Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

August 18, 1996

An ambitious salesman delivered his company's bid to an engineering firm.  The project director left for a few minutes.  The salesman could not help but notice their chief competitor's bid lying on the top of the desk (with all the figures in plain view except for the total amount, which happened to be covered by a can of Coke.  He knew that he should not take unfair advantage by sneaking a look at the total bid.  On the other hand, a multi-million-dollar contract was at stake for his company, not to mention several thousand dollars of commission for him.  He felt hot and flushed as the battle raged in his heart.  Since no one was around, he lifted the Coke can for a peek.

Thousands of tiny ball bearings instantly spilled out of the bottomless can all over the desk and onto the concrete floor.

In the book Profiles of Leadership, America's top business and government leaders were asked what quality they considered the most important to the success of a leader.  Their unanimous answer: integrity.

You've got to wonder, however, when Pentagon procurement officers pay a vendor $600 a piece for airplane toilet seats that should've cost $25, or $659.53 for an ashtray, or $400 for a hammer.  Where is the integrity?

Remember Abscam?  In 1980 FBI agents posed as Arab Sheiks willing to pay big bucks for government influence.  The agents filmed several dozen officials happily accepting bribes.  Senators and representatives went to prison.  Then the congress chastised the FBI for being so sneaky!

The Bible says, "The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin" (Proverbs 11:3).  Most of us would like to add "the sooner the better!" but God's timing in dealing with evil is wiser than our impatience.  And who among us hasn't been grateful that God delayed swift justice for us?  The fruit of the Spirit is goodness.

What is goodness?  It is a word that nearly everyone uses but few will know how to define in detail.  A watermelon can be good, a baseball game can be good, a newspaper article can be good, a doctor's report can be good and at Christmas, children are told in song, "be good for goodness sake."

Among ordinary people goodness has to do with some kind of agreeable or likable behavior.  It can be very subjective.  I can call your behavior good if I happen to like it, even if someone else doesn't.  I might holler, "good catch, Dave," while someone on the other team would call it lucky.  Goodness doesn't seem to have a concrete pin-downable-definition out in the world.

The Bible is not quite so vague.  Goodness in the Bible is defined by a character quality of God, that is a mixture of a blameless, principled character combined with a generous spirit.  Generosity is like warm skin on the bones of integrity.

Dan Clark tells about a friend named Paul who found an inner city boy walking around his shiny new car, admiring it.  "Is this your car, Mister?" he asked.

"My brother gave it to me for Christmas," Paul replied.

"You mean your brother gave it to you and it didn't cost you nothing?  Boy, I wish..." he hesitated.  Paul assumed that he wished he had a brother like that.  But Paul could hardly believe his ears when he heard the boy reply, "I wish that I could be a brother like that."

Paul looked at the boy with astonishment, then impulsively asked, "Would you like a ride?"

Would he?  In an instant he was sitting wide-eyed in the font seat.  After awhile he asked, "Mister, would you mind driving to my house?  It's just a few blocks from here."

Paul smiled, thinking he knew what the boy wanted; to show off his new friend and his great car to his neighbors.  But no.  The boy asked him to stop at a dilapidated old house scrunched between tall, shabby apartment buildings.  He ran up the steps.

In a little while, Paul saw the broken out screen door push open.  He could barely believe his eyes.  The boy was carrying his crippled younger brother.  He struggled across the porch and sat him down on the top step.

"There she is, buddy, just like I told you upstairs.  His brother gave it to him for Christmas, and it didn't cost him a cent.  And some day, I'm gonna give you one just like it, so you can see for yourself all the pretty Christmas lights I've been trying to tell you about."

Deeply moved, Paul got out, lifted the crippled boy in his arms, carried him to the car, and slid him into the front seat.  The beaming older brother climbed into the back seat, and the three of them began the holiday ride of a lifetime.

That Christmas Eve, Paul experienced the power of the words of Jesus when He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35).  It is good to be generous.

