Article Sep 6, 2018

What does it mean to be good?

“Be good.”

How many times did I say it as I walked out the door, leaving my kids in the care of another? Spoken in that context, it expressed a parting wish that the little one to whom it was spoken would, at bare minimum, not do anything bad, and at best, be a source of help and joy to the caregiver in charge. When the kids were small, it was hard to find sitters brave enough to take on all four of them. It was harder still to find money to make it worth the sitter’s time and still be able to afford dinner out. When I told the kids to be good, I needed them to be. It was code for “Please don’t drive off this teenager, whom I really need to have a positive experience.” You know the rules. They are for your good. For our sake, please abide by them. Until your parents return, be good.

Jesus spoke a similar word to his disciples on a mountainside: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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” (Matt. 5:14–16).

Good = generous

Be good. Others will see it. You’ll be a light causing others to glorify the Father of lights.

But what does it mean to be good as his children? As those who are the recipients of the good and perfect gifts of God, goodness toward others means generosity. It means we recognize that God gives us good things not so that they might terminate on us, but so that we might steward them on behalf of others.

The tenth commandment forbids coveting because doing so denies the goodness of God. Jesus speaks against hoarding because doing so denies the goodness of God. Coveting implies a lack in God’s present provision and hoarding anticipates a lack in God’s good provision in the future. Neither mindset will translate into generosity. Generosity flourishes only when we do not fear loss.

Possessing the good and perfect gift of Christ, we can count all generosity as affordable loss. God gives good things to us generously, risking no loss in doing so. We, too, should give good things to others generously, recognizing that we, too, risk no loss in doing so. We can be generous with our possessions, our talents, and our time on behalf of others because we see these good gifts as a means to bring glory to their Giver instead of to us.

Generosity is not strictly for those who have material abundance. Because Oseola McCarty recognized this truth, the world is a better place. Born in 1908 in rural Mississippi, she quit school after sixth grade to support her ailing aunt, spending the rest of her life as a washerwoman. She never married, lived quietly in her community, and attended church regularly with a Bible held together with Scotch tape. Throughout the years, the people of Hattiesburg paid her in coins and dollar bills to keep them looking freshly pressed. She found immense dignity in her work, noting that hard work gives life meaning. “I start each day on my knees, saying the Lord’s Prayer. Then I get busy about my work.”[1]

In 1995, at the age of 86, she contacted the University of Southern Mississippi to let them know she would be donating a portion of her life savings to fund scholarships for African-American students to receive the education she had missed— a sum of $150,000. “More than I could ever use. I know it won’t be too many years before I pass on,” she said, “and I just figured the money would do them a lot more good than it would me.”[2]

Oseola McCarty, child of poverty and child of God, wanted to do good, and generously so. Praise God. Those who know good awaits them in heaven can afford to be generous on earth. They lose nothing in the giving of what has been given to them.

Generosity is the hallmark of those who are determined to be lights in the darkness as children of their heavenly Father. It is the calling card of all who are recipients of the generous good news of salvation through Christ.

Be good for God’s sake

Be good. Be the person who seeks the welfare of others. Be the person who gives without counting the cost. Be the person who serves joyfully with no expectation of thanks or recognition. Be good employees, good next-door neighbors, good parents, good children, good musicians and public servants and artists and volunteers and caregivers and bankers. If you are, you’ll draw attention like a city on a hill at midnight in the desert.

But don’t expect that others will necessarily flock to your light in glad acceptance. The somewhat surprising thing about doing good is how often it meets with a negative reaction. Others may see your good deeds and give glory to God, but they may not. Cynics call the chronically benevolent “do-gooders.” Their exceeding goodness is indeed a light, and to those who love darkness, it’s also exceedingly unwelcome. It has a similar effect to that of sunlight hitting the crawly critters exposed under an overturned rock in the garden. Exposing the goodness deficit of others, the do-gooder meets with reviling.

Take, for example, the ultimate do-gooder, Jesus himself. “He went about doing good. . . . They put him to death by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 10:38–39). Peter’s words to the Gentiles about how evil responds to good instruct us. If we are to walk in the light as he is in the light, we will strive to be good and do good, and we should prepare to be treated as he was treated. There is no room among the children of God for any goodness aimed at securing favor with God or others. Only a goodness aimed at expressing our gratitude to a good God will do. Only a goodness seeking to reflect him will suffice. Only a goodness bent on loving our neighbor will store up treasure in heaven. If our neighbor rejects us, so be it. We have done as Christ would have done. If our neighbor accepts us and glorifies God, we rejoice with the angels.

It will not do to “be good for goodness’ sake”—we must be good for Goodness’s sake—for God’s sake, whose goodness we daily enjoy. And we must persist in being good. Paul encourages us that goodness may be wearying, but that it yields a harvest: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). The fight for goodness is one that will take time and effort. We may grow weary of our own internal resistance to growing in goodness, or we may grow weary of the resistance of others to our goodness lived out. But steadfastness in doing good will yield fruit in season. As it ripens, it will mark us out increasingly as the sons and daughters of the Father of Lights.

Content taken from In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Notes

  1. ^ Karl Zinsmeister, “Oseola McCarty,” The Philanthropy Roundtable, “The Philanthropy Hall of Fame,” accessed June 27, 2017, http://www .philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/hall_of_fame/oseola_mccarty/.
  2. ^ Rick Bragg, “All She Has, $150,000, Is Going to a University,” The New York Times online, August 12, 1995, http://www.nytimes.com /1995/08/13/us/all-she-has-150000-is-going-to-a-university.html.
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