The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness & Goodness
In the Christmas season, we’re often excited to give gifts, but we’re also excited to receive gifts. We know generosity is good, but we often consume not only gifts, but other people. It is good news, then, that Spirit works in us kindness and goodness.
Galatians (Geneva Commentaries), John Brown
Galatians (Crossway Classic Commentaries), Martin Luther
Galatians For You, Timothy Keller
We’re a week away from the day many throughout the world observe as Christmas. One tradition that has developed as part of the Christmas season is the tradition of giving and receiving gifts. So every year around Thanksgiving, I’m reminded to do two things: Make my Christmas list, and start getting Christmas lists from others. We think of giving gifts in this season, and we rightly emphasize the goodness of giving. But then, there is this other part of us that really likes receiving gifts. In America at least, the holiday can easily become a celebration of consumption. Many have noted how the day after Thanksgiving, a day we ostensibly give thanks for all the good we already have, is now a day devoted to going and getting all the stuff you don’t have. We see the goodness of giving and of generosity, and yet we also find in us this drive to consume, a drive that seems to war against our becoming the generous, giving people we often admire. Galatians 5, the passage on which we’re focusing for some Sundays, explains this dynamic. It says in Christians that there are two forces opposing one another: The flesh and the Spirit. The flesh drives us not only to enjoy receiving a gift, which is natural enough; it drives us to consume gifts, and to not only consume gifts, but to consume people. On the other hand, when we look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit in verse 22, the next two items we find on the list after love, joy, peace, and patience, which we’ve looked at in past Sundays, are kindness and goodness. So benefit others as the Spirit works kindness and goodness in you. To help us do that, we’ll look at what have become our standard three questions for this series of sermons: What is kindness and goodness? Why are they fruits of the Spirit? And How can we act on them?
What is kindness and goodness?
I assume it’s not lost on you that I’ve combined two fruits of the Spirit in this sermon, which is atypical for this series. But if you were to take a Ven diagram of the meaning of these two words, the amount of overlap in the middle is so significant that it would be hard to preach two very different sermons on them. The Greek words that lie behind them are even sometimes translated interchangeably. Nonetheless, we can consider the meaning of each in turn to arrive at a shared definition. The word kindness doesn’t appear elsewhere in Galatians, but it does appear three times in Romans, a closely related letter of Paul’s. When it appears with reference to God, in each case his kindness is contrasted in some way with his judgment. In judgment, someone is punished, or in the words of Romans 11, they are ”cut off” from blessings. But in the case of kindness, in contrast, God does good to someone, he blesses them. So similarly, Romans 3:12, in reference to humans, says that under sin no one does kindness or good.
What of this word goodness, then? It appears even less frequently; only 4 times in the whole New Testament. Its root, though, the word “good” appears far more frequently. So we read in Acts 14:17 that God “did good” to all nations, even to the non-Israelite nations, by giving them rains from heaven and fruitful seasons. That sounds a lot like Romans 2, where God was kind to sinful people instead of judging them. In Romans 2 we also read of those who, by God’s grace, do good, as opposed to those in Romans 3 who do not do good (or kindness), to which we just referred. So basically, as you look at the uses of both words, you find they refer to something similar: Doing good, or benefiting whoever the object of our action is. If we wanted to tease out a difference in nuance, we could say that kindness seems to be more associated with the act of doing good or benefiting someone, whereas goodness refers to the internal state of the one doing the good, but even this should not be pressed too far.
Bringing them together then, we could say a definition of kindness and goodness is doing good to others with a sincere desire to benefit them. One word that seems to bring them together is generosity. Or, to use a somewhat outdated word, another synonym is beneficence. Part of the dictionary definition of the Greek words is even “useful.” Kind and good people want to be useful in the lives of others. It’s action that flows from a sincere desire to be a “value-add” to others. Another way to think of it is “large-heartedness”. We’re a week away from Christmas, and one of the classic Christmas movies in America at least is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In it, the Grinch is a creature with a heart “two sizes too small.” At that size, he steals the Whos’ presents and food, while at the end, once his heart has been enlarged three sizes larger, he gives presents and food, and joins the Whos in feasting. For a more biblical example, consider the words of Psalm 119:32, where the Psalmist says to God: “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart.” Here the Psalmist is essentially saying: God, give me a big heart, and I will then run in the way of your commandments, those commandments which are fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Recall that all the fruits of the Spirit are one fruit, hence the singular “fruit” in verse 22: Love. When it comes to kindness and goodness, the link to love is perhaps the most obvious of any of the fruits of the Spirit. Love desires the good of another, and what do kindness and goodness incline us to do? They incline us to do good to another.