It is thought provoking, that when your typical "person on the street" begins to think about life and death issues, and especially the possibilities of life after death- that they almost always think of getting to heaven in terms of being good enough.  And in almost everyone's mind, they are good enough.  The question is almost never asked "How good is good enough?" or "How bad is too bad?" and "How do you know?"

This contentment with homemade theology makes it that much more shocking when a person finally does get around to asking God or studying His word with the question in mind: just how good is good enough.

The answer is the same as the answer to the question "How good is God?" Goodness is a character quality of God.  Remember in Exodus, when Moses asked for an encounter with the physical presence of God.  In 33:19 it reads, "And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.'"  The essence of goodness is synonymous with God's glory.  When Paul wrote, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God"- we could say" Come short of the goodness of God."  That's the standard you don't want to come short of!

All this means then, is- if we are ever going to be good enough, we will have to allow Jesus to work His nature into the stuff that makes up our character.  Computer programmers complain about a common problem.  They describe the problem in their own shorthand: garbage in-garbage out.  The phrase "fruit of the Spirit" is another kind of short hand: the spirit of Jesus in- the spirit of Jesus out...or Jesus in- goodness out.  Fruit is a product of the Spirit.

In Genesis 1:31 Adam and Eve were declared very good.  But it didn't last.  Why did they lose their good rating?  Was it because they did a lot of bad things?  Did they begin to fight violently or murder one another or commit adultery with Satan or gossip?  Obviously not.  What they did- the act itself- wasn't all that bad as far as sin goes.  Some of you still smile at your one or two acts of watermelon stealing in your youth.

All of us have done much worse than take a bite from someone else's apple.  Even a small sin caused a huge change on the inside that was very significant.  They lost their very good rating because a small sin cause a big change in attitude.  By rejecting God's supervision or oversight, and taking charge of their own lives, they let evil into their hearts.  A small sin-hardly bad enough by appearances was disastrous!

The Bible tells us that God has, ever since, been on a mission to bring people back to what He intended to a standard of goodness.  The ultimate working out of God's mission was the coming of Jesus to be a servant, to die on a cross and to defeat death in the resurrection.  The goodness of God is especially in focus for us as we see Jesus on the cross.  In that sacrifice, Jesus gave God the father the tools again, to make you and me good from the inside out.  The surgeons tools are in God's hands.  We cannot perform the surgery on ourself.

The Bible clearly says none of us are qualified.  Read Romans 3:10-12.

The common folk theology that is made up as we sit around our TV sets, and dinner tables, and sick beds- this homemade theology that says we're all (just about anyway), we're all good enough- this is just plain wrong.

Pride is a real enemy at this point.  We look at all the things we think are disgusting: rape, molestation, dishonesty in government- and think we're pretty good.  this is street theology.  Talking to our pride.  The Bible says you and I don't have the luxury of comparing ourselves to the latest celebrity murderer.  The standard we'll be set next to is "the Glory of God."  That is bad news.  Homemade theology is like little children who close their eyes in the presence of danger and think they're safe: almost all of us are good enough, homemade theology says with its eyes closed- the Bible says none of us are.  And since God is the final judge, whose standard do you think is going to be used- His or ours?

But the good news is that through the efforts of God on the cross, He can make us good enough.  Read Romans 3:20-26.

Goodness is a gift.  When you put your confidence in Jesus' efforts to save and sanctify you, or to put it another way- to rescue you from hell and in the process transform your heart to be like His.  When you put your confidence in Jesus to do this- then He has permission to transplant His character into your life.

In an ongoing way, this gift continues in the form of available resources.  Those resources are there because the Holy Spirit is there and they help you live a life of integrity and generosity.

If the spirit of Jesus is in you, goodness can come out.  Is it coming out?  Are you taking advantage of the resource of the Holy Spirit to develop a generous and blameless spirit?  Jesus in- goodness out!  Jesus in- blameless character and generous spirit out!

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