March 3, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Fruits of the Spirit
7th Sunday after Epiphany
During the past few weeks we have been looking at Galatians 5:22-23, the Fruits of the Spirit. So far we have learned about love, joy, and peace, the first group of fruits that demonstrate the Christian believer’s attitude toward God. Now we are learning about the middle group of three fruits, patience, kindness, and goodness or some of your Bibles say generosity, which demonstrates the Christian believer’s attitude toward other people.
Today, we will look at the last fruit of the middle three, goodness or generosity. This word goodness or generosity can also be translated from the Hebrew as friendly, lovely, joyous, pleasing, desirable, or suitable to name a few. Goodness has the same problem as love, our first fruit. It can be used in so many ways. We can say, “I had a good meal,” or “I met a good person,” or “We had a good cry.” They are all just a little different.
We first see “good” used in the Bible in the Creation story. In the opening chapters of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. He created life in the sea and in the air and on the ground. And after each creation God looked at it and said, “It is good.”
On the six day, God created us and he looked at us and said that his creation was “very good.” You see, good to God means that he was pleased with what he had accomplished. So maybe we could say, “Goodness means something that pleases God.” And just maybe, we could go a step further and say, “A good person is a person who is pleasing to God or whose ways are pleasing to God.”
The Bible also tells us that “God is good.” After all, only a good God could create good and pleasing things. Matthew 19:16-17 says this: 16 A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have life forever?” Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. But if you want to have life forever, obey the commands.” Now what makes God good? Well, God is pure, God is holy, God is forgiving, God is generous. We know these and many more things about God from scripture. So therefore, if we are created in the image of God, and if we are “very good” people, then, all those characteristics should be true of us, too. We are created to be good.
Every once in a while, when someone says goodbye to me, they will also add, “Now be good.” And I think to myself, “In my profession, it’s hard to be anything else.” Think about that. You expect me to be good because I’m your pastor, don’t you? After all, everybody knows that pastors are supposedly paid to be good. All of you are good for nothing, but I’m paid to be good. Isn’t that the strangest thing!
Well, we are all created to be good in God’s sight. It is part of who God created us to be. And so Proverbs tell us what truly makes a good and generous person. More about those things in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?
God does not say, “Be good, and I will love you.” Rather, He says, “Because I love you, you should be good.” Goodness is doing the right thing for the right reason. Goodness is thinking about other people before thinking about ourselves. Remember, the fruits of the spirit, patience, kindness, and goodness or generosity, demonstrates our Christian attitude toward other people. Goodness is doing the right thing for the right reason. Goodness is selflessness. Goodness is service. Goodness is putting your faith in God.
Take a minute and turn with me in your Bibles to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4. Most of you know this story. It is goodness to the nth degree. As Christians, it is our job to become more and more like Christ himself. If you want to model perfect love, look at Jesus. If you want peace and joy in your life, look at Jesus. If you want patience and kindness in your life, look at Jesus. The same is true of goodness and generosity.
Now don’t make the mistake of thinking that goodness came naturally for Jesus. He had to struggle with it just like we do. He lived in the flesh just as we live in the flesh. Because of that, Satan tempted Jesus over and over again. Even on the night before his death, he asked that the trials he was about to undergo would be taken from him. Well, here in Luke 4, we see Satan at his best or worst. Luke 4, verse 1:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” This is the age-old struggle between selfishness and selflessness. It started in the Garden of Eden and it continues today. Today’s culture tells us that as long as we have food and nice clothing, as long as we live in a nice home and have a good car, as long as we are able to live in comfort, then we are a success and ought to be proud of ourselves. Society teaches us to satisfy our needs and wants first.
So here is Satan, trying to get Jesus to focus on Himself. Just as he does with us, Satan hits Jesus in his weakest area. Jesus hasn’t eaten in 40 days. He is hungry. Jesus could have done what was right but it would have been for the wrong reason. He could have taken the easy way out and satisfied his hunger. If he did, then Jesus would never have been willing to pray on that day in Garden, “Not my will, but your will be done.” In Jesus’ goodness, he was more concerned about our future needs in defeating Satan’s power, than satisfying his own immediate needs.
Jesus, because He continually did the will of His Father, knew that the most important thing was not Himself, but us. And so he said, “Man does not live on bread alone.” He did the right thing for the right reason. Living off the Word of God is more important than satisfying an immediate fleshly need. It is about selflessness.