The opposite of kindness and goodness would be small-heartedness, greed, stinginess, and consumption. Think of the Grinch at the beginning of the story. So theft, taking without permission that which belongs to someone else, as in the Grinch’s case, is obviously opposite to kindness and goodness. Or, sticking with our Christmas theme, Mr. Scrooge would be the literary prototype of the opposite of kindness and goodness. He doesn’t steal from others like the Grinch does, but he refuses to donate money to provide food and heat for the poor, and in the words of Wikipedia, he “only grudgingly allows his overworked, underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit, Christmas Day off with pay to conform to the social custom.” He’s very hesitant to do good to another, and even when he does, it’s only as he’s forced into it by social custom, and then he does so grudgingly. That’s the kind of person our flesh makes us.
Returning to biblical language, consider the vivid image of Galatians 5:15: But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. What do we usually bite, devour, and consume? Food, and that’s exactly what you should do with food. But that’s not how we were created to treat one another. Our natural flesh inclines us to consume food, but our sinful flesh inclines us to consume one another, rather than giving to one another. So just as we might assess whether to continue shopping at a grocery store based on whether we’re getting the best food at the lowest price, people today will assess whether to continue in a friendship, whether to continue in a marriage, whether to stay in a church even, based on whether the fleshly benefit they receive from it exceeds what it’s costing their flesh to stay in it. We may expect others to do more and better work for us at a lower wage, look to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of others while giving up as little as possible, while we feel like we ought to be compensated more and be required to work less. How are we approaching others, then? Like Scrooge, we are consuming them. And the result when we operate out of the flesh is we tend to dwell a lot on how others should be serving us better, how they’ve fallen short, how we’ve been wronged, and spend comparatively little time benefiting others. Others tend to experience such people as needy, and such people tend to drain others, because they’re always consuming from them.
The opposite of kindness and goodness, then, is small-heartedness, greed, stinginess, consumption. The counterfeit would be niceness. Philadelphians don’t have a reputation for being nice, but I think most people I meet here are nice. Being nice today basically just means being non-confrontational. Nice people don’t do any harm to others, but they also don’t do much good to others. If we want to continue our heart illustration, we could say that kindness and goodness refers to an enlarged heart that’s always overflowing in benefiting others. The opposite is a small heart that’s always consuming and sucking others dry. The counterfeit is a static heart. It’s just kinda dead. So someone buts in front of you in line at the grocery store; what does the nice person do? They don’t get into a fit of anger. Instead, they say nothing. “Gotta be nice,” they tell themselves, while inwardly they’re also saying things like, “ugh, of course you would do that. Here I go again, being nice in a world full of mean people like that guy who butted in front of me.” You know what a kind person typically does in that situation? They kindly say, “Excuse me; I was standing there.” A kind person is the kind of person who would say that, but then in another scenario would gladly give up their spot in line to benefit another.
So also, “niceness” may incline someone to do counterfeit kindness to others, but it will typically spring from a fear of people more than a sincere desire to benefit people. I do “good” because it makes me feel good, or better yet, because it makes me feel like I am good, whether it’s actually benefiting the other person or not. It tends to breed “toxic charity”: Nice people can never say no, because they think a good person would probably say yes, and they want to feel like a good person. But the Bible tells us if someone will not work they should not eat (2 Thess 3:6) and gives very specific guidance on when to, and when not to, give ongoing financial assistance (1 Tim 5). “Nice” parents may not discipline their children, while the Bible tells us whoever spares the rod hates his son (Prov 13:24). And “nice” Christians will never confront another Christian who is wandering from the truth, even though the Psalmist tells us that a righteous man striking him is a “kindness” to him (Psalm 141:5). This is one practical benefit of keeping kindness and goodness together. Being kind doesn’t mean always yielding to others and never confronting; it means doing good to others for their benefit. It is directed by goodness, and as we’ll see in a moment, only God is good, so that if I don’t confront someone who is wandering from his goodness, I am not being kind to them. I’m being cruel. In the language of Proverbs, I’m hating them. But if you fear people, that’s what you’ll do. The consumers use people, the nice fear people, but the kind love people. I heard one pastor, I believe it was Steve Brown, expose this counterfeit this way: “Jesus didn’t die to make you nice. He died to set you free.” That is, he died to set you free from fearing people, so that you could love people, and do real good to them, for their benefit. As Romans 15:2 puts it, using our word for good: “Let each of us please his neighbor, for his good, to build him up.” In that context, “to build him up” means to build him closer to a certain image, which is the image of Christ. Let’s talk, then, about why kindness and goodness are fruits of the Spirit.
