Nature of Goodness
English translations render the term ἀγαθωσύνη/agathōsynē as “goodness” (NLT, ESV, etc.), or as “generosity” (NRSV). The term occurs only four times in the New Testament, twice referring to its divine source, the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), which Paul calls “this light within you” (Eph 5:9). So we should recognize that this fruit is godly goodness, godly generosity.
We might talk of someone who does something out of the goodness of her heart; however, like all the rest of the list, this fruit comes not from the human heart but from the Holy Spirit. Because the source is divine, Paul is able to tell the Roman church, “I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness (ἀγαθωσύνη/agathōsynē). You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them” (Rom 15:14).
So as Paul was encouraging the Thessalonian church to persevere under persecution, he told them how proud he was of their faith and love and how he told everyone about it (2 Thess 1:3–4). Then he reminded them they see God’s eternal justice in the end (2 Thess 1:5–8), and that God would bring them into his presence along with all the other faithful (2 Thess 1:10). And that prompted this prayer:
So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things (ἀγαθωσύνη/agathōsynē) your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ (2 Thess 1:11–12).
Goodness vis-a-vis the Charismata
“Goodness” or “generosity” (ἀγαθωσύνη/agathōsynē) should certainly characterize exercise of any of the charismata.
In the case of how we exercise any of the speaking gifts, I would say reflective wisdom is in order. James warns, “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” He says, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (Jas 1:19, 26). In that context, it’s about speaking in anger; but other hasty ways of speaking can cause damage as well.
So if even “people who prophesy are in control of their spirit” (1 Cor 14:32), I would think what Proverbs says about speech should be kept in mind about all of the speaking gifts. What if you thought about what the Bible teaches about speech before and while you exercised any speaking gift? Preachers, teachers, pastors—even people who speak in tongues, interpret, and prophesy—think on these things:
- “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” (Prov 10:19)
- “Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.” (Prov 13:3)
- “A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.” (Prov 17:27)
- “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” (Prov 18:13)
- “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.” (Prov 29:20)
We tend to assume that anyone who exercises the helping/serving gifts embodies “goodness” or “generosity” (ἀγαθωσύνη/agathōsynē). That would certainly be the case when people encourage and show mercy. But I wonder sometimes about how good and generous some people associated with healing ministries and miracles are. And what about people who lead and administer? I’ve seen some who appear to prize organization above meeting actual needs, who are proud of a program that runs like a well-oiled machine and disdainful of those that sometimes sputter along but help a lot of people in a lot of ways.
I think we would immediately think of someone who gives as embodying “generosity”; however, sometimes what people give has too many strings attached to seem like a good deal for the church. Some give like a Graeco-Roman patron rather than like a brother or sister in Christ.1“In the 1st century much of Roman society operated under patron/client relationships. The client was usually inferior in social standing. In return for gifts of money and other support the client would then give his support where and when the patron required” (David Witthoff, ed., The Lexham Cultural Ontology Glossary [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014]).
A prayer for goodness…
Our Father, who is the source and power of all goodness and generosity, teach us your ways. Hallow your name through the goodness and generosity of those called “Christians.” Help us to conform our daily walk to your goodness; help us to display your very generosity to everyone around us, “especially to those in the family of faith” (Gal 6:10). In particular, help us to show forth your own generosity as we go about our various gifted ministries within the Body of Christ.
I pray this in Jesus’s name, and for his sake. Amen
- Think of some ways you could show generosity toward someone in need of it during the next few days.
- If Paul were writing to your congregation, do you think he could say, “I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness”? Why or why not?