Vol. 2 Issue 7 February 14, 2008
The weekly newsletter of True Potential Publishing
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.â€ (Galatians 5:22)
Last week we talked about â€œkindnessâ€ as a fruit of the Spirit. When Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, â€œkindnessâ€ comes just before â€œgoodness.â€ Thatâ€™s what I read in the Bible I study most, which is a New International Version. The King James Version uses the word â€œgentlenessâ€ where the NIV uses â€œkindness.â€ A few fruit down the list, the NIV uses â€œgentlenessâ€ where the KJV uses â€œmeekness.â€
â€œKindness,â€ â€œgoodnessâ€ and â€œgentlenessâ€ kind of sound like three ways of saying the same thing to me. I figured Iâ€™d better dig into the words to find out why Paul would have listed all three if they all meant pretty much the same thing.
Looking the words up in my concordance didnâ€™t seem to clear up the matter. Searching out all the times â€œkindness,â€ â€œgoodnessâ€ and â€œgentlenessâ€ are used in the Bible turned out to be sort of a jumble. Sometimes â€œgoodnessâ€ is the Hebrew for â€œkindness.â€ Sometimes â€œkindnessâ€ is the Greek word for â€œgoodnessâ€. The words are mixed around and mixed together. Itâ€™s all very confusing.
Why are â€œkindness,â€ â€œgoodnessâ€ and even â€œgentlenessâ€ used so interchangeably in different translations of the English Bible? Do they all pretty much mean the same thing? If they all mean pretty much the same thing, then why does each have its own word in the original language? And if they all mean pretty much the same thing, why would each be listed in Galatians 5: 22-23 as fruit of the Spirit? Was Paul just repeating himself, using different words to convey the same meaning for emphasis?
For us, itâ€™s kind of easy to fall into the trap of spiritualizing what Paul was saying and blend each of these attributes of the fruit of the Spirit into a sort of homogenous pudding of spiritual â€œniceness.â€ Is that really what Paul was trying to get across? A benign, cloud-floating, passive, â€œnicenessâ€?
Well, Paul wasnâ€™t repeating himself by using different words all having the same general meaning. And he wasnâ€™t mixing up a â€œnicenessâ€ pudding, by blending all these words with apparently similar meanings. Galatians 5:22-23 lists nine attributes of the fruit of the Spirit. Each of these nine is different from the others; none are redundant and none are superfluous.
â€œKindnessâ€ (the KJV uses â€œgentlenessâ€), is â€œchrestotesâ€ in Greek. We talked about kindness last week. The closest way to describe â€œchrestotesâ€ in English would be â€œmoral goodness,â€ â€œintegrity,â€ â€œbenignity,â€ or simply, â€œkindness.â€
â€œGentlenessâ€ or â€œmeekness,â€ is something weâ€™ll be talking about in a few weeks. The Greek word the NIV translates as â€œgentlenessâ€ and the KJV translates as â€œmeeknessâ€ is â€œpraotes.â€ Itâ€™s like â€œchrestotes,â€ but more passive; â€œmildnessâ€ is another English word you might use for â€œpraotes.â€ Again, weâ€™ll talk more about it in a few weeks.
â€œGoodness,â€ in the NIV and KJV (and every other English translation worth a flip) is the Greek word â€œagathosune.â€ â€œAgathosuneâ€ only appears in the Bible four times, and itâ€™s always translated â€œgoodness.â€ It means, â€œuprightness of heart and life.â€
So why all this back and forth on these three words? Donâ€™t they really mean about the same thing? Arenâ€™t they all trying to say, â€œbe good,â€ â€œbe kind,â€ â€œbe nice,â€ â€œbe meek,â€ â€œbe mild,â€ â€œbe benignâ€?
Thatâ€™s an interesting word, isnâ€™t it? According to the Encarta Dictionary, â€œbenignâ€ means: â€œkindly, not life-threatening, harmless, favorable (mild).â€ Is that what â€œgoodnessâ€ is describing? Is it just another word for â€œharmlessâ€ or â€œmildâ€?
