October 4, 2009
Here we are again talking about the Fruits of the Spirit. If you’re new to this series, the Fruits of the Spirit are found in Galatians chapter 5. Today, we are looking at the fruit of “Goodness.” Now I’m going to change things up a little here. I’m going to start this week asking the “practical question.” I’m going to ask you now, “Are you a good person?” And remember, that means, “Do you make the choice to be a good person?” And if so, what does that look like in your life? That’s what I want you to be thinking from the very start today. As we go along here, as you’re pondering those questions, let me hit you with a little bit of word study. (Not too much!)
When I read these Fruits of the Spirit I usually read them from the Revised Standard Version. That’s the version of the Bible I “grew up” with. That’s this version we have up here on the pulpit. If you were reading along in one of the large print Bibles in the pew, you were also reading from the RSV. In that version it reads, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…” However, if you were reading from the regular sized pew bibles, you were reading from the NRSV – the New Revised Standard Version. And in that it reads “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and generosity…” Like a lot of words in the Greek language, this one is hard to translate exactly into English, and so there are a couple of words that translators have used here to “capture the meaning,” as my seminary professor used to say.
The Greek word is “agatho`sunay” which comes from the root word “agathos” which means not only goodness, but excellence. So in the form we have here, it means a person who has not just “goodness” but “moral excellence.” And as the Biblical scholars have studied it in various forms and places, they have been led to add this word “generosity.” So I’ve chosen to combine the two translations and think about both of these words “goodness (or excellence) and generosity.” I think those are similar words.
So, let me ask you this. Do you think I planned it this way? Do you think I planned to do this series, “way back in the Summer,” knowing that this Sunday would be the start of Stewardship month, and that this fruit of Goodness or Generosity would fall on this day? I would love to tell you I had all that carefully planned out. But it wouldn’t be true. Not that I wouldn’t try! But at that time, the Stewardship Committee hadn’t even met yet, let alone planned when the campaign would begin! So, this was one of those “spiritual coincidences.” Not only that, I didn’t start looking into other versions of the Bible until a couple of weeks ago. And I wanted to tell you about that part of this experience, because things like this happen way too often to call them “coincidence.” I believe in a God who sets things up like this. If only we will be open to them!
So here we are kicking off Stewardship Month here at Eddington Church, and the topic is “Goodness and Generosity.” And as I said, those are similar words. But, I’d like us to think about that at the same time. I’d like this word “goodness” to become for us the deep and important word Paul meant it to be. Even in English we have different ways of thinking of that word. And if we think about it, “goodness” very quickly becomes more than just “the opposite of ‘badness.’” That’s what I want us to see here today.
For example, if we were talking a person who was always thinking of others, we might say he’s a “good guy!” We might even use the word “great.” “Isn’t she a great lady!” And that would mean more than just the fact that they didn’t do “bad” things, wouldn’t it? Think about this. If you asked someone if they needed any help with anything, they might say, “No, I’m good.” That’s an interesting expression, isn’t it? And then if we really wanted to express how great something was, we might find ourselves saying, “Not Bad!!! Do you see how this goes? There are lots of ways of thinking about and using this word “goodness.”
When we think about this spiritual fruit of “goodness,” I want us to think about more than just the idea of “not being bad.” I want us to think more about “moral excellence.” I want us to think about “generosity.” And even that word has more to it than we might think. There’s a lot going on here as we use these two words together. For example, we know that a person can be “good” but not necessarily “generous.” And at the same time, “generosity” is not just about being “free with one’s money.” It is about being a “giving person.” It is about having a “spirit of generosity.” It’s about someone who gives freely of the self – time, talents, love, all those things. As this word begins to “grow,” I hope you’re still asking yourself, “Are you a good person?”
By the way, I don’t want us to forget completely about “goodness” being the opposite of “badness.” There is something to that. Because goodness is yet another one of these spiritual gifts that seems suffering in our world today. These days we have been taught by various comedians and film makers that profanity is funny, or that it is a “normal part of life.” For many people, doing the things we used to think of as being “bad” is considered “cool” or “adult” or some such thing. And sometimes in our world people are ridiculed for being good. They’re called “prudes” or “goody-two-shoes.” Maybe you’ve had some of that coming at you! So goodness is sometimes a difficult choice. But I for one think it’s something that needs to be recaptured in our world!
I hope all these different ways of thinking about “goodness” are all swirling around in your heads. I hope you see how deep and complex this is. I think Paul meant it to be that way. I think he intentionally used this word that is deeper than it looks. I think he meant to use a word that could be thought of as both goodness” and “generosity.” And this whole thing works very well for us today as we begin our Stewardship month. Because Stewardship has everything to do with our having (or our choosing to have) a good and generous spirit.
While you’re thinking about all that, let me remind you of the words I read in our lesson for today. Because I believe Paul fleshes this out this idea of “goodness” in this passage from his letter to the Romans. Listen again to these words in the twelfth chapter. See of this isn’t great definition of “goodness.” He writes, “Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (I love that one!!) “Never flag in zeal.” In other words, don’t let your enthusiasm fail. “Be aglow with the spirit. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope. Be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer.” Then this. “Contribute to the needs of the saints…”
If you were wondering what it meant to have this fruit of goodness in your life, wouldn’t those serve as wonderful guidelines? And is it surprising that Paul used in that same paragraph the words, “Hold fast to what is good” and “Contribute to the needs of the saints”? There you have it – “Goodness and Generosity.” So now what do you think. “Are you a good person?”
Eternal God, we know that all good things come from you. We ask for the power of your Holy Spirit to help your goodness grow in us. As we think about our part in your kingdom, may we know what it means to be good and generous people, people who think less of ourselves and more of others. May we learn to love your kingdom more every day. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.