Previous article in this series: February 1, 2010, p. 208.
So far, we have considered the truth that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and gentleness. Now, we consider that the fruit of the Spirit includes the virtue of goodness.
With the consideration of goodness, we once again can appreciate that the various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit are a blessed unity. For example, where there is the true love of Christ in us, there will also be present the virtue of goodness. One who truly loves his neighbor will also do good to him. Moreover, when one possesses the virtue of gentleness, he will express that gentleness to his neighbor by doing good to his neighbor. Goodness is an honorable virtue that we desire the Holy Spirit to work in and through us by His grace so that we may reflect our heavenly Father, who is “abundant in goodness” (Ex. 34:6).
What is the meaning of the term “goodness”? According to Scripture, the term seems to have two basic ideas. First, goodness sometimes refers to moral purity. According to Psalm 112:5, a good man is one who shows favor. He is also, according to the earlier verses, one who is filled with grace and compassion and who is righteous. Although he is a sinner, he lives daily in repentance and by faith in the way of gratitude to God for salvation. He fights his old nature manfully, and finds deliverance in the power of the Holy Spirit. Such a man is upright in his heart (Ps. 125:4), and one that finds favor from Jehovah (Gen. 6:8; Prov. 12:2). In his godliness, he deals with others in righteousness and compassion. By this description of a good man, we understand that goodness is the spiritual health and wholesomeness of the sanctified and godly believer.
Secondly, the word “goodness” may emphasize the motive and purpose of someone’s honorable thoughts and actions towards another. In that case, “goodness” describes the purpose of the believer’s actions towards another as heavenly oriented and God-centered. That goodness may have the viewpoint of “purpose” or “goal” is based on the use of “good” inGenesis 1. In Genesis 1:31a, soon after the creation of Eve, “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” God meant by that word “good” not only that His creation originally possessed the virtue of life, order, and righteousness unto His glory, but also that the creation in its design and life was ready to be governed by God to His ordained purpose in Christ (Col. 1:15-20). The creation of all things for the purpose of Christ is good because that in the end will glorify Jehovah, our covenant God in Christ Jesus.
We believe that the goodness of the child of God by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit is the ability to do to others morally pure acts—that is, acts that have a proper and honorable purpose with respect to our Father in heaven and with respect to the person to whom we perform some particular act of goodness, such as giving food or words of encouragement to a poor fellow saint.
Since we are called to be imitators of our heavenly Father (Eph. 5:1) even with respect to this virtue of goodness, it is proper that we remember that Jehovah is good! (Ps. 25:8). We are admonished to praise Jehovah for His goodness, which He bestows upon His people. “O give thanks unto Jehovah, for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever” (Ps. 107:1). Later in that Psalm we are again commanded to praise God for His goodness (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31). God shows that He is good in His mercy towards His people, a mercy that raises them out of their misery unto the goal of their salvation and blessedness. Although the word “goodness” in Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31 actually refers in the original Hebrew to God’s mercy and lovingkindness, yet perhaps the Bible translators used “goodness” to reflect the close relationship between God’s mercy and His goodness towards His people. God’s mercy for His elect always works towards the goal of our eternal happiness and peace in Christ Jesus. For that reason we do and must give Jehovah many thanks for His goodness to us miserable sinners. God displays His goodness when in His wrath and for the goal of His own glory He destroys the wicked world whom He hates. Indeed, God is truly good to His church when in His mercy He saves His people out of their sin and misery into the blessedness and life of covenant fellowship with Him in heavenly glory.
We confess this goodness of God when we confess that our God works all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). By this we confess that God works all things together for His own glory as our Father and for our inheritance of eternal glory with Him in the new creation. Every detail of our life is designed and governed for that glorious purpose, so that our life experiences do not come to pass by luck, chance, or fate. As a result of God’s goodness to us, even our light affliction in this present life works for us that sure goal of the far greater weight of glory with Him.
It is unto that goal that God continues to be good to us even though we often are not good to Him and come far short of the glory that we owe Him. Daily God shows that His goodness is unconditional, undeserved, unmerited, and unchangeable towards us in Christ Jesus. God is good, even to us who often behave so unthankfully and wickedly and who by nature are evil and unthankful. God remains good to His elect and works all things together for their good.
This goodness of God is revealed to us clearly in Christ. Jesus is our Shepherd, full of the virtue of goodness. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says to us and our children (John 10:14a). Indeed, His goodness is evident throughout all of His work and all of His treatment of His sheep and lambs. Psalm 23 illustrates to us several examples of the spiritual care that our Good Shepherd exercises over us all the days of our life. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters. He restores our soul with His refreshment and rest. He leads us in the paths of righteousness by going with us. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow death, so that even there He does not forsake us. He protects us. He keeps us from straying off the path to our complete ruin. He leads us to plateaus above the dark valleys. He cares for us to ward off perilous sickness. He gives us an overabundant supply of all that we need. He is the Good Shepherd towards us because He is faithful, merciful, and committed to the goal of gathering and leading His sheep and lambs to His heavenly fold.
