“Goodness” sounds like such a general term, and in English it pretty much is. We can use it in so many ways and in seemingly unlimited contexts.
The Greek word is “agathosune” and is defined as benevolent, profitable, benefiting others; describes active goodness, virtue, excellence or beneficence. It is high moral character reflected in to being good in both nature and effectiveness. It describes a positive moral quality characterized especially by interest in the welfare of others.
While at first glance the Greek usage seems similar if not the same at our English use, there are some distinct features and nuances to agathosune.
First, it is a word that is unique to the Bible. According to Thayer agathosune is found only in Biblical and ecclesiastical (church) writings. Wuest describes it as “that quality in a man who is ruled by and aims at what is good, namely, the quality of moral worth.” It is the fullest and highest expression in that which is willingly and sacrificially done for others. It is moral and spiritual excellence manifested in active kindness.
Secondly, Goodness here in the fruit list follows “kindness.” In our general English understanding of the words, they can almost appear redundant. But William Barclay distinguishes one from the other in this way:
It (agathosune) is the widest word for goodness; it is defined as “virtue equipped at every point.” What is the difference? Agathosune might, and could, rebuke and discipline; chrestotes(kindness) can only help. Trench says that Jesus showed agathosune when he cleansed the Temple and drove out those who were making it a bazaar; but he showed chrestotes when he was kind to the sinning woman who anointed his feet. The Christian needs that goodness which at one and the same time can be kind and strong.
The distinction Barclay makes is significant and intriguing. Agathosune is active—some might even say aggressive—goodness. Goodness sometimes means doing the tough thing. Goodness may even result in ruffling some feathers and making some enemies. That is why we read in the Bible that we may, at time, suffer for doing good (1 Peter 3:17).
Agathosune is goodness, but it is goodness that is so committed to the good things and right ways that it will not shy away from speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). It’s the kind of goodness that describes Aslan in The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe. When asked if Aslan is safe, Mrs. Beaver responds, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
We often talk of “tough love.” Well there is a place for tough goodness too. Paul writes in Romans 15:4, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Here’s a formula that would be helpful to memorize and put into practice: Goodness + Knowledge = Instruction. When our heart is right (we are concerned about the welfare of others) and we then act with wisdom and knowledge, we are able to instruct (the word is really admonish)
God is good – that is part of his nature. To the extent that we have God’s goodness, we have godliness or God-likeness. Goodness is rooted in and expressed by a willingness to sacrificially serve others through active kindness.
FRUIT FOR THOUGHT
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Though compared to God it is true that the Bible tells us nobody is good (righteous, holy) and that we cannot obtain eternal life by good works. However, before men are actions are to be views as “good” (godlike). Are my neighbors, co-workers, family able to see God’s goodness in my goodness?
- Is my goodness active or passive?
- Do I look for opportunities to serve others by doing good or only when the opportunity is dropped in my lap?
- Am I willing to practice “tough-goodness?”