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“But the fruit of the Spirit is…goodness” Galatians 5:22
I have said in earlier installments of this study that each fruit listed in this passage appears to flow one from the other. That this is true was never made clearer than looking at “goodness” for this week’s post. I spoke last week on how “kindness” in this passage was translated “goodness” in other scripture passages and I wondered how the “goodness” which comes next in the Apostle Paul’s list differed. In turns out, that’s not an easy question to answer.
The entry in the Strong’s Concordance does not really elaborate on “goodness”. The Greek word used by Paul is agathosune (G19) and it has the definition of goodness, virtue or beneficence. The primary agathos (G18) gives the definition of “good (in any sense, often as a noun)-benefit, good (-s, things), well”. I don’t know about you but I am left thinking, “Well, good but I’m not seeing anything new here.” It turns out we’re not alone.
Richard Chevenix Trench states: “Agathosyne (G19) is one of many words where revealed religion has enriched the later language of Greece. Agathosyne occurs only in the Greek translations of the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and in writings directly dependent on these. The grammarians never acknowledged or gave it their stamp of approval and insisted that chrestotes (G5544) should always be used in its place…The difficulty in precisely defining agathosyne occurs primarily because there are no helpful passages in classical Greek literature where the word is used. Although classical usage can never be the absolute standard by which we define the meaning of words in Scripture, we feel a loss when there are no classical instances to use for comparison. It is prudent first to consider chrestotes. After determining its range of meaning, it will be easier to ascertain what agathosyne means.”1
I conducted a study on chrestotes (G5544) last week so will not repeat that work here. Trench does go on to quote Jerome saying: “…the Stoics define it thus: chrestotes is a virtue willingly ready to do good. Agathosyne is not much different, for it also seems ready to do good. But it differs in that it can be more harsh and with a countenance wrinkled by strict standards for one to do well and to excel in what is demanded, without being pleasant to associates and attracting crowds by its sweetness.”2
Trench uses the illustration of Jesus driving the money lenders from the temple (Mat 21:13) and speaking harshly to the scribes and Pharisees (Mat 23:1-39) as agathosune. Trench contrasts these examples of what he calls “righteous indignation” with Jesus’ reception of the penitent woman (Luk 7:37-50) and in all his other gracious dealings with the children of men which illustrate chrestotes.
I did not find this helpful. Interesting, to be sure, but there was still no revelation. I checked each occurrence of agathosune in the New Testament to see if usage could help me understand. There are four: Romans 15:14, Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5:9, and 2 Thessalonians 1:11. I looked up each one and had to read all of the 5th chapter of Ephesians in attempt to get a grasp on what Paul is saying. I still had no revelation and ended my study for the night utterly confused as to what this goodness is. I was so confused I couldn’t express myself to my mother who, looking equally confused after I’d spoken with her, told me to wait on the Spirit who would give me revelation. Always good advice. After all, if I believe Scripture is god-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and I do, who better to tell me what it means than He who inspired it?
I started this post by pointing out how each of the fruit listed in this passage flows one from the other. That is true but it isn’t the entire truth. There is only one fruit. The Greek word here is singular, not plural. Each word listed by the Apostle Paul reveals more of The Fruit of the Spirit within us which is the very person of Jesus Christ. All of them are a revelation of who He is and who He is in us. As I meditated on the meaning of agathosune and waited on the Holy Spirit, I had Zoom Church and Bishop Malcolm Smith shared a message that showed me what true admonishment from someone filled with the fruit of the Spirit looked like (Romans 15:14). This goodness could be defined as “let us speak the truth in love (agape)” (Ephesians 4:15).
I saw an online study that said the speaking the truth in love the Apostle Paul talked about was speaking that which is doctrinally correct. I do not agree. Jesus is the truth (John 14:6) and this fixation on correct doctrine and the subsequent bickering between denominations has nothing to do with the fruit of the Spirit. Ephesians 5: 8-11 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather expose them.” Romans 15:14 says, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” As this goodness is found only in the Indwelling Christ, so is the necessary knowledge. I am convinced we cannot truly know what is acceptable to the Lord unless we know the Lord through His Spirit.
I am reading a book right now that, after listening to that message, I realized also illustrates agathosune. It’s called “The Power of the Spirit” and is a collection of writings by William Law. As he speaks on the knowledge that comes from institutions of learning and institutions of religion he writes; “Let no one here imagine that I am writing against all human literature, arts, and sciences, or that I wish the world to be without them. I am no more an enemy of them than of the common useful labors of life. It is the application to the things of the Spirit of God of the same methods of learning and wisdom used by worldly scholars in earthly pursuits that I charge with folly and mischief.”3
William Law goes on to say, “Consider first of all that true deliverance from sin is nowhere to be found for fallen man, but in these two points: (1) A total childlike faith in gospel salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ for man; and (2) A total resignation to, and sole dependence upon, the continual operation of the Holy Spirit in man. Through Him, Christ becomes our never-ceasing light, teacher, guide, and living power whereby we can walk in all the ways of virtue in which He Himself walked in the flesh. All beside this, call it by what name you will, is but dead work, a vain labor of the old man to recreate himself. For nothing else is meant or taught by the gospel, but a total dying to self (called taking up the cross to follow Christ) that a new creature (called Christ in us) may be born into the purity and perfection of a vital life-union with God.
“Let the Christian world forget or depart from this true gospel salvation; let anything else be trusted but the cross of Christ and the Spirit of Christ; and then, though churches and preachers and prayers and sacraments are everywhere in plenty, nothing can come of them but a Christian kingdom of pagan vices, along with a mouth-professed belief in the Apostle’s Creed and the communion of saints. To this sad truth all Christendom both at home and abroad bears full witness. Who need be told that no corruption or depravity of human nature, no kind of pride, wrath, envy, malice, and self-love; no sort of hypocrisy, falseness, cursing, gossip, perjury, and cheating; no wantonness of lust in every kind of debauchery, foolish jesting, and worldly entertainment, is any less common all over Christendom, both popish and Protestant, than towns and villages. What vanity then, to count progress in terms of numbers of new and lofty cathedrals, chapels, sanctuaries, mission stations, and multiplied new membership lists, when there is no change in this undeniable departure of men’s hearts from the living God. Yea, let the whole world be converted to Christianity of this kind, and let every citizen be a member of some Protestant or Catholic church and mouth the creed every Lord’s day; and no more would have been accomplished toward bringing the kingdom of God among men than if they had all joined this or that philosophical society or social fraternity.”4
Harsh words? Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (verses 21-23) Some translations have “workers of iniquity” in this passage.
This is so important. We must be filled with the Spirit. Our lives must be lived in unceasing intimacy with Jesus Christ. If our denominations, doctrines, creeds, and knowledge have become a substitute for this living in vital union with Jesus through his Spirit, let us turn from them. May we be full of His goodness, filled with His knowledge, and then may we speak the truth in His love.
Unless notes otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982
- Walker, Allen G., The New Koine Greek Textbook Series Supplements, 2019, Richard Chevenix Trench’s Synonyms, Page 139
- Walker, Allen G., The New Koine Greek Textbook Series Supplements, 2019, Richard Chevenix Trench’s Synonyms, Page 139-140
- Law, William, The Power of the Spirit, The Wisdom of This World Denies the Spirit, CLC Publications, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1971, Page 56
- Law, William, The Power of the Spirit, The Wisdom of This World Denies the Spirit, CLC Publications, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1971, Page 56-57
The Comparative Study Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984
Strong, James, LLD., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990
Check out Bishop Malcolm Smith