“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:15
What does it mean to “do good”? That’s the big question we explored this past Sunday as we continued to look at various traits that define us as Christians.
To take a closer look at doing good, we should start in the first chapter of Genesis where the Hebrew word for “good” — transliterated as “TOB” — is used seven times! You know the story: God was creating the Earth, and the Lord saw that it was good. Not just that it looked good on the outside with wonderful things such as fruit-bearing trees — but also because the seeds from the fruit of those trees created more trees and more fruit. The trees worked. They provided food and nourishment and sustenance. The trees weren’t merely a wonder to behold, they also were good — down to their core.
Then God created man — and the Lord said this particular creation of his was very good. Imagine that: You and I are the height of God’s creation! But things took a really bad turn in Genesis 3 when man sinned, which precipitated our fall. Brokenness came into the world, and our “TOB” gave way to problems such as disease and racism and sexism and hurtful relationships. We began to experience pain and suffering. But God had a plan for redemption through his son Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins and opened the door for us to enter God’s kingdom through trusting alone in Christ’s death and resurrection. It is indeed Good News as all things in our lives become new in that salvation moment.
OK — so how do we get to real goodness in our day to day lives?
Well, the process starts with pursuing holiness. A good way to put flesh and blood on that concept is to recall the story of Jesus encountering the rich young ruler in the Gospels. This young man had everything the world had to offer — but he also lacked one thing money couldn’t buy: Eternal life. So, he went right to Jesus, called him “good teacher,” and asked him what he needed to do about that problem. Jesus responded in a very interesting way (as Jesus typically does!) with a question of his own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
You see, Jesus didn’t want this rich young ruler to get the idea that he could earn his way to heaven with actions. And in the rest of this story, the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus replied that he needed to sell all he owned and give the money to the poor — and then to follow him. In that moment he didn’t want to do what he needed to do to inherit eternal life — to put aside the things of this world and trust Jesus by following him. And that’s where holiness starts.
And being in this relationship with Jesus also means that doing good and goodness takes on new meaning. Indeed, Scripture says the Lord long ago prepared good for us to do. Not goodness to earn God’s love (because the Lord loves us freely) but because goodness comes from God! As Christ’s workmanship we are prompted to do good as an outgrowth of our relationship with him (Ephesians 10:2). Again, goodness doesn’t equal actions or behavior to earn God’s love or acceptance, and it’s certainly not about being nice. Instead it’s a state of being deep down in our core.
Have you ever prayed and asked God to point out the ways he wants you to change so he can increase his goodness in your life? To shine his spotlight on sin he wants you to dismiss? If there’s any prayer we can pretty much guarantee God will answer in the affirmative, it’s that one! And responding to God’s nudging in these areas of change means choosing virtue. That’s the next step in figuring out goodness.
And the third step in that process? To champion generosity. That means sharing our lives with others, giving of ourselves, and exceeding what’s expected as we take on such challenges. We all know about the story of the Good Samaritan (again, that word “good”) — and what did the Good Samaritan do? He had compassion on a man who was beaten and robbed on a road, a man who was from a different place, a man who gave his time and his money to help this man. That’s a lot of what goodness looks like — and we can do the same thing.
We’ve also learned during our Sundays together that there are three types of people in the world: Takers (those who are out for themselves), “balance the scale” folks (“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”), and givers.
But be forewarned: If you resolve to be a giver, eventually you’ll get hurt (if it hasn’t happened already). At some point you’ll be taken for granted and even mistreated. So, the question is: What will you do with that pain when you experience it? The answer has some theology behind it, but plenty of practicality, too: When you share your goodness with others, you must do it for God and not for others or yourself! Besides being of the correct spiritual mindset, doing good as unto the Lord goes a long way toward reducing the importance of how others react to the good we do for them. That’s because — unlike people who are imperfect — God will never hurt us or mistreat us, ever. Keep that attitude in mind as you “seek to do good to one another and to everyone,” as our latest verse in 1 Thessalonians 5 charges us.
Have you asked the Lord to give you opportunities to do good? With family members, friends, and even strangers? The kind of “TOB” goodness detailed at the dawn of creation is now ours to share freely with others because of Jesus being at work in our lives. And all we need to do is ask God to lead us toward that next moment — and he will provide it. And perhaps the most exciting part is that doing good things for others that the Lord gave us to do in advance, will draw to God those we’re reaching out to. How exciting to be a part of that adventure stretching toward eternity! Let us be about that kind of goodness this week — and for the rest of our days.