What is goodness? This is a definition I’ve struggled with. So often we just think of it as being similar to kindness – doing good deeds for other people. But if Paul listed it as a separate fruit of the Spirit there must be more to it than this. I suppose my earliest encounter with the idea of goodness was as a child when we would go visiting. There would always be that inevitable conversation in the car en route where we would be warned in preparation “Now be good!” (similar to the instruction every child gets when entering a china shop “Now don’t touch anything!”). I knew exactly what “being good” meant in that context….remember my manners, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, don’t interrupt when the adults were talking, go easy on the chocolate biscuits if there was tea on the go and play nice with the other children’s toys. (In addition I always had to get an extra reminder not to be telling any secrets, since spilling the beans was my unfortunate trademark as a child growing up: “We bought your Christmas present this week. It’s a bracelet!”)
So is this fruit of Goodness just really all round best behaviour? Well again we will look to Tim Keller’s helpful translations from the original Greek word:
Another English word that we don’t hear much of but means the same thing as this is “integrity”. You could look up some definitions of what it means to be a person with integrity.
Tim Keller also helps us understand what goodness means by explaining that the opposite of it is phoniness (ie being false) or hypocrisy.
So now that we hopefully have a clearer picture of what the fruit of goodness is you could write a definition into your journal and get ready to explore one character in the Bible who demonstrated this fruit in lots of different situations.
We will look at some snapshots from the life of Joseph. If you have time read through the gaps between these verses to keep up with how his story progresses. The key verses for today are:
Genesis 37 v 2
Genesis 37 v 13-17
Genesis 39 v 1-4
Genesis 39 v 7-12
This is quite long, so split it up over as many days as you need to. As you read the verses use the SOAP technique to jot down what you observe and then how it applies to your situation.
Gen 37 v 2: Goodness tells the truth, even when it’s unpopular
Joseph brought his father a bad report of them
So often we’re accustomed to thinking of young Joseph as someone who we wouldn’t like…a tell-tale, a show-off. It can sometimes even be painted as if Joseph brought a lot of his later troubles on himself: no wonder his brothers hated him when he was always sucking up and telling tales! But let’s think about this more closely, because I really believe Joseph actually sets us a true example of goodness here in this verse. Look ahead to verse 14. It was obviously common place for Jacob to send Joseph (perhaps the only son he knew he could trust) to find out if everything was ok with the sheep. This is most likely what the background to v 2 was. Joseph had been sent out with a job to do. Obviously what Joseph saw was not good. Perhaps the brothers were neglecting the sheep in favour of doing their own thing, or we know from reading about these men that they could be very cruel. Perhaps the sheep were being badly treated. So what would you do in Joseph’s shoes? Your brothers hate you and if you tell the truth it will only get worse. Joseph chose to display goodness – this means he hated to see his father being taken advantage of and the proper job not being done and so responded with complete honesty.
In society today, telling the truth like this is seen as the ultimate betrayal and the person who stands up for what is right is often viewed more negatively than the people they stand up against. But as Christians we follow God’s behaviour patterns, not the world’s. Can you think of any situations, perhaps in school, where you need to take a stand against something that is wrong, even though it may be unpopular to do so? What about if you know someone in your class is being bullied or given a hard time, perhaps even online? Would you be willing to speak out against wrong behaviour? Or for those of us at work, when we know there are dishonest things going on or colleagues are being exploited do we just turn a blind eye?
To always stand up for what is good may cost us our popularity, so what is really at the heart of this is the following probing question:
It was lovely thinking of the verse in Philippians which told us if we did the right thing we would shine like stars. That was very appealing! But what about these words from the New Testament?
We must be aware that if we consistently do the right thing it will make us unpopular. This is because light shows up darkness and those who (like Joseph’s brothers) are doing ‘dark deeds’ would prefer that there was no light around them!
