote the apostle Peter. “He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world” (see 2 Pet. 1:3-4, NIV).
When we are born again, God’s Spirit empowers us with His life and godliness. Then, through faith in God’s promises, we can develop and operate in His divine nature, adding to our faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control and other virtues (see 1:5-8).
Goodness, then, is a quality manifested by the work of the Spirit in our lives. Yet goodness is more than a character trait. It’s also a mode of conduct, a way of life. Goodness expresses itself in action. We
might say that goodness is the habit of doing the right thing as defined by the Scriptures.
We are “Christ’s ambassadors” on the earth (2 Cor. 5:20), so we are to manifest God’s goodness to the world. Why? The Scripture tells us that the goodness of God leads people to repentance (Rom. 2:4). When His goodness is manifested in our daily lives, men and women come to God. Then they too can become partakers of His divine nature.
This is why our Lord Jesus commands: “Do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, NKJV). That kind of behavior catches the world’s attention because it’s contrary to the world’s thought patterns.
The world tells us to get even with those who hurt us, but Jesus tells us to do good, to express God’s goodness in our actions toward them. By doing that, the writer of Proverbs says, we’ll “heap burning coals” of conviction on their heads (Prov. 25:22), and the goodness of God manifested in us will lead our persecutors to repentance.
For example, maybe someone you work with is a troublemaker. He constantly tries to sabotage your efforts; he continually gossips about you to other employees behind your back. Jesus said to do good to that person. So you should find a way to bless him.
Maybe he’s under financial pressure. If so, why not bless him financially? Jesus said to do good in actions, not just in words. So don’t yield to the temptation to “fulfill the lust of the flesh” by
developing a plan for retaliation. Instead, find a way to bless those who hate you.
The Sterner Side of Goodness
Alongside the “kinder, gentler” aspects of goodness, the fruit of goodness includes sterner qualities. Sometimes doing good to others requires something other than gentle means, especially when opposing
Goodness will boldly proclaim what is right and true even when the truth hurts. Its priorities will be to identify the needs of others and devise a way to meet those needs, even when such actions meet with
opposition. Goodness is activated by a compassion that doesn’t shrink from conflict or controversy.
Jesus demonstrated this aspect of goodness when He found the moneychangers in the temple: “[Jesus] drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers…And He said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’ Then the blind and lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them” (Matt. 21:12-14).
It may be difficult for the natural mind to comprehend how Jesus’ actions in this situation could have been good because we’re accustomed to thinking of goodness only as a gentle quality. But Jesus’ behavior in the temple that day was indeed good. When He saw what was going on in the temple, He was moved with compassion to do what He did-a compassion for those people who came to the temple to have their needs met.
After all, the purpose of the temple wasn’t buying and selling. The temple was to be a “house of prayer” for people who wanted to connect their lives to God. And that’s just what Jesus made possible when He
threw out the moneychangers.
After He was done, the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and His compassion healed them. Once Jesus had demonstrated the sterner side of goodness by throwing the moneychangers out of the temple, He was able to demonstrate the kindlier side of goodness by healing the sick.
Today as well, goodness may need to take a bold stance against what’s wrong so that what’s right can take place. In 1988, for example, several elected officials and community leaders in Detroit wanted to
bring casino gambling to the city. Though it sounded to many people like a good idea because it would bring more money into town, others of us knew that in the long run casino gambling would have been
disastrous for Detroit’s residents.
Research had shown that places allowing casino gambling-such as Atlantic City-have suffered a sharp rise in drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes. Moreover, studies had found that the
majority of gamblers were those who could least afford it, people who would take money for daily essentials and gamble it away on the slim chance of making it rich.
Other pastors and I realized that casino gambling would have a detrimental effect on our congregations-and on our city as a whole. So we joined with other community leaders who foresaw the threat to
the city’s future and formed the Alliance Against Casino Gambling to counter the pro-casino forces in Detroit.
After exerting a well-organized, grass-roots effort and speaking out boldly against casino gambling on TV, in the newspapers and throughout the community, we were able to defeat the gambling referendum at the polls. In this way, the sterner side of goodness-the aspect that boldly stands up and speaks out for what’s right-made way for the kindlier side of goodness to be manifested: less crime, less drug abuse and fewer broken families in our city.
In many ways, then, the fruit of goodness can manifest itself in acts of kindness toward others as well as in deeds of sternness. How do we know when each aspect of goodness is needed? The key to discernment must be found by walking in God’s love and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, who works to develop God’s character in us.
(The above information was published by CHARISMA, May 1993)
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