The complexity of defining goodness – Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness, Part 4

This week we are studying the quality of goodness, which is listed in the Fruit of the Spirit. What we’re going to find is that defining goodness is not as simple as it might seem.

We learned in the previous post that numerous Psalms declare that God is good. In today’s post we jump over to the New Testament, where Jesus’ disciple Peter, who later became the leader of the Christians, writes in 1 Peter 2:1-3, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

When studying the word “goodness” what we find is that our English bible translations use our English word “goodness” for multiple original language words.  For example, that in 1 Peter 2:1-3, the New International Version translates Peter as writing, “the Lord is good,” but the word Peter uses is actually the word we studied last week, “kindness.”  

So what is the precise goodness Paul is talking about in Galatians 5:22-23?  As we have seen in the Psalms, goodness is found in God.  God is good.  As we have learned from Jesus, God wants his goodness to be so rooted in our lives, that his goodness flows out of us just as naturally as goodness flowed out of Jesus. So what is this goodness?

The people who study language tell us that the word Paul used when he wrote this list of qualities called the Fruit of the Spirit, the word which in many English Bibles is translated “goodness” is defined as “the ACT of generous giving, with the implication of its relationship to goodness—‘to be generous, generosity’.”[1]

Generosity?  Or really, as the definition indicates, “generosity that is related to goodness.”  In other words, we are talking about a life that is generous in the way that a person uses their time, their money, their abilities.  They are a giving person.  For the good of the world and others around them.

In fact, some of your Bibles translate the word here as “generous.” Consider the expression “she is so good to us.”  When someone says that, what do they mean?  They mean that the person is generous.  Generous with their time, their money, their gifts and abilities.  They use their lives sacrificially to benefit others.  They have a heart for the good of others.  Every quality in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit is best understood as applicable in relationship to others.  So when it comes to goodness, we practice generous giving to benefit others.

Why, then, do many English Bibles translate this word as “goodness”?  Is Paul saying we should grow generosity in our lives or is he saying we should show goodness?  Which one is it, Paul? To answer that, remember that many words have multiple meanings, often meanings that are related. The scholars who study language tell us that the word Paul uses in Galatians 5:22-23 can also mean “positive moral qualities of the most general nature.”

That’s what we normally think of when we think of goodness: positive moral qualities. Goodness, or positive moral qualities, is who God is, and what God wants to grow in our lives, so that his goodness flows out of us. Goodness is not just an idea.  It is action, and we show our active goodness in how we treat others.  When goodness flows from our lives, we are actively good to other people, we are generous to them. 

Goodness encompasses much of what we already learned about in the fruit of the Spirit, and the qualities we will talk about in the rest of the list.  Goodness includes love, patience, kindness, gentleness.  We must have self-control to demonstrate goodness.  How are you doing showing goodness to the people in your life?

[1] Ibid, 569.

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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