So committed was Christ to that goal, and so committed is He in His love to us and the Father, that He laid down His life for us, and then took it up again as the Father gave Him commandment ( John 10:14-18). By that death and resurrection of Christ, we and the other sheep and lambs that yet remain to be gathered shall obtain our place in His heavenly fold. So sure is that goal that no man can pluck any of His sheep and lambs out of His hand of grace. So faithful is Christ unto that goal that, though we stray foolishly into sin, He will rescue us in His sovereign mercy (Luke 15:1-7). He is so good to us that He will always seek our everlasting good, so that we may dwell in the house of Jehovah forever.
Do you experience the goodness of Jehovah and Jesus Christ to you?
We must display that goodness towards others and so imitate our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. We must do that because we are living branches, united to the root and tree, Jesus Christ. Because the Holy Spirit has united us to Christ and made us one with the True Vine, our goal and purpose is to bear fruit unto the glory of God ( John 15:1-8). The purpose of our life in Christ is to bring forth the virtue of His goodness. And in the performance of that good we may be assured and see that we are the children of God (III John 1:11).
The exercise of goodness involves the desire for the everlasting happiness of others. Of course we desire the earthly happiness of others. We do not rejoice when a child, parent, relative, or fellow member in the church suffers from sickness or a disease that will lead them over the threshold of death. We desire the earthly health and prosperity of others. However, never may that desire for their earthly happiness interfere or contradict our desire for the goal of their spiritual health and spiritual happiness in Christ Jesus.
Certainly, the goal of our earthly assistance of others must be truly good. It must seek the glory of God and the salvation of others. When we assist fellow believers in the church in their time of earthly need, our goal must be their spiritual encouragement. When the wicked neighbor endures a crisis in his life and we are there to help, our energetic assistance must seek the goal of an opportunity to witness of Christ and seek the ultimate goal of his conversion, the Lord willing.
The exercise of goodness may mean rebuke towards those who walk wickedly in sin. Such work with an erring church brother, family member, or a wicked neighbor inthe neighborhood is not pleasant or easy. Nevertheless, with our heart full of the knowledge of what God has in His goodness done to us (turning us from our sin and setting us by His grace upon the way that leads to everlasting life), surely we will speak the necessary words to rescue, if possible, the erring brother or wicked neighbor from his sinful path down the broad and perilous way that leads to everlasting death.
The exercise of goodness reminds us of what is good for us. Christ was the Good Shepherd because He denied Himself. Even when we were His enemies, He sacrificed Himself for us, the goal of which is our salvation. That self-sacrifice is also good for us. It is good that you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ, for the good of your soul. It is good that we deny our will, and seek the will of our heavenly Father in our childhood, teenage years, single life, married life, and widowhood. It is good that we do outward good to others, even those who may seem the least deserving of any assistance and who may be our enemies spiritually, with the goal that they might be blessed and be led in the paths of righteousness for Christ’s sake, the Lord willing.
Even our speech must be seasoned with goodness. Our speech and conversation with others must serve the purpose of spiritual edification. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). Lest we fall into another extreme, the Lord admonishes us to speak the truth, and to speak that truth in love. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up in him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15). When our speech and conduct are salted with goodness, we avoid the evils of wicked communication and of the radicalism of an unedifying communication of truth.
This virtue of goodness is very honorable and desirable. It is a spiritual beauty that the godly wife must covet because it characterizes the virtuous woman: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Prov. 31:11-12).
One who seeks to enjoy the secret of a truly happy life must covet this virtue of goodness. “For he that will love life and see good days…let him eschew evil, and do good” (I Pet. 3:10-11).
One who must admonish an erring brother needs to be equipped by God with goodness, without which proper rebuke is not possible. The apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14).
Who were the kings of Judah that were highly honored and fondly remembered by the people of God? They were the good kings, such as Hezekiah and Josiah. These two in particular were noted for their goodness towards the kingdom of Judah. We read, “Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and his goodness, according to that which was written in the law of the Lord, and his deeds, first and last, behold they are written in the books of the kings of Israel and Judah” (II Chron. 35:26-27). Both Josiah and Hezekiah led Judah by their work of reformation from the wicked ways of sin and idolatry into the godly ways and fear of Jehovah. Their work had both an honorable moral quality to it, and also that good purpose of the proper worship and life of the faithful service of Jehovah.
For what would you like to be remembered? Your sports trophies? Your hobbies? Your skills? How much money or possessions you have acquired and can pass on to your children?
Should we not desire to be remembered that in our life and labor the virtue of goodness shined clearly and brightly through our actions to others unto the glory of God? Should we not desire to be remembered as those who did good, even to our enemies, with the good desire that they might fully enjoy the truth of our only comfort in life and death in Jesus Christ alone according to the standards of the Reformed faith?
Perhaps at some time in your life you have known a fellow saint who was gentle and truly good to you in a memorable way. If we are truly humbled before God, then what impresses us about such people is that their acts were done unselfishly to us, the least deserving, for the goal of our spiritual and eternal good. Why did they do such things to us? The answer is that the Lord works in His children that beauty and sweetness of goodness towards one another for His own glory.
For us and for those saints whom we remember as good, doing good is never easy in this life because of our ever-present sin and selfishness. Nevertheless, by the miraculous grace of the Holy Spirit, what blessedness it is when we bring forth the fruit of goodness to the glory of God and enjoy its sweetness in communion of the saints.
May our Lord mercifully and powerfully continue to call us unto the practice of this virtue of goodness.