Monday, February 9, 2015

The Sixth Fruit: Goodness (MNM 10)

Therefore, as we have opportunity,
let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:10 (New International Version)

Soaking in the Scripture (Section 1)

Welcome back, and I'm so glad you are here!    

We’ll begin our study of the sixth spiritual fruit—goodness—by reflecting on Galatians 6:10.  I encourage you to spend some time looking it over, this time in your own Bible.  Read it a few times, perhaps in different translations, or even aloud.  

Is there a word or phrase that strikes you as relevant to your current circumstances?

Give yourself some time to think, journal, or talk with a friend about the thoughts that emerge from your time of reflection.

Also, try and find time to share this passage with each of your family members in ways that are appropriate to each of them, and see what kinds of conversations happen.

Digging Deeper (Section 2)

Begin by re-reading Galatians 6:10, and recall the ideas that continue to come to mind as you reflect on these verses. 

Then, consider these questions: 

·      When you think of ways to extend “goodness” and “kindness” to a person, what sorts of things come to mind? 

·      Is there a difference between “kindness” and “goodness”?

As you will remember, last week’s readings focused the 5th spiritual fruit listed in Galatians 5:22-23—“kindness.”  This week’s fruit—“goodness”—sounds pretty similar.  And as theologians have noted, distinguishing between these two qualities can be difficult.  After all, what is the difference between treating people with kindness and treating them with goodness? 

While kindness and goodness do sound alike, the fact that Paul includes both qualities indicates that there must be at least some distinction he wants his readers to recognize.  With that in mind, let’s see if a look at the original language will shed some light. 

The original Greek word often translated as “kindness” is χρηστότης,  pronounced chréstotés.   And, as last week’s readings emphasized, Christ-followers demonstrate this fruit by their benevolent, grace-filled view of others as beloved creations of God.  [link to last week’s study].

“Goodness,” on the other hand, is derived from ἀγαθωσύνη, or agathōsynē.   Like chréstotés, agathōsynē can be translated as “kindness” as well as “uprightness of heart.”  Because these two words are so similar, some theologians compare them, describing chréstotés as a “kindly disposition towards others,” and agathōsynē as “a kindly activity on their behalf.”  Continuing the comparison, one scholar asserts that chréstotés refers to the “kindlier aspects of ‘goodness,’” while agathōsynē includes “the sterner qualities by which doing ‘good’ to others is not necessarily by gentle means.”

The Greek word for “kindness,” then, involves doing good things for others that feel good to the recipient.  However, the Greek word interpreted as “goodness” involves doing good things for others that may be perceived by the recipient as strict or harsh.  And that, to me, is an important distinction.  What it means is this: there will be times when my faith compels me to do good and kind things for others even when those actions may not be perceived as kind.

That the Greek word for “good” in Galatians 6:10 is “agathōsynē,” then, is significant.  Here, Paul is encouraging believers to do good things, and to do them to all people—believers especially, but unbelievers as well—even though our actions may be perceived as stern or less-than-gentle.

With this distinction in mind, take some time to ponder these questions, both individually, and with a friend or family member:
·      Have you have ever been prompted to live out the fruit of agathōsynē  or “goodness”? 
·      What do those experiences feel like to you? 
·      What do they feel like to those for whom you are enacting such “goodness”? 
·      Are there particular arenas in your life in which you find yourself more likely to need this particular spiritual fruit?
·      Do you ever find yourself hesitant to practice such “goodness”?  If so, what might be behind that hesitation?
·      On the other hand, do you find yourself eager to enact the kind of goodness that could be perceived as stern?  If so, what might be driving that enthusiasm?


One Family’s Story (Section 3)


Recently, I ran across this graphic on facebook, and maybe you’ve seen it too.  One glance took me right back to my toddler-parenting days . . . to those sandwich-cutting tantrums . . . and to the bewildering incompetence I felt in helping my child move beyond the upset over square-shaped bread and just eat the sandwich.

That feeling of incompetence came over me on a regular basis.  Nearly every day, it seems, involved my trying (usually awkwardly) to navigate a completely unanticipated experience—an experience prior to which which I had no idea I’d even need to know how to manage.  Those were days when I was the only grown-up in the house, but I felt like a young, inexperienced kid—ill-equipped for this thing called motherhood.

What about you? If you had to make a list of parenting tasks for which you have found yourself not-quite-ready, what would you write down?

Need some ideas to get started?  If so, here are a few of mine:

·    Finding the willpower to crawl out of a perfect, snuggly-warm bed at 3 a.m. and care for my infant—218 nights in a row.

·    Using pure trial-and-error to figure out how to feed my newborn while ensuring that my 18th-month-old didn’t tear apart the house.

*  Gulping down panic while puzzling over what may have triggered that strange, suddenly-appearing, alarmingly-crimson-colored rash on my baby’s tummy.

·    Successfully, mess-less-ly, and cheerfully changing the blowout (and I’m not talking tires here).  Okay, maybe not cheerfully.

These are just a few of the parenting experiences for which I found myself completely unprepared, which has often led me to seriously doubt whether I was doing anything right as a mom.

The most upsetting mama-moments occurred when my children were sick.  Whether it was trying to get my 17-month-old—recently diagnosed with asthma—to swallow his medicine, or being asked by the pediatric nurse to hold down my feverish (and screaming!) daughter’s arms while the doctor gave her an injection, the uncomfortable mix of sorrow over my child’s suffering and exasperation at the difficulty of addressing it was exhausting, at best.

