The Apostle Paul certainly had plenty of reason for concern about the doctrinal steadfastness of the Galatian Christians (cf. Galatians 1:1-5:16); nevertheless, he would not neglect the opportunity to exhort them regarding the practice of the faith as well. To this end he instructed them to avoid the works of the flesh and to manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul described the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
The fruit of the Spirit can be fully summed up in love. Joy, peace, and longsuffering/patience prove necessary dispositions if we would properly exhibit love and manifest the work of the Spirit. Such dispositions should become manifest to others in kindness and goodness.
The word here translated as “goodness” is the Greek word agathosune, defined by Thayer’s as “uprightness of heart and life, goodness, kindness.”
Where does goodness reside in mankind? Is it based on some sort of intrinsic character trait? We often hear people described thus as good: “she is a good person.” “They are good people.” If asked how such people are “good,” we might hear about some of the good works they do; if nothing else, we will hear of many of the bad things they avoid. Yet we must hear Jesus’ correction of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:18: only God is good. As for humanity, Paul’s testimony from the Hebrew Scriptures remains true: none are good (Romans 3:10; cf. Psalm 14:1). All humans have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); we might want to focus on the good things we might do, or the good characteristics we might embody, but we have all violated God’s purposes at some times in some ways and thus would be rightly condemned as transgressors (cf. James 2:9-10). In truth, the line between good and evil runs through each and every one of us: we all remain capable of great good and great evil, and have done both good and evil. For humanity, therefore, goodness cannot be an intrinsic character trait, for none of us are inherently good.
And yet Paul was convinced that the Roman Christians were full of goodness in Romans 15:14; he prayed that God would fulfill every desire of goodness in the Thessalonian Christians in 2 Thessalonians 1:11. Christians may not have intrinsic goodness, for only God is good; and yet Christians were called out of the darkness of sin, despair, and death in order to pursue the good works for which God has made them (Ephesians 2:1-10, 5:8-9, Titus 3:3-8). When Paul considered “goodness” a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, he did so in this sense: the desire, consideration, and execution of all that is good.
So what is the good that we ought to desire, consider, and accomplish? It is difficult to improve on the words of the prophet:
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth YHWH require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8)
The good is to do justly, love “kindness” (Hebrew hesed, in which covenant loyalty meets steadfast love), and walk humbly with God. Jesus embodied this goodness: Peter is able to summarize Jesus’ life in ministry as going about and doing good for Israel (Acts 10:38). We will only be able to display such goodness if we display appropriate humility in our walk with God. God is love; all we have and are comes from God and not from our own strength alone; on our own we would stand condemned; we only can stand based on God’s love and grace displayed toward us; as God has done good to us, thus we are do good to others (Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:3-8). By necessity such goodness stands at variance with all that is recognized and confessed as evil: we must abhor evil and cease walking in the darkness (Romans 12:9). Yet the demands of justice require us to also expose the works of evil so we can powerfully affirm what is good, right, and just in the sight of God (Ephesians 5:8-12). For good reason Paul would later exhort the Galatian Christians to do good to all people as they had opportunity, and especially to those in the household of faith (Galatians 6:10): we do not really need to have this kind of behavior defined for us. We understand that we should seek the welfare of others, to benefit them in their moment of need and provide whatever proves necessary, be it time, material resources, or emotional, mental, and spiritual investment (Matthew 25:31-46, James 1:27). This concern should prove all the more obvious for fellow Christians, for how can we say we love God and prove thankful for His goodness if we do not seek to do good for His people (John 13:33-35, 1 John 3:16-18, 4:7-21)?
Thus, we may not be intrinsically good, but we ought to be filled with all goodness in Christ through the Spirit. To this end Jesus considered His disciples to be the salt of the earth, the city set on a hill, and the light of the world: they should do good works and give reason for all people to glorify God (Matthew 5:13-16). People should be able to see God’s goodness reflected and embodied in us. Do we seek to walk humbly with God and resist all evil? Do we act justly, relieving the poor and oppressed and upholding righteousness? Do we display steadfast love and covenant loyalty toward others as God has expressed it toward us? May Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 bless us, and may we do good and glorify God in Christ in so doing!
To which end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfil every desire of goodness and every work of faith, with power; that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ethan R. Longhenry