By Steven Clark Goad
One particular Scripture text often puzzles me somewhat. It is the one where a ruler called Jesus “good teacher.” Our Lord’s response always takes me aback when I read it.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Wow! Who could possibly hope to achieve any semblance of goodness? Rather than get into a theological treatise on what Jesus meant, it seems to me this is one of those “when you have seen me you have seen the Father” comments. Surely deity is good.
There are so many dictionary definitions of the word good that it leaves one wondering how many apply to the goodness of which Scripture speaks. Someone may say “that pizza was good” and we know what that means. A seminar might be considered good, or a sermon, or a vacation. Yet goodness as a human characteristic is something other than that, though good is typically perceived as an adjective. It can be used as noun as in “the good that was done today will be long remembered.” Here I write of the noun.
Not So Good
My sociology class back during my university days wasn’t all that good. Mostly because the instructor wasn’t a good teacher. He may have been a good man in the typical understanding of that term. His accent made it almost impossible for me to understand his lectures. I used that as my excuse for getting a B at the end of the semester. Thoreau said, “Be not merely good; be good for something.” At the time I felt my professor of sociology was good for nothing, at least as my instructor. But maybe my attitude was good for nothing.
What immediately comes to our minds when we think of someone who is good? Surely compassion is at the top of the list. Thoughtfulness coupled with kindness must be part of it. Roget’s Thesaurus offers these as synonyms for good: ethical, virtuous, honorable, excellent, admirable, fine, favorable.
Luke records that during Jesus’ earthly ministry he “went around doing good” (Acts 10:38). It seems obvious that goodness has to do with doing as well as being. A person can be pure of heart and mind by devoting himself to prayer and praise. But until and unless he exhibits the attributes of goodness, what good is it? One of the noblest of life principles is to do good for others. Thus, being good is not just a character trait but is a matter of action.
Life is full of ebb and flow. A constant flux of bad and good bombards us daily. Shakespeare wrote: “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” The clarion hope of a believer is that one day we will be ushered into a holy goodness that will not be violated in any evil way.
Someone well said that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps the road to Heaven is founded by God’s salvation and also paved with good actions and good deeds. When I think of goodness in this way, three people come to mind.
Roger was a deacon of the church. He operated his own business and was successful at it. Often there would be an announcement of some need within the congregation. The house of a widow needed a leaky roof repaired, perhaps. Or a family was in need of groceries. Roger was the kind of guy who didn’t need to be called into a meeting of the deacons or elders. By the time the leaders met, he would typically have already taken care of needs that were obvious.
He may not have served tables for the Grecian widows (Acts 6), but he was a man who by his actions demonstrated an open-handed goodness. If you look up the word deacon in an encyclopedia, his picture should be there. As Chester A. Pennington would put it: “No amount of good deeds can make us good persons. We must be good before we can do good.” I say, give us more Rogers.
Our actions speak far more loudly than our mouths. Hemingway said to never confuse motion with action. In politics today there seems to be far more motion than action. Yet our behavior in displaying the goodness that is in our hearts is what speaks the loudest of all. Don’t tell me you love me; show me you love me. Don’t simply say you are concerned about my situation if you have it within your power to help. So our daily do-gooding is an honorable action that points to Heaven itself.
Who gladly accepts the message of the cross from pursed lips and cold hearts? One of the greatest evangelistic outreaches we have is within our power. We are walking, talking sermons that all those who know us observe. Daniel Webster wisely stated, “Real goodness does not attach itself merely to this life—it points to another world. Political or professional reputation cannot last forever, but a conscience void of offense before God and man is an inheritance for eternity.”
Gladys has won more souls to Jesus than most ministers. How so? She has over 6,000 World Bible School students she teaches via correspondence courses. To date over 1,200 souls have been baptized into Christ through her efforts. She has no pulpit and no carpeted office. She sends out her courses from her kitchen table, grading lessons as they are returned. She pays for the postage out of her meager fixed income. I weep when I think of the sweet and generous heart of this woman and countless others like her in the church.
There is goodness in this world. Satan would have us believe otherwise. The devil is eager to distract us. We cannot allow the good in life to be evil spoken of. We are surrounded by goodness and mercy if we will only open our eyes.
Beth is in her late 80s and still displays the lovely smile of contentment that identifies her delightful countenance. She is a master with needle and thread. She has sewn over 5,000 soft cotton caps for children who have undergone chemotherapy for cancer. She has done this without fanfare or notoriety. I share this with everyone so she may have flowers while she lives.
Besides this, Beth has a ministry to the visitors at church. She prepares enough food on Sunday to be able to invite anyone for lunch who might be visiting. And if there is no visitor available, she will invite some family within the fellowship. She has had every family to her home multiple times. This kind of hospitality and goodness overflows with the Spirit of Christ. She might blush if you called her works good. But they are. Because goodness is not just a state of being—it’s a state of outreach and blessing to others.
Most of the do-gooders I know do so because of the very nature of their life focus. They never invade the lives of others with their goodness for self-aggrandizement. I found out Beth’s good deeds by accident. Charles Lamb said, “The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.” Maybe this is a part of not letting your left hand know what you right hand does. I reckon.
“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
Steven Clark Goad is a minister and freelance writer in Blythe, California.
“Goodness is love in action, love with its hand to the plow, love with the burden on its back, love following his footsteps who went about continually doing good.”
“If you cannot hate evil, you cannot love good.”
—Maxwell Struthers Burt
“The two great movers of the human mind are the desire of good, and the fear of evil.”
“Good and evil, we know, in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably.”
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We all have sorrows and disappointments, but one must never forget that, if commended to God, they will issue in good. . . . His own solution is far better than any we could conceive.”
—Fanny J. Crosby