Why are they fruits of the Spirit?
Maybe it’s already obvious now from what I just said why these are fruits of the Spirit, but the basic reason is because we can only be truly kind and good if we are directed toward the good, and desire that good for others. Since God is the supreme good, we must first be directed toward him if we are to direct others toward him, and our flesh does not direct us toward him. Consider the story from Jesus’ life recorded in Mark 10. A man runs up to Jesus and kneels before him and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Before answering, Jesus says to him: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Really Jesus? No one is good except God alone? What about all the “good” people in the world? That’s one of the questions people ask us all the time, right? Do you Christians really believe all the good people in the world are going to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus? What about those who have never even heard of him?
A full answer to that question is beyond the scope of this sermon, though I’d be happy to attempt it after the service if any of you have that question. For now, though, I’ll just point out that Christians must challenge the assumption that there are truly good people. Jesus himself said no one is good but God alone. God is the supreme good. Any goodness in humans is only good to the degree that it is a participation in him who is the supreme good. And even that goodness, which was there in the first humans, is now lacking in us under sin. So remember Romans 3:12, where our word for kindness appeared in translation as “good”: No one does good, not even one. Let me read you the surrounding verses for context: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12). Now, don’t get me wrong: There are all kinds of people who do things that are good in themselves. Giving to the poor is objectively better than stealing, and non-Christian people frequently do such good. However, when we recognize God as the supreme good, we can see how it is impossible for anyone to do good apart from the Spirit: Because even the “good” we do, though for itself it may be good, and of good use to other people even, since it proceeds not from love for God, nor is it done according to the standard of God’s Word, nor to the end of God’s glory, it is not therefore ultimately good, in the sense in which Galatians 5:22 speaks of goodness. So Paul, even as a Christian, could say “I know that nothing good dwells in me; that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18).
Pretty much all of us, in our flesh, assume two things about ourselves: We aren’t perfect, but we’re basically good. So when we are unkind, that’s the exception, not the rule. It’s a mistake, an aberration, not “who we really are.” You hear this in celebrity apologies all the time. They do something terrible, say they’re sorry, but then assure everyone: “This is not reflective of who I really am deep down.” But the Bible’s description of humanity is far more realistic. We sin because we’re sinners. Our sin does reflect who we are deep down. We don’t do good because nothing good dwells in us, that is in our flesh. So part of becoming a Christian is learning to say, “The sins I have committed in my life are reflective of who I really am deep down. I am not simply imperfect; I am a sinner, and nothing good dwells in me.” So Romans can say there is no one who does good, not even one. All of us, whatever our relative outward acts of kindness, are, under sin, in rebellion against the supreme good. So what does our flesh incline us to do? It inclines us to consume others, always needing more and more kindness and goodness from them to make up for our lack of the supreme good. Or it inclines us to fear others, and be “nice” to them, so that we can feel good about ourselves, and feel that we are good, to cover up for the fact that we are in rebellion against the supreme good. Kindness and goodness are fruits of the Spirit because the flesh cannot produce them.
But why can the Spirit? As we’ve seen with the other fruits, it is first because kindness and goodness are attributes of God. We’ve already talked about Jesus’ statement that God alone is good. Elsewhere Jesus calls him perfect (Matt 5:48). To use the words of theologian Herman Bavinck, “God is the sum total of all perfections…All virtues are present in him in an absolute sense…His goodness, accordingly, is one with his absolute perfection.” In other words, whatever is truly good exists in God infinitely and essentially. He cannot become better, because he is already perfectly good, and he cannot become worse, because then he would no longer be God. This is, by the way, why kindness and goodness in humans in particular is directed toward other humans. We can love God, but we cannot properly do good to God, because there is no way for us to increase his goodness. We are never commanded to build him up, for example, though we are commanded to build up our neighbor, because God is not built; he simply is, and all he is is good. Therefore, to quote Bavinck again: “He receives nothing, but only gives.” This is why God can be kind! He is himself the supreme good, and he needs nothing, so he can give everything.
We can sincerely desire to benefit another, but lack the means to do so. I’m thinking of some in our church who have very little, but they are not consumers. They barely know they have little, because they’re so quick to think of how to benefit others. Nonetheless, we are limited by being finite beings with finite resources, who also need things ourselves. We cannot give away all our food, because we must eat. But God has no such needs! God has no such limitations! He is the infinite goodness, the source of all goodness, and needs nothing! So he is able to give everything, and this is what he does. And we can glimpse this giving-ness, this generosity, this kindness of God even in the glimpses God gives us of his interior life. The eternal Son of God is the exact imprint of the Father’s nature: The Father has communicated or given his essence to the Son. And the Holy Spirit in particular is described in scripture as gift (e.g., Acts 2:38). In those places he is described as gift to us, but he can only be properly given as gift to us because he is eternally given, eternally proceeds, from the Father and the Son, within God’s very life. I don’t pretend to understand all that, but I confess it with Jesus’ Church throughout the ages as we’ve received God’s revelation in scripture, and so we worship God for such essential goodness and kindness.
God’s goodness and kindness are revealed also in how he rules over his creation. So Psalm 145 tells us that the LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made (v. 9). It describes him as kind in all his works (v. 17). We referenced Acts 14 earlier, which talked about how God “did good” to all nations by giving them rains from heaven and fruitful seasons. In Matthew 5, when Jesus says that God is perfect, it’s after observing how he makes his sun rise on the just and the unjust, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. How can anyone look at the trees, the sky, the vast diversity of animal life, the 8 billion bearers of God’s image in the world, the 1.5 million in our city, the abundant food, the shelter, the families, the loves, the joys of this world and doubt that God is kind and good? What kind of king bestows such benefits on his subjects? A good and kind king.
That said, we must also acknowledge that when we look at God’s governance of the world, we also see evidence of his severity. So Romans 11:22 instructs us to consider not only the kindness of God, but also his severity, and we see his wrath revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men: Our world has plenty of war, disease, oppression, and ongoing corruption. And isn’t it these things that cause many to say that if God exists, he must not be kind and good? Is that the case?
No; it is not. It is precisely because God is good that he handles evil with severity. When the judge handed down a severe sentence on Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers, was that evil or good? So also, God is good, even in executing a severe sentence of judgment on sin, of which we are all guilty. In fact, God would not be good if he was not severe with sin, and it’s only once you realize this, both that God’s goodness requires severity against sin, and that you are guilty of sin, that you have hope of seeing the ultimate revelation of God’s kindness and goodness, because once you realize these things, you realize how utterly amazing it is that God still shows any kindness at all to any of us. We deserve his severity, but he’s shown us his kindness. So even after the first humans sinned against him, he continued to bless them with fruitful harvests. And even though we still sin against him today, he makes his sun rise on us, he sends us rain, he feeds us, he shelters us. A king who bestows such benefits on his subjects would prove himself to be a good and kind king, but a king who continues to bestow such benefits on his rebellious subjects proves himself to be of the greatest possible goodness and kindness.
Clearer, though, than the revelation of God’s kindness and goodness in his creation is the revelation of God’s kindness and goodness in salvation. Though we deserved his severity, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. God the Father gave God the Son to take on human flesh, and in human flesh, what do we find him doing? How might we describe him? Large-hearted, generous, kind. He turned water into wine at a wedding, to give it to all the guests. He gave sight to a man blind from birth. He touched a leper, and made him clean. He approached an adulterous woman who was an outcast with kindness, and told her where to find living water. He rose a man from the dead. And, ultimately, he gave himself over to death on our behalf, so that, back to Galatians, Paul could describe him as the one who loved him and gave himself for him. On the cross Jesus took all the sins of whoever would trust him upon himself and suffered the severity of God against those very sins on our behalf, so that we could receive God’s kindness in him and with him. And Jesus did receive God’s kindness when God raised him from the dead and restored him to the glory of heaven, where he would enjoy the supreme good forever.
It is because he did this that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God is not “nice”: He will not hate you by telling you that you’re fine just the way you are. Nothing good dwells in you, that is in your flesh, and if you remain in your flesh, you will face his severity. But if you believe in his Son, he will pour out on you the infinite kindness and goodness that is of the very essence of who he is. He will give you a righteousness not your own, the very righteousness of Christ, he will give you the gift of eternal life, and he will give you the gift of his Holy Spirit, who is eternally given of the Father and the Son. Kindness and goodness are fruits of the Spirit not only because they are attributes of God, but because it is in the gospel that the kindness and goodness of God are revealed, and the Spirit is himself the ultimate kindness from God. He is the gift God gives his people. So Paul, reflecting on our salvation describes it as the time when “The goodness and loving kindness of God our savior appeared” (Titus 3:4-5). It’s that kindness and goodness God is now producing in us, so let’s close by considering how we can act on them.
How can we act on them?
