The Fruit of the Spirit. Goodness.
What does goodness mean?
In our usage today, goodness means ‘decent’, ‘courteous’, ‘fair minded’. But the biblically good is ethical- to be morally good. This goodness comes from God:
The psalmist says: “one generation will commend your works to another…They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Psalm 145:4-9)
And Jesus reminded the rich young ruler, “no-one is good- except God alone” (Luke 18:19)
God alone is absolutely good
God’s goodness is foundational to how we understand other attributes of God worked out towards us:
Mercy is God’s goodness- in restraining the wrath that His justice demands
Grace is God’s goodness- in giving us what we do not deserve or, more precisely- as Herman Bavinck puts it- His voluntary, unrestrained, unmerited favour towards the guilty
Love is God’s goodness- to all, but particularly in terms of His special favour to His people.
Compassion is God’s goodness- for those who are suffering
Long suffering is God’s goodness- by way of His patience to those deserving punishment.
God is good and we benefit from His goodness.
Psalm 34:8 states “Taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.”
The Lord Jesus Christ
The Son, who is the “radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3) displays the same goodness.
Acts 10:38 summarises what we see of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him”
The title “The Good Shepherd” expresses wonderfully the goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ
John 10:11-13 reads “I am” the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”
We see goodness here in the shepherd’s genuine care for the sheep- their well-being and best interests. And that is the Lord Jesus Christ’s goodness towards each one of us who are His children.
The hired hand cares nothing for the sheep, he runs away under the threat of the wolf. One thinks of Twentieth Century dictatorships, leaders like Mau Tse Tung. The Chinese dictator. He was not good. He did not care for his people. Only his own name. Any reform and indoctrination was in the pursuit of his own glory. He introduced the disastrous policy of steel making. The making of useless products while his people starved because crops were not produced. Then there was his dreaded cultural reform. Out of his paranoid fear of any rival, Mao denounced anyone who had any power with terrible, murderous consequences. The thief comes to “steal, kill and destroy” Atheistic dictatorships ironically making themselves into ‘gods.’ Jesus speaks about those who come in their own name ‘Thieves and liars’ Jesus calls them. False Messiahs.
There will always be those who would like to tell you how to live and get you to follow them, but Christ warns against such: ‘I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved’ (John 10:7-9, see also His warning about those who ‘come in their own name’ John 5: 41-44 and John 3:31-36). No politician, philosopher, novelist, celebrity, social scientist, media mogul, priest, secular or religious teacher can take the place of God in your life. The reason being that only God; the Good Shepherd; your Creator and Saviour really knows all things (He is Omniscient), and knows you personally- indeed ‘every hair of your head’! And truly cares for you since he ‘lays his life down for the sheep.’ We are His sheep, we don’t belong to any other ‘sheep’, ‘goat’ ‘wolf’ ‘thief’ or even the ‘hired hand’.
Yes, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus says “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” There is an intimacy here, between the true Messiah and His sheep. He knows ‘each sheep by name’. In the East the shepherd was close to his sheep. In the west sheep are raised mainly for meat. In the East they would be raised for their wool and milk.
And the Good Shepherd ‘goes on ahead of them’. Guiding and leading. The shepherd did not drive his sheep, he led them. Here too is a picture of mercy, amplified in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:4-6), where the Shepherd seeks out the individual erring sheep. He leads us ‘beside still waters.’ Otherwise the waters might sweep away the flock. But He also knows how to lead us in hard places; “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me” He leads us, as Psalm 23 describes, through that valley into His Father’s house. Further the Good Shepherd protects us from the deadly enemies of our souls with his staff, “Your rod and staff comfort me” The staff was a long, crooked stick which the shepherd would gently lay on the back of the sheep to keep it from straying.
Of course the Good Shepherd’s goodness towards us is supremely shown through the cross. There He placed Himself between us and danger, the prospect of a lost eternity on account of our sins. The Good Shepherd lays his life down for the sheep (John 10:11). Jesus atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross brings us Salvation, an abundant provision (see also Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6)
It is because of the Lord’s goodness shown towards us we can say with David “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6)
Faith and good works
Yes we are justified by faith- through Christ’s atoning work for our sakes. (Isaiah 53:4-6, Romans 3:26, 2 Corinthians 5:21)
But the Bible also makes it clear that our faith must be expressed in good works. James makes the point in his letter “What good is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but no deeds. Can such faith save him?...Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18)
We have a responsibility to work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit and follow His promptings, not least in the development of the fruit of goodness in our lives.
Vine’s Bible Dictionary refers to ‘that which is good’ (‘the good’):
Christians are ‘To prove it’, ‘to cleave to it’, ‘do it’, ‘work it’, ‘to follow after it’, ‘to be zealous of it’, ‘to imitate it’, ‘to overcome evil with it’
Salvation is not ‘easy believism’. If we are ‘justified by faith’ then this will be shown in ‘sanctification’ of life. We will express the fruit of goodness in practical ways. Indeed James 4:17 issues this challenge: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, sins”
When we consider Christians who were led by the Holy Spirit, described in the New Testament, there are those who show this fruit of goodness. But for our purposes I want us to look at the example of one. And from that character study we can learn more about how to show the fruit of the Spirit- goodness- in practice.
