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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 15: Clarity About the Fruit: Goodness

The first thing that popped into my mind as I thought about goodness as fruit of the Spirit was the old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.

Of all the fruit mentioned, this one has the clearest opposite. You can either be good or bad. In fact, you can be horrid. And you can contain both sides of this all at once, being good to some while being horrid to others. So while we would want to believe we humans are hardwired for doing good, we constantly are caught out by the reality of the little-girl-who-had-a-little-curl in ourselves.

And it is true that people who claim no relationship with God do good. Why is that so? The reason is that everyone was created in the image of God and retains an echo in their soul of the goodness, the rightness of God, even when they reject His right to reign over them. So they do good and others applaud because doing good is something we all feel good about.

Jesus told a parable of a vineyard owner who needed workers to harvest his grapes. He went to the temp agency and hired a bunch of people for the day, promising them a good days wage for their services. He went back later and hired more people who had not found work that day, returning again and again to find that others needed work. An hour before quitting time, he discovered yet more people available and sent them out. At the end of the work day, he then paid each of them off, giving them all the same wage, even those who had worked only a fraction of the time compared to the ones who had been hired first. Those hired early in the day grumbled, thinking he should have paid them more than those who worked for just a short time. Challenged, he asked, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15)

The word he used to describe his pay scale—generous—is the same word Paul used for goodness. Here is the function of goodness for all who keep in step with the Spirit. Goodness is seeing the neediness in others and meeting their need for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom. In Jesus’ name we give out cups of cold water. In Jesus’ name we see the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned and are inwardly compelled to meet their needs.

When empowered by the Spirit, we see the world differently. One of my friends saw the neediness of a group of people who lived on the food and materials they dug out of a garbage dump in the Dominican Republic. Many of the young girls were subsidizing their family by sex work, often having children while still themselves a child. He changed his life direction in order to go and help them with food, housing, clothing and job training—visibly preaching the gospel through his generosity—generosity that is giving these hopeless people hope of a better future for themselves and their children. But more importantly, he is displaying the good news of Jesus through his life.

Don’t misunderstand this story. Goodness does not just lead to missionary work. Goodness leads you to see ignored people with compassion and steps up to stand in the gap for them—which is not always a monetary need. Goodness is a characteristic that wants change to take place in others, not just to fill a temporarily empty stomach. Goodness wants to see people set free from whatever binds them. To oppose those who are caught up in wickedness so they can’t destroy another, whether it be a spouse, a child, or the oppressed. Jesus excelled in this because he was good.

When we are very, very good, we are participating with God in making His gospel known. This goodness reaches down to those who could never pay us back, but can join us in loving our God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith