The next fruit in Paul’s list is goodness. Goodness is very closely related to kindness. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in the same quote referenced in the kindness section, also quotes Jerry Bridges defining goodness: “Goodness is kindness in action, words, and deeds.” Another helpful look at the difference between kindness and goodness comes from an article on the Family Life website: “While kindness is the soft side of good, goodness reflects the character of God. Goodness in you desires to see goodness in others and is not beyond confronting or even rebuking (as Jesus did with the money changers in the temple) for that to happen.” (10 Ideas: Reflecting the Fruit of the Spirit, by Scott Williams) So if kindness is a heart inclination to make someone happy, goodness is how kindness is shown. It is acting toward others in a way that benefits them, that is for their best. Here is where we see what might stop the parents from allowing the kind-hearted stranger to buy their children ice cream. If they know that the ice cream will not be beneficial to their children, it is good for them to say no, even if it would be kind for the stranger to buy it.
Anyone who is involved in the life of a child will eventually face a situation in which they must make the choice to withhold something the child wants because it wouldn’t be good for the child.
Too many sweets, too many toys, staying up too late, too much screen time, something for which they threw a full-blown tantrum—any of these things would not be good for the child. So we, the grown-ups, must say no. The child will not think this is good at all. But we have more wisdom, more background knowledge, a better grasp of the consequences that would come if we gave that child what she wants so badly.
On the flip side, loving a child also will bring situations when we must inflict some sort of pain or discomfort that is really for that child’s good.
Discipline for misbehavior, allowing them to experience the negative consequences of their behavior, getting a shot when they are sick, vaccinations, even making them eat their broccoli—all of these things are for our child’s best interest but not really things that will cause him to jump up and down with excitement. He may get upset, he may say we are mean. But we insist, we follow through, because we know that that momentary discomfort is for a greater good.
We don’t often enjoy these moments. The kindness we feel towards our kids makes us wish we could say yes to their every desire. And the compassion we feel for them makes us hate doing anything that causes them to hurt. But we know what is for their best, so we stay strong and allow them to suffer for a moment. This is all par for the course, part of the everyday ins and outs for anyone who spends much time around kids. We don’t often have time to stop and really reflect on it. We just say, “No, you can’t have that candy,” or “Sorry, you have to eat your carrots anyway,” and move on.
But when we place ourselves in the role of the child, and God in the role of the loving parent, we realize that He is infinitely more wise and good than we are.
Suddenly, we may remember all those prayers that seemingly went unanswered, all those things we asked Him for, maybe begged Him for, that He didn’t give us and we were so bewildered and maybe even angry with Him. Maybe, we realize, it was just like when we wouldn’t buy our son that video game with inappropriate content or let our daughter buy that shirt she really wanted. Maybe He knew more about the inevitable consequences than we realized and it was really for our good that He said no. And then we remember all those painful situations—watching our relative go through cancer, the funeral that broke our heart, the job loss, the broken relationship, the sins committed against us. Slowly, we realize that maybe that momentary pain was necessary to achieve a greater good in our lives or in the lives of those around us.
Genesis 50:20 is one of the clearest verses that shows how God allows extremely painful situations in our lives in order to accomplish His good purposes: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.” We see it in the New Testament as well, in Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” In her book, When God Weeps, Joni Eareckson Tada said simply and beautifully,
“God permits what he hates to achieve what he loves.”
We will not always make the best call in our attempts to do the best by the children we love. But God’s goodness is perfect. He never experiences a lack of wisdom. When I look at my own feeble efforts to make decisions that are for the good of my child, and understand that God is doing the same thing, only perfectly, every moment in my life, in the lives of my children, and in the lives of everyone across the globe, I love His goodness all the more, and the goodness-fruit in my own heart grows a little bit more.
Now, Scripture is painfully clear that none of us are truly good: “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, we all fell with them. We all turned aside and now no one is righteous apart from the blood of Christ. However, through what theologians call common grace, goodness does indeed still exist in this fallen world. In Randy Alcorn’s excellent book, If God is Good, he says this: “The biblical teaching of common grace helps us understand how God infuses goodness into a fallen world. Common grace is God’s means by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not a part of salvation. Not every person experiences saving grace, but all people—without exception, even unrepentant sinners—daily experience common grace. Even fallen humanity enjoys a residual goodness in a world that God still oversees and holds together (see Colossians 1:17).” (P 81) We see this goodness all around us, especially when we are involved in the lives of children.
We see the sweetness of snuggly little newborns.
We see the devastating cuteness of infants first learning the art of the crinkle-nose grin.
We smile as we watch their first unsteady steps.
We feel our hearts swell as we give them some new treasure and hear them say, “Oh, thank you, Mommy! You’re my best mom!”
When they are older and we see them filled with compassion for a friend who is sad, or spending a whole day weeding the yard of an elderly neighbor, or laying down their own book to read a story to their baby sister, we know without doubt that these are good things.
Even in a fallen world, goodness is evident.
And goodness is one of the fruits that should be growing in us as believers. My children—those God-given pruning shears–inspire me to goodness in many ways. For example, every one of our kids, when they first had occasion to have money of their own that they were allowed to spend as they wished, was told to give a portion to the church. We calculated ten percent and told them they had to give that much, but they could give more if they wished. And every one of our kids wanted to give more, often times the bulk of the money and sometimes the whole amount. At first, I tried to talk them out of it, pointing out that they wouldn’t have any left to buy anything for themselves. Finally, one day, Clay said, “Stop! If they want to give all their money to the Lord, why would we stop them?” I listened to my husband, and have finally learned not to get in the way when my kids want to give away all their money. Every now and then, there have been moments when they did end up regretting their generosity. Recently, our church took up a love offering with the goal of buying enough Bibles to give one to every home in our community. One of our daughters gave almost all of the money she had. A couple weeks later, we went shopping. Her sisters both had enough money to buy themselves some cute shirts, stuffed animals, nail polish, and earrings. Catherine only had enough to buy one tiny pair of earrings. I could tell something was bothering her, and finally she admitted with tears that she was disappointed that she couldn’t buy some of the things she wanted. I encouraged her by telling her that her money was going to last into eternity through those Bibles, and watched her struggling to agree with me that she had made the better choice. The next week, the Bibles were delivered to the church, 1000 of them, and we spent a whole afternoon making a display in the front of the sanctuary. When she saw the stacks and towers of Bibles that were bought with love, and knew that she had given the money for 20 of them, realizing that 20 homes would now have a Bible because of her offering, her face shone, and I immediately repented of suggesting that she might want to give a lesser amount. It is good to give sacrificially, and my children have taught me that.
That’s just one tiny example of how my children have helped goodness-fruit grow in me. Sometimes we grown-ups grow calloused. We have been burned by people we have tried to help. We have seen people take advantage of us. We have seen our efforts come to nothing, and we think we may as well give up on trying any more good deeds. But children love to do good. They still have faith that their good deeds can make a difference, and when they see an opportunity to do good, they are often much quicker than grown-ups to act on it. I watch my kids make cards for people who are sad or sick and give away some trinket they love to make someone else happy. I hear them beg for us to give money to the man holding a cardboard sign at the bottom of the exit ramp, and I realize that for them, the end result of the good deed doesn’t really matter. They just know that certain actions are good, and they long to do good. As we mature and gain wisdom, we start to see the differences between kindness and goodness, and we learn the truth that some kind deeds would not be for the good of the recipient, and so we do, at times, have to tell our children that we just can’t “help” in the way they want to help. But I watch them, I see the desires in their hearts to do good to those around them, and I see the Scriptures lived out:
Psalm 37:3 “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.”
Proverbs 3:27 “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
Matthew 5:16 “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.”
Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
Galatians 6:9-10 “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
1 Thessalonians 5:15 “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”
Even though children are notoriously selfish, and no one is arguing with the fact that they are all born sinners and flaunt their sinfulness often, the goodness that is part of God’s common grace still shines in them. Children love to do good, they love to help, they love to give. As we invest in their lives, may some of their desire to do good rub off on us.