When we encounter something that is blown out of proportion, we exclaim “Oh my God!” We correct our children asking them to rephrase it as “Oh my goodness!” so that we don’t take the name of the Lord in vain. Whether this particular phrase speaks to our way of expressing unbelief or the enormity of the incident at hand, or that we have actually annoyed God in the phrase–while those things may be important–I do not oppose the interchangeability of ‘goodness’ and ‘God’ in the above phrase. Our God is good, and no earthly goodness can match His goodness. Of all the fruits of the Spirit, this particular fruit remained unclear to me especially as it follows after ‘kindness,’ another fruit of the Spirit. Are they the same or different? Biblical scholars suggest that goodness “conveys the idea of benevolence and generosity toward someone else.” (George T., Galatians, 403). The best way I’ve heard it put is: kindness is doing good to others, whereas goodness is seeing good in others. It is looking out for the best in others’ life even when you do not credit for it. The picture, for many of us, that engulfs our mind is of Mother Teresa caring for the poor and destitute in India. She generously gave of herself to not just do but see the best in others.
A similar picture pervades our minds when we look into the Scriptures. Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan caring for a wounded man so that the expert in the Law would understand what ‘loving a neighbor’ really means (Luke 10:30-35). The wounded man would most likely have survived with the bandage, the oil, and the wine that the Samaritan had applied on him. But the Samaritan’s generosity compels him to go the extra mile(s)–with the wounded man now riding on the donkey and the Samaritan walking alongside them to the Inn. While the priest and the Levite had passed by this poor man showing disregard, the Samaritan cares for the man overnight and pays the innkeeper two denarii for his full recovery. According to scholars, “that money was enough to take care of the man’s room and board for twenty-four days, since the daily rate for a poor man was about twelfth of a denarius” (Bock, BECNT Lu 9:51-24:53). Now, as if he did not show enough goodness already, the Samaritan promises the innkeeper to pay off any outstanding fees upon his return: “Look after him and when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have” (v. 35). Isn’t it interesting that this parable is often referred to as the ‘Good Samaritan’. That is because the goodness is very evident in this story: The Samaritan does not just attend to the man’s wounds and hope things turn out best for him, instead he recognizes the man’s inability to care for himself, the man’s impoverished state of being robbed and he graciously cares for him till he is back on his feet. This is goodness (generosity) at its best!
The greater difficulty for us today is to make this a part of our daily routine than just a study on ‘goodness’. Of course, because it is a fruit of the Spirit, the Spirit of God himself will help us. Our part in it would be to submit to His leadings. While we are not saved by our good works, good works are inextricably tied to our faith. Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to the expert in the Law in response to his question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). The expert knew he had to love the Lord and love his neighbor, but he didn’t know how to practice it. This is precisely my problem (perhaps yours also). Faith is revealed in our action. If actions lag, then it most likely is a reflection of the size of our faith. And if eternal life is for a) those that love the Lord, and b) those that love their neighbor; then a) faith in Christ and b) good works towards people must be evident in every believer. The three man-ward focused fruits (patience, kindness, and goodness) in the list of the fruits of the Spirit should be embodied in our actions toward others daily. May God help us be conscious of opportunities to do good and may He give us the boldness to go the extra mile in seeing good in others. If we are waiting today for that right opportunity to come by, I presume we may be overlooking real opportunities that are already at hand to show goodness to our families, friends, co-workers, roommates–our neighbors.