Barnabas is described in the Bible as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” Acts 19:24.
Notice the reminder here that goodness is a fruit of the Spirit. Barnabas’ goodness was the outworking of his being ‘full of the Holy Spirit’. We cannot show the goodness the Bible describes unless we are led by the Holy Spirit. Even the Lord Jesus was led/filled with the Holy Spirit and His doing good is linked to His being so filled: Acts 10:38 states “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil for God was with him.”
Our motivation to do good springs from being led by the Holy Spirit. We all love the idea of goodness and recognise its beauty. Perhaps we are inspired by some sacrificial act in a film or we read of it in a biography where someone receives good from another. But loving the idea of goodness does not necessarily mean we show the fruit of goodness ourselves. Niceness is a pale imitation, and not the same thing. And our own righteousness is as ‘filthy rags’ in God’s sight, bedevilled by sin and self-seeking motives.
The motivation to show the fruit of goodness springs from being led by the Holy Spirit.
If we neglect a close relationship and walking by the Spirit, we will become increasingly ‘ego centric’ rather than Christ centred, burdened and our focus will be increasingly on outward circumstances. A deepening temptation to fear, anxiety and even hopelessness will increase as we ruminates on the troubles we face. I know my own temptation to introspection, and my energies are wasted as I dwell on myself and other forms of self-pity. I know from experience and God’s word, that only through prayer and meditation on His word that I regain that sense of His goodness, control and good leading. That I can trust Him, that my desire to please Him and do good returns. To be strong and active where before the good, the right thing looked impossible, perhaps even unthinkable. So we need to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit as He illuminates God’s word to us. In this way we avoid the temptation to introspection and of wasting our time in futile thoughts/self-pity. Instead we use our energy and time to do good.
Vance Havner puts it this way “We can circumvent a lot of our worries by giving our attention to the good. Most of our ailments will die from neglect”
Barnabas was a good man.
We see this in his believing the best of others. 1 Corinthians 13:7 encourages us to believe the best of others. This is not to be naïve or credulous, but it is believing the best about others until one is compelled to accept a contrary verdict. The opposite of this virtue is cynicism- believing the worse of another person. That is part of the old nature. It assumes the elevation of oneself over the other and is symptomatic of a dark pride. Judging in this way assumes superiority.
But Barnabas showed goodness. Barnabas believed in Saul. Acts 9: 26, 27 shows how Barnabas ‘believed the best’ of Saul. He saw something in this new convert when others were not willing to trust him.
Later he put this same kind of faith in John Mark. Acts 12:25, 13:13 and 15: 36-39 describe what happened. John Mark had turned back from being a missionary on a journey with Paul and Barnabas. But again we see the goodness of Barnabas as he again seeks out the potential good in this young man. Something that Paul himself did not recognise at the time. In fact the goodness Barnabas showed towards John Mark was productive, and Paul later recognised this with appreciation. 2 Timothy 4:11 records how Paul instructed Timothy to “Get John Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry”
We also see the fruit of goodness in Barnabas when we consider his generosity:
Barnabas was not a slave of the material realm. Rather, he found his security in the spiritual realm. He was secure in God’s goodness. He believed that God would take care of his needs.
Acts 4:36, 37 we see him practicing noble generosity. He sold a piece of his own property and contributed the entire sum for the work of the church, he “brought the money and put it at the apostle’s feet”. This so cheered the believers that they called him “son of encouragement”
A third example which illustrates the fruit of goodness in Barnabas’ life is his humility:
“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people” Acts 11: 25, 26
Barnabas was a man who was willing to play second fiddle for the glory of God and the good of others. When things were moving in a great way, Barnabas recognised the need for Paul’s services. He gained Paul’s help and from that time Paul occupied centre stage. At no point do we find Barnabas resentful in playing a supportive role.
Again we see the fruit of the Spirit- goodness in Barnabas. Neither did he let any prejudice cloud his judgment about the church at Antioch. He might have been tempted to think the church in Jerusalem was where the ‘real’ work of God was going on- from where he had come. No, he simply wanted to see God glorified and others blessed and new converts won for the Lord. So he was happy to throw himself into this new work.
Barnabas was a good man because he cooperated with the Holy Spirit. He responded to God’s love, grace, kindness, and goodness by letting these character traits be reproduced within his own life. He determined with the help of the Holy Spirit to relate to others by being kind, generous, gracious and helpful to them.
Jesus teaches that unbelievers will be drawn to the Lord as they see believers love for one another “A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
It is good to develop evangelistic strategies and so forth. But the most effective evangelism is when unbelievers look at our lives and see this fruit of the Spirit- such as goodness- in our lives. Fruit that impacts our relationships, that makes for love and unity
Let’s remind ourselves of all the fruit of the Holy Spirit:
Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”
Jim Graham has written “I believe that the fruit of the Spirit is the only true and lasting evidence of the Spirit filled life.”
People saw such fruit in Barnabas and other believers in the New Testament, and they will see it in us while we are led by the Spirit of God. Let’s pray that it will be true of us as it was of Barnabas:
“He was a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith and a great number were brought to the Lord” (Acts 19:24)
David Barnes 10/5/23