But a word of caution about this before we move on:
We need to be very careful about our true motives. Sometimes we can secretly be pleased if someone we don’t like steps out of line or behaves badly and we get the chance to tell others what they’ve done. We maybe are inwardly happy to tarnish their reputation or score ourselves some brownie points. This is not an example of goodness!
Genesis 37 v 13-17 Goodness will always go the 13 miles!
Jacob gave Joesph the same assignment in v13, to go and check on his brothers and bring back a report. Notice Joseph’s willingness to do it. He didn’t try to reason his way out of it by explaining to his father that his brothers didn’t even have a kind word for him (v4). He simply says “Here I am.”
When our Heavenly Father gives us a task to do, even if it is difficult and may make us unpopular, are we as willing as Joseph was to do it?
We find in v 15- 17 that Joseph had the golden opportunity to avoid the trouble and abuse that awaited him. When he got to Schechem his brothers weren’t where they were supposed to be. What a great chance to run home and tell daddy on them while at the same time avoid the inevitable bullying he was in for. But this is not how goodness would behave. This would not be honest and transparent. Do you know how much further Joseph had to go to find his brothers at Dothan? 13 miles. 13 long weary miles of walking in the hot sun. And what awaited him at the end of the 13 mile trek? A group of men who we’re told would not even have a kind word for him; a group of men who even as he approached in the distance were plotting his death.
Would I have gone the extra 13 miles? Or would I have compromised by getting to Schechem and thinking “Oh well I tried, but they’re not here.” One definition of a compromise is:
Can you think of any situations in your life where you may be be tempted to compromise? Let’s pray that God will help us to always come up higher and do the extra miles. Joseph wouldn’t let 13 miles be the distance to stop him fulfilling his father’s will.
Do we always do the best job that we can when we’re given a task? Think of your attitude to your homework or tasks at work.
Genesis 39 v 1-4 Goodness is consistent
So we all know the story of where Joseph ended up – a slave in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, far from the love and favour of his father. This is how we know that Joseph’s previous actions looked at above had sprung from the goodness in his heart. If he had been telling tales to deliberately get his brothers into trouble and revel in his father’s favouritism, surely now that would all fizzle out. Surely now was the time for Joseph to throw a massive ‘pity party’, decide that ‘being good’ was not worth the hassle and grow rebellious and hard in his heart.
Write down words to describe how Joseph would have been feeling in his early days as a slave.
How did he actually behave when he felt like this?
Joseph clearly had made a choice that he would always do the right thing and approach every task he was given with an excellent attitude. I’m sure there were many duties on his daily ‘To Do’ list that he didn’t enjoy, but goodness is consistent. Note down the different tasks on your ‘To Do’ list at the minute; remember to include your chores at home as well as your school work. Think about which you will find it hardest to approach with excellence, but pray that we will be like Joseph and choose to always give our best, even when we really don’t feel like it!
Genesis 39 v 7-12 Goodness doesn’t look for excuses
We all know this part of the story very well. Sometimes with a well known story we don’t really stop to put ourselves right into the person’s shoes. Spend some time thinking about why this situation would have been very tempting for Joseph. For example, remember
- Joseph was not a free man, so probably had no opportunity to have a relationship with any other female
- Joseph had done the right thing while at home and the result had not appeared to be blessing, but rather hardship.
- Joseph would have been missing the close companionship he had with his father and was probably lonely at times
- He could have felt he had no choice – “she is my boss after all”
- This was not just a one off suggestion – this occurred day after day.
If we are not acting with genuine goodness, we can usually justify wrong behaviour in our minds. Christians will not very often say “I know this is wrong but I’m just going to do it anyway.” Rather, we can be very good at finding excuses and ways to justify our actions in our own minds. Joseph could have made lots of excuses in his mind to convince himself it would be ok to get involved with Potiphar’s wife; but he again did the right thing and acted with goodness.
Are there situations in your life where you are facing real temptations? Let’s pray that we will see through the excuses the devil tries to give us and always choose to do the right thing.