Two of our nine words describing the fruit of the Spirit are â€œkindnessâ€ and â€œgentlenessâ€. Jesus taught us that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) and that if someone strikes you on your right cheek you should turn your left to him as well (Matthew 5:39). Meekness, mildness, benignity and harmlessness are pretty well established facets of following Christ, are they not? So why am I trying so hard to make a distinction between â€œkindness,â€ â€œgoodnessâ€ and â€œgentlenessâ€ theyâ€™re all different words for the same general idea, right?
Letâ€™s take another look at the definition of â€œagathosuneâ€ (goodness): â€œuprightness of heart and life.â€ Again, the word is only used four times in the Bible. Besides Galatians 5:22, itâ€™s used in Romans 15:14, Ephesians 5:9 and II Thessalonians 1:11. Do you want to know the words itâ€™s associated with in those passages? â€œKnowledge,â€ â€œinstruction,â€ â€œrighteousness,â€ â€œtruth,â€ â€œpowerâ€ and â€œpurpose.â€ Is it starting to sound a little less â€œbenignâ€; a little less â€œharmlessâ€?
â€œGoodnessâ€ isnâ€™t a sissy word. Thereâ€™s something extremely powerful, sometimes even frightening (if youâ€™re on the wrong side of it) about goodness.
William Barclay writes in his Daily Study Bible commentary, that: â€œIt [agathosune] is the widest word for goodness; it is defined as â€˜virtue equipped at every point.â€™ â€¦ Agathosune might, and could, rebuke and discipline ….â€
John W. Ritenbaugh, in Forerunner Commentary says of Romans 15:14: â€œThis verse provides a clear sense of an active, even aggressive, goodness.â€
Agathosune is a pretty big word; it covers a lot of territory. Itâ€™s â€œvirtue equipped at every point.â€ That can mean doing the right thing in a quiet and gentle way, like giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty man. But it can also mean not letting wickedness and hypocrisy stand; being consumed with the knowledge and power and purpose of Godâ€™s goodness. It can mean causing a stir, when itâ€™s a stir thatâ€™s needed.Remember when Jesus made a whip out of cords and went on a tirade in the Temple; kicking over tables of the merchants and moneychangers?
Remember when he berated Israelâ€™s religious leaders in front of the crowds, calling them â€œhypocritesâ€ and â€œblind guidesâ€? Jesusâ€™ behavior doesnâ€™t sound very â€œbenignâ€ or â€œharmless,â€ does it?
A lot of Bible scholars believe that Jesus was showing â€œagathosuneâ€ in one of its purest forms. John remembered the prophecy that the Christ would be consumed with zeal for Godâ€™s house (John 2: 17). Jesus was consumed with â€œgoodnessâ€; consumed with â€œuprightness of heart and life.â€
Jesus allowed himself to be spat upon and allowed a crown of thorns to pierce his brow; he allowed a mob to put him on a cross and he asked his Father in Heaven to forgive them for what they had done. He fed the hungry, healed the sick and allowed children to come and sit on his lap as he spoke to the crowds. The same Jesus violently and forcefully cleared the Temple of thieves dressed as respectable businessmen and publicly rebuked hypocrites who pretended to represent God.
â€œGoodnessâ€ is a bigger word than â€œkindness.â€ â€œUprightness of heart and lifeâ€ means that youâ€™ll feed the hungry and care for the sick. It means that youâ€™ll love your neighbor as yourself. It means that youâ€™ll take time for a child, even when the crowd is pressing in; and that youâ€™ll be ready to forgive and turn away anger with a soft word.
But â€œgoodnessâ€ also means that â€œuprightness of heart and mindâ€ will consume you. Youâ€™ll not let evil stand; especially in the place where goodness is meant to be made manifest.
Do you want goodness to rule your life? Answer anger with a soft word. Turn the other cheek. Forgive. Care for those who hurt. And when necessary, kick over a few tables; cause a stir when itâ€™s a stir thatâ€™s needed. Itâ€™s all goodness.