Let’s read on about the second temptation. And [Satan] led [Jesus] up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”
Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” Here was another age old struggle, power over others versus service to others. Even Adam and Eve wanted the same power as God and it caused their fall. Satan was now using the same tried and true formula on Jesus that he has used on humankind throughout the centuries: power and control. The more you own, the more you can control. The more you control, the more people there will be to serve you.
But who is really the owner of the things we have? Even though Satan was trying to entice Jesus to take power over all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus already knew who owned them all. Who is the owner of the things in your life? Is it you, or is it God? There is a big difference in this thinking. If God is the owner, then he is just loaning all his things to you to teach you the responsibility of being a good steward. Knowing who owns the things in your life will determine how you use those things. Will you use them to bring glory to God, or will you use them to bring glory to yourself? Will you use your things in power and control over other people or will you use your things in service to other people and to God’s kingdom.
Jesus knew generosity and goodness. “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” Jesus did the right thing for the right reason. Jesus chose selflessness over selfishness. He chose service for others over power and control.
Let’s read on, verse 9: And [Satan] led [Jesus] to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” With this, Jesus knew where to put his faith. He did not have to prove he was the Son of God. His faith was in God. It was not in the false trust of Satan. In our goodness and generosity we can sometimes make choices that are not in our best interest or the best interest of others. Sometimes we put our faith in the wrong things.
Satan took Jesus to the very top of the Temple in Jerusalem. At its highest point overlooking the Kidron Valley, it would have been over a 400 foot fall to the valley floor below. Satan wanted to expose Jesus to the multitudes too early in Jesus’ ministry. Satan wanted people to follow Jesus for the miracle that would supposedly happen when Jesus would not be harmed from the fall. The people would flock to Jesus and follow him because of his popularity, not because of their love for God. Satan was trying to keep Jesus from his destiny on the cross and fulfilling the crucifixion and resurrection.
Satan even perverted the verse from Psalm 91:11. It reads: For [God] will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. Notice how Satan says: He will command His angels concerning You to guard You. He left out “in all your ways.” You see, that is the important part. God will guard each of us as long as we adhere to His ways, to what he has taught us in his written word. His ways, which should be our ways, are to be ways of goodness and righteousness. But if we do things our way, there is no guarantee that God is going to be there to save us.
For example, we can ask God for good health, but if we do not practice healthy ways, then why should God bless what we do. You can ask God to save your soul, but if you do not practice the means of grace of being saved, like studying your Bible, attending worship, taking communion, or living a life of goodness for others, then there is no guarantee that God will honor your request. That is why Jesus told Satan, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
You and I need to know where to put our faith. Our faith is to be in God, not in the false trust of Satan or in our own ways. Jesus could not give in to throwing himself from the Temple. That would not fulfill God’s way and purpose for his life. It would have been easy for Jesus to throw himself down, be saved, and then let the people follow him everywhere. But in Jesus’ goodness, he was thinking about us.
It would also have been easy for Jesus, while hanging on the cross, to listen to the people crying out, “Jesus, if you are really the Messiah, come down from the cross and save yourself. Then we will believe in you. Show us that you are really the Son of God and we will follow you.” Jesus could have done that. He could have saved himself. But in his goodness, he knew that he could not have saved us, too. Jesus did the right thing for the right reason.
Folks, as you can clearly see, goodness is about doing the right thing for the right reason. It is about other people. It is about selflessness instead of selfishness. It is about service instead of power and control. It is about faith in the one true God instead of false trust in ourselves or some other dark power. “Those who are generous are blessed,” Proverbs 22:9 says, “for they share their bread with the poor.”
Our goodness and generosity are shown in what we do for others. If you share your bread with the poor, it means that you give liberally and that your charity knows no limits. There is another verse in the Book of Proverbs, Proverbs 11:25, that says this: The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if your goodness and generosity overflow to others, then God’s blessings are going to overflow and rain down on you. Nobel Prize winner in literature, Sam Bellow, once said, “A man is only as good as what he loves.” If you truly love others, as Jesus did, then your goodness and generosity will surely show. You will no longer be good for nothing, but you will be good for something because of who you love. After all, Jesus said, love God and love your neighbor. Those are the two greatest commandments. And then, according to Proverbs, God will pay you handsomely in blessings.