The Fruit of the Spirit is Goodness

This article is the sixth part of a series of studies on the fruit of the Spirit. Gal. 5. 22-23

God is essentially and totally good. ‘O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good’, sang the psalmist, Ps. 118. 1. ‘There is none good but one, that is God’, the Lord Jesus told the young ruler, Matt. 19. 17; Mark 10. 18; Luke 18.19. The word Paul uses in Galatians 5. 21 for goodness is agathosune and it refers to what is good in character and beneficial in effects. It is the widest word for ‘goodness’. We are told that it is a peculiarly biblical word and not one used in secular Greek. It is closely associated with ‘gentleness’ or ‘kindness’, chrestotes. The distinction between the two Greek words has been described as follows: the former indicates a kindly disposition, the second kindly activity towards others. THAYER says that uprightness of heart and life are included in the latter. The former indicates the ‘kindlier aspects of goodness’, the latter includes also ‘the sterner qualities by which doing good to others is not necessarily by gentle means’, W. E. VINE. In a similar vein BARCLAY says, ‘Agathosune may and could rebuke and correct and discipline; chrestoes can only help’. Again, TRENCH says of agathosune, ‘a man may display his zeal for goodness and truth in rebuking, correcting, chastening’. There are sterner qualities here, and it has been said that the Christian ‘needs that goodness which at one and the same time can be kind and strong’.

The incidents in the Gospels which illustrate the distinction are the washing of the Lord’s feet by the woman of the city, Luke 7, where the kindness chrestotes of Christ is foremost, and the cleansing of the temple where His goodness ‘agathosune’ is more prominent.

The Lord Jesus showed gentleness when He was kind to the woman. She was poles apart from the religious Pharisee socially, and he would have said morally also. Why, then did she go? She would have had no welcome. It was because she heard that Jesus was there. She violated her own prejudices, the scorn in her heart for the cold moralist. She knew perfectly well with what contempt that sort of man would look at her, but she was blind to everything. Jesus was at the house, and into the house she went. Simon compared himself with her; he should have compared himself with the Lord. Simon saw a woman giving evidence of devotion and affection towards Christ, and he associated what he saw with what he knew of the woman. Jesus accepted the devotion and affection because He associated these things with what He knew of the woman. So we have the parable. ‘She is a sinner’, said Simon. ‘No, Simon, she was a sinner, but she is a penitent, and her sins have been forgiven her’. She had been forgiven much, and so she loved much. How gentle and kind He was in His protection of her, and yet, also, how gentle and patient His remonstrance to Simon. Simon, too, needed his sins forgiven.

On the other hand, the sterner qualities of goodness are seen on the occasions of cleansing the temple. His uprightness of heart and life were evident as He acted as the Reformer. He was not merely a teacher of religious truth. He was passionately concerned that His Father’s house was being desecrated, and He rejected those who misused the house of prayer, cf. Mark 11. 15-18. The Lord Jesus divided the people during His ministry in their opinion over Himself. Some recognized His goodness; others accused Him of something vastly different, cf. John 7. 12.

Joseph of Arimathea displayed goodness when he asked for the body of Jesus. To do so was a good act, but it required stern resolve to do so when his fellow Sanhedrists would be violently opposed to such action, and the reaction of the Governor to such a request was uncertain. Barnabas possessed this goodness, Acts 11. 22- 24. Paul was persuaded that the Roman believers were ‘full of goodness’, Rom. 15. 14. ‘The fruit of the Spirit’, he tells the Ephesians, ‘is in all goodness and righteousness and truth,’ Eph. 5. 9. To the faithful servant the Lord Jesus says, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’, not just faithfulness receives His commendation, but goodness also, Matt. 25. 21, 23; Luke 19. 17.

To be continued.


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