By Elizabeth Prata
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23).
What is goodness? If you ask most people, they would declare that they “are a good person.” But is man’s view of goodness the same as God’s? No.
The word for goodness as it’s used in Galatians 5:22 is agathōsýnē and it occurs four times in the NT. Only Paul uses it. It is apparently strictly a biblical term, i.e. it does not seem to appear at all in secular Greek. The occurrences of this particular Greek word for goodness appear in Galatians 5:22, Romans 15:14, Ephesians 5:9, 2 Thessalonians 1:11.
Goodness (agathōsynē) may be thought of both as an uprightness of soul and as an action reaching out to others to do good even when it is not deserved. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, J. F. Walvoord)
In the note on Romans 3:12 (All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one) MR Vincent explains goodness,
It is rendered kindness in Eph. 2:7; Col. 3:12; Gal. 5:22. Paul, and he only, also uses ἀγαθωσύνη – agathōsynē for goodness. The distinction as drawn out by Jerome is that agathōsynē represents a sterner virtue, showing itself in a zeal for truth which rebukes, corrects, and chastises, as Christ when He purged the temple. [The normally occurring Greek word for goodness], chréstotés is more gentle, gracious, and kindly. (Vincent, M. R., 1887, Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 35).
There’s a third virtue in this little trio – and we’ll close with that one. “Goodness” is it, goodness, verse 22: agathōsunē. Goodness was a deep-down virtue of moral sweetness, moral excellence; and we can’t even find the word in secular Greek sources. It sort of was coined by believers as a way to express a kind of goodness that was deeper than anything the world experienced. It usually is compared with righteousness; and that’s really helpful to kind of get the meaning of it.
In Ephesians chapter 5 we read in verse 9, “The fruit of the Light” – the Light, capital “L,” the divine Light, the heavenly presence our Lord. “The fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” So there “goodness” is connected to “righteousness.” And I think that’s very helpful, because righteousness can tend to be the hard edge. Righteousness can tend to be the stern aspect of Christian character, right?
You are righteous: you have righteous standards, you have righteous convictions, you know what is right, you expect people to do what is right, you uphold the standard of what is right, you defend what is right. That is the sterner aspect of Christian character.
But the backside of that – and that’s what Light produces, according to Ephesians 5:9 – the backside of that righteousness is goodness. That’s the soft side of your convictions.
That’s the kindlier expression of your convictions. It’s right to have those convictions, it’s right to hold those convictions, it’s right not to compromise those convictions, but it’s also right to be full of goodness so those convictions don’t wind up bashing people.
When you have the full knowledge, the full understanding of the Word of God, when you have the full picture, it doesn’t just make hard-nosed convictions, it produces strong, immovable convictions that have a soft side of goodness. Look, you don’t have convictions stronger than God, right? And yet the goodness of the Lord extends to the highest heavens.
So if interpreters say goodness as it’s used here means a strong moral rectitude, an excellence and uprightness, tinged through and through with gentleness and kindness, how does that relate to your and my actions? Our growth in sanctification? Are we growing a righteous goodness in our lives?
I’ve seen the sad slide of people drawn into harsh discernment ministries who believe they are standing up for Jesus, but are simply bashing people with a hardness that is far from ‘good.’ I’ve also seen people soften into jellyfish in refusing to correct or rebuke, claiming that kind of hardness isn’t “good.” The Christian life is one where we seek God’s guidance through His word at all times, so we stay on the center line. This includes “goodness.”
Prayer: Valley of Vision
Thou hast revealed to me myself
as a mass of sin,
and thyself as the fullness of goodness,