In the midst of such moments, I was, of course, doing the most loving thing I could do for my children.  When I forced my son to take his medicine, or when I chose not to grant my daughter’s wishes that the doctor would go away, I was allowing them to receive the medical treatment which would help them feel better.  But to my children, it just felt bad.  And there was a pretty good chance that in their eyes, I seemed harsh, uncaring, maybe even mean.

Those are the moments when Mama has to do the good-hard thing.

Moments when we know our actions just might make our child miserable in the short-term, but more healthy in the long view.

Moments when the choice to love our children well virtually guarantees that our actions will be temporarily misunderstood.

For me, those mothering moments are the most excruciating.

And they don’t just happen when my kids are sick.  They also happen anytime that my decision to do the most-loving-thing is going to be viewed by my child as something-other-than-loving.

Every parent I know is painfully aware of how often we have to do the good-hard thing.  

I don’t know about you, but it’s in those moments that I’m newly reminded of how desperately I need the spiritual fruit of agathōsynē.

And I’m newly grateful that my capacity for “goodness” isn’t the product of my own faltering efforts, but instead a fruit that blossoms as a result of the Spirit’s work in me as I root myself in His love and guidance.

Your Family’s Story (Section 4)

Today, spend some time remembering the things you’ve read and thought about so far.  Then, consider these questions:

*  Can you recall a recent circumstance that called for you to practice this sort of goodness with a child? 

·      What did it feel like for you to do the “good-hard” thing?

·      Where did you find the emotional energy and will to carry out this “goodness”?  In looking back, can you see how it was the Holy Spirit that provided you with what you needed in that moment?

·      How did your child respond to your “goodness”?

·      What kinds of emotions did his/her response trigger in you?

·       *  On the other hand, can you recall a parenting experience in which you may have needed to practice the spiritual fruit of “goodness” but chose not to do so?

·      When did you sense that you needed to do the “good-hard” thing?  Might this have been the Holy Spirit’s prompting?


You may find it helpful to talk this over with your spouse, a friend, or even an older child.  You may feel a sense of regret over not having chosen the “good-hard” thing.  But be sure, also, to celebrate and thank God for the experiences in which He has equipped you with the ability to give your children the gifts of “goodness.”

Wisdom for the Journey (Section 5)

So far, our discussion of “goodness” has focused on how parents often need to do “good-hard” things for our children.

This spiritual fruit of “goodness” is related to the non-cognitive traits of bravery, fairness, prudence, and leadership—qualities that we, as parents, parents want our children to possess as they venture into adulthood.  And although it’s important to create opportunities where our children can practice those qualities, it’s also vital that we—as their primary role models—enact goodness in ways that help them begin to recognize and understand their own God-given ability to do good-hard things as well.  And for now—during their younger years, how we model “goodness” is especially powerful.

As Paul makes clear in both Galatians 5 and 6, believers are called to live out the spiritual fruit of agathōsynē in every arena of our lives—with other family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even those who we might see as enemies.  And while it’s one thing to do “good-hard” things for our loved ones, it is altogether another matter when circumstances call for us to enact the spiritual fruit of goodness in our other relationships. 

So as we conclude this week’s emphasis on “goodness,” take some time to prayerfully consider the following questions:

·      Is there a difference between “doing good” (the 6th spiritual fruit) and “being kind” (the 5th spiritual fruit)?

·      Is it possible to “do good” to someone without also “being kind”? 

·      Similarly, is it possible to “be kind” to an individual without also “doing good”?

·      What kinds of words accompany the act of “doing good”?

·      What sorts of thoughts might you have when “doing good” to another person?

·      What kinds of circumstances might cause you to “become weary of doing good”?

·      To whom does Paul advise us to “do good”?

·      Remember an experience when you’ve decided to “do good” for another person or group.  Did you perhaps find yourself being “unkind” (either in word, thought, or deed) even while you were in the midst of “doing good”?

Finally, I invite you to spend time reading and reflecting on the verses leading up to this week’s opening scripture (Galatians 6:1-10), in which Paul gives challenging (and, for me, convicting!) insight into how believers are to interact with others--perhaps especially as we encounter circumstances in which we are prompted to do the "good-hard" thing.  I've included two versions here--The Message, and The Amplified Bible.

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. 

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. 

Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience. 

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.  

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
(The Message)

Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also.  

Bear (endure, carry) one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ (the Messiah) and complete what is lacking [in your obedience to it].  For if any person thinks himself to be somebody [too important to condescend to shoulder another’s load] when he is nobody [of superiority except in his own estimation], he deceives and deludes and cheats himself.  

But let every person carefully scrutinize and examine and test his own conduct and his own work. He can then have the personal satisfaction and joy of doing something commendable [in itself alone] without [resorting to] boastful comparison with his neighbor.  For every person will have to bear (be equal to understanding and calmly receive) his own [little] load [of oppressive faults].  

Let him who receives instruction in the Word [of God] share all good things with his teacher [contributing to his support].  Do not be deceived and deluded and misled; God will not allow Himself to be sneered at (scorned, disdained, or mocked by mere pretensions or professions, or by His precepts being set aside.) [He inevitably deludes himself who attempts to delude God.] For whatever a man sows, that and that only is what he will reap.  For he who sows to his own flesh (lower nature, sensuality) will from the flesh reap decay and ruin and destruction, but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  

And let us not lose heart and grow weary and faint in acting nobly and doing right, for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap, if we do not loosen and relax our courage and faint.  So then, as occasion and opportunity open up to us, let us do good [morally] to all people [not only being useful or profitable to them, but also doing what is for their spiritual good and advantage]. Be mindful to be a blessing, especially to those of the household of faith [those who belong to God’s family with you, the believers].  [Amplified Bible]

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