Fruit of The Lips: Goodness

FOTL 3-2

How would you define the word goodness? What is goodness?


Defining Goodness:

Goodness is a difficult word to define. We can say that something is “good” in comparison to something else — like good, better, and best. E.g. We ate a good meal in comparison with others. Or we can say that something is “good” as in it is valid. Like there are “good” arguments. But what are we to understand when we see the word “good” used in the Bible? What are we to learn from God’s goodness and God’s goodness being grown in us as a fruit of the Spirit? Surely we do not mean that God’s goodness is merely relative to other things (even though he is superior) or that it is his goodness is merely valid–useful and beneficial. What we mean by the goodness of God here is rightness and abundance.

C.S. Lewis makes a great point about goodness in Mere Christianity. He says that “Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). Just as darkness isn’t really its own substance but merely an absence of light, so badness isn’t really it’s own substance, either; it is merely and absence of goodness. This helps our definition regarding the way the Bible is using the word goodness––it is speaking of rightness and soundness. Goodness, in this sense, is that which is unspoiled and unbent. For something to be good it is to be used rightly. It is to be used the manner as intended by its creator. Just as God made the world and it was good (Gen. 1:31).

And goodness is the way that God is repeatedly described.


The Goodness of God

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34, ESV)

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, ESV)

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” (Psalm 25:8, ESV)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18, ESV)

God is right, sound, correct and complete in Himself, not in relation to others. He is, in Himself, light in which there is no darkness (1 Jn. 1:5). So God is good, but He also does good. He is right and He does right. He is correct and what He does is correct.


God’s Holiness & Goodness

And here’s a slight differentiation where we can see the special nature of God’s goodness. Up unto this point, our definition might also fit well with an understanding of God’s holiness. But goodness gets into something specific — the expression of God’s holiness. Goodness is God’s abundance mercifully communicated.

As Stephen Charnock puts it in The Existence and Attributes of God, “God is necessarily good in his nature, but free in his communications of it.”

God would still have been good if he had never created anything, but He did create the world, and it was good. God would still have been good if He didn’t redeem fallen man, but He did. God doesn’t have to make the rain fall on the just and the unjust, but He does. God is good by definition and also good by expression.

This reminds me of Mr. Beaver in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

There are many attributes of God that we isolate, like the grace and mercy and justice of God, but these are also to be seen as expressions of the goodness of God. God’s grace is goodness to us. God’s patience is goodness to us. God’s justice is goodness expressed to us.  Last week we took a bit of a survey and noted some of the kindnesses of God, and even though it’s a close category, we should note some of the goodnesses of God: family, song, birds, oceans, waves, meaningful work, children, laughter, chocolate, campfires, stars, constellations, fields of grass, and waives of grain. But these gifts are derivative — they are good because God it good.  And he isn’t like the speculation of the deists—one who makes good things and then backs away. He upholds the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). He is abundantly and actively good.  And in themselves, created things can be good, that for which they were intended for, or they can be bad–a perversion of their intended purpose. And here’s where we can drill down and learn learn to be good in our actions, and specifically in this lesson, our speech. As we reflect God’s goodness, it is connected to the nature of God. Goodness in us is the abundance of God breaking out into who we are, how we think, what we do, and how we speak. This goodness happens across the board to all who are made in His image, and should be broadcast most acutely in those who are redeemed and bear the fruit of the Spirit.


Goodness In Our Speech

To call something good is to define it not by popular opinion or utility, but by its ability to fulfill that for which it was intended by its Creator. All things belong to God and can be labeled as good or bad only in their relation to Him and His intended use. So what might that mean in light of our speech?

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)

The type of speech which is “good” is speech that isn’t corrupted and which doesn’t serve to do any corrupting. It is speech that fits the occasion that serves to build others up by grace. This is speech which is like clean and cool water, nothing in it rotten to poison or to disgust the appetite. It is speech which refreshes, nourishes, and delights. It is good. It is safe to drink.

We can poison this well most frequently with corrupted speech. In relation to us, our homes and our relationships should be safe to drink from. They should be places where those around us feel at ease to drink freely and are benefited for it. But often those wells have corrupted by gossip, slander, criticism, accusation, bitterness, irritation, or lack of love. They are defined as words which have spoiled. Words which are bent from their intended use. James points out this disastrous dynamic of the tongues when he says,

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (James 3:6–11, ESV)

Our words are meant to bless, not curse. They are meant to be fresh water, not salt water. So what might that mean for us to speak the good? It means that we are to speak in a manner that the Lord would be recognized. We are to speak in conformity to his good intentions.

We can start with the obvious examples such as profanity and cursing.

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:4, ESV)

Again we see that such things are bent, corrupted, and “out of place”.  This kind of speech is described as something good which has been spoiled. It isn’t doing what it was intended to do, which is to build and to bless. Instead, this is talk which is corrupted, which poisons and destroys.

Let’s look at the negatives listed here and pair them with some contrasting positives.

Filthiness: This is speech that is perverted and dirty. Speech which is meant to paint sin as entertainment. This type of speech is incredibly popular. It is what fills the lyrics of our most popular songs and the dialogue of our most popular movies. Filthiness seeks to be playful by standing on the edge of something that it knows is dangerous. It is only provocative precisely because it knows that it isn’t good. This is speech which mocks the good by being irreverent. It is the language of the debauched and the insecure. Cheap likes, cheap jokes, and cheap entertainment. They don’t have anything worth while to say, so they say something shocking for attention.

Foolish Talk: These are words which aren’t as perverted as they are unfitting. They are stupid and pointless — words that are idle and do not build up. And Jesus says in Matthew 12, ““Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (Idle) word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”” (Matthew 12:33–37, ESV).

Our words are not to be foolish, idle, and careless, proving to be the bad fruit of a bad heart. Our words are to be the good fruit of a good heart. They are the treasure that is brought out from the storehouse of God in us. Our words should adorn, bless, and build. We are not to over talk and we are not to make conversation of immature and unfitting things.  What fits the occasion? Well, read the room. Is this an inappropriate time to tell a joke, turn the conversation toward yourself, gossip, offer correction, boasting?

A helpful verse here is Prov. 10:19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (Proverbs 10:19, ESV)

Crude Joking: There are ways in which we allow corrupt speech to come out of our mouth “under the radar”. We use humor to push boundaries and claim that we are only playing. We try to get a rise out of some, tease others, and all in the name of insecurity and profanity.

Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”” (Proverbs 26:18–19, ESV)

Those are some of the obvious ways in which our speech needs to align with goodness, but what are some others? What are the words that fit the occasion and build up?

Ephesians 5:4 says not to speak with filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, but instead to speak with thanksgiving.One way to speak that is never idle and worthless is to acknowledge with gratitude those whom God has placed in your life. Gratitude is tough, but it is good. One way to bless your relationships is to make it known to them how thankful you are for them, for what they do, and how God has blessed you through them. This takes perception to see what a blessing they are and it takes humility to acknowledge the benefit of others. To go back to our definition of right and fitting speech, gratitude is one way that we speak which isn’t bent. Gratitude is speech which is fitting and which is good.

Again, goodness is that which is serving the Creator’s intent. We are not relativists, claiming that anything can be what we want it to be based on our own definitions and desires. We look at examples of this in our culture and we are dumbfounded when we see men claiming to be women and the Truth is reduced to an individual “my truth”. But when it comes to doing good to others, we can quickly become relativists, claiming that we only need to act or speak with generosity, kindness, forgiveness, and blessing, based on our own definitions of what is kind speech and our own definitions of how to be kind based on the same things: our feelings. God says that we are to match Him and His definition, not ours. And God is good.

On relativity — truth, goodness, and beauty (classical education example)

He is producing the fruit in us that reflects His goodness. So take out all that is bent: the idle speech, the accusatory speech, the unappreciative and critical speech, the ungrateful speech, the bitter speak, any lies, and speak good things to one another. Not based on your own preferences, but in obedience to God. Here are a few encouraging and aligning verses on how to speak:

Ephesians 4:32: Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

1 Thessalonians 5:11: Therefore encourage one another to build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Ephesians 5:21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Thinking about the way that God is good, He goes beyond utility and into the realm of benevolence. Butterflies may help to spread pollen that serves to germinate flowers, but he also makes the butterflies remarkably beautiful, as well as the flowers. He is good. And we, too should imitate this. In our speech, we want to avoid corruption, but we also want to avoid mere utility. Just as our homes should just be safe, they should be comfortable. Our songs shouldn’t just convey a message, they should delight with melody which embellish the words.  Our speech is to be filled with goodness — that which builds and serves and delights.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8, ESV)