When we think of acting on kindness and goodness, we’re generally thinking of benefiting others. When we do, we should remember that people are both spirits and bodies, “inward” and “outward” people. So in Galatians 6, the first command after our passage is that if anyone among you is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore them in a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6:1). Correcting one another when we wander from the truth is one way we benefit one another spiritually. If a fellow church member is sinning but doesn’t realize what they’re doing is sin, the kindness of the Spirit inclines you to teach them, in hope of their restoration. If a fellow church member is sinning and knows they’re sinning, the kindness of the Spirit inclines you to warn them, in hope of their restoration. If a fellow church member has sinned, and now is broken over that sin, the kindness of the Spirit inclines you to receive them back into fellowship and assure them of their pardon in a spirit of gentleness. So correction and restoration are kind. But on the other hand, positive instruction, a positive example, and prayer are kind. Inviting someone to read the Bible with you and preparing ahead of time to make that as spiritually beneficial as possible to the other person is kind. Taking time to listen well and know a fellow member so that you know how to comfort and counsel them with godly wisdom is kind. Setting a good example and then inviting less mature members into your life to observe that example is kind to them. Praying for one another with the spiritual priorities we see in Paul’s letters is kind to one another. Much more can be said, but hopefully this is painting a picture for you of benefiting one another spiritually, in the inward man.
When it comes to the outward man, Jonathan Edwards helpfully summarizes that we can give, do, and suffer for others as acts of kindness and goodness. When there are things we have that we realize would benefit others, we give them to others. Due to construction on our house, we are currently without a functioning stovetop. So my wife didn’t have a convenient way to make her coffee in the morning. So Keith and Dana brought over an electric kettle that she now uses to make her coffee in the morning. That’s a small act of kindness, no doubt, but it is a genuine one, and we want our church to be characterized by thousands of such small acts of kindness. Those kinds of things should just increasingly be the norm. I mentioned earlier that “usefulness” is sometimes given as a synonym for goodness and kindness, and this is just what “useful” people do: They look for ways they can be helpful in any given situation, whether spiritually or materially, whether in small or big ways, rather than waiting to be asked, or doing so only grudgingly. So we can give, or we can do things for others. Shannon recently bought a house, so Steve took his son Sammy over and together they did something for Shannon: They hung a mirror it would have been hard for her to hang herself. Finally, we can suffer with others by bearing their burdens with them, which we encounter in Galatians 6:2, just after this passage. Caleb recently had squatters in a house he owns that he could not get out and it was really consuming his life for weeks, so Jack Cerulli bore that burden with him, and even went with Caleb personally to confront the squatters, not knowing if he would face violence or what might happen, and even slept a night there with Caleb. These are examples of kindness and goodness toward the outward man.
And finally, we can consider to whom we ought to act on such kindness and goodness as the Spirit produces them in us. The ultimate answer is everyone, but recalling immediate context, Galatians 6 gives us some specific people to start with. We’ve already mentioned a couple: Any brothers or sisters who are caught in a transgression, and any brothers or sisters who are uniquely burdened. Another is those who teach us God’s Word, so Galatians 6:6 says, “Let the one who is taught share all good things with the one who teaches,” and there’s our word good. I won’t belabor the point since I am, in this church, the primary teacher of God’s Word, but for the sake of being true to this text and helping you all know how you should treat not only me, but other pastors and future preaching pastors in this church, part of the reason to give financially to your local church is as an act of kindness toward your preaching pastor, who derives his income from that giving. I thank God for the kindness you all have shown me in that over the years I’ve been here. I even recall a members’ meeting where after the meeting a member who I am guessing would not want me to share their name came up to me afterward with a $500 check made out to me. He specifically told me it wasn’t for the church; it was for me to use on me and my wife for whatever I wanted. That was kind. Beyond that kind of material, outward good, consider ways to encourage your pastors and please, pray for us. Finally, Galatians 6:10 gives us another “focus group” for our kindness and goodness: The household of faith. So then, as we have opportunity, it says, let us do good to everyone, especially to those of the household of faith. Though the kindness and goodness of the Spirit incline us to benefit all, since we do not, in fact, have opportunity to do the same kind of good to all at once, it directs us to start with those with whom we do have opportunity, especially those of the household of faith, who are identified as members of a particular church. If you’re a member of this particular church, that means bust out that members’ directory, and start with the names and faces you see in it. And if you’re a member of no particular church, we’d love to welcome you into this one, or help you find another one. Grab me after church or check that membership box on your Connect Card to learn more about that.
God is good, and he’s been exceedingly kind to us. Not only has he continued to give us all that we need for bodily life and even many joys on this earth, despite the fact that we have rebelled against him, but he has given us his Son, that we might be restored to him, the supreme good, and he has given us his Spirit, to work that restoration in us. As the Spirit enlarges your heart, as he produces kindness and goodness in you, benefit others with it, both in the inward and the outward man, starting with the household of faith, those who teach you the Word, those who are burdened, and those who are caught in sin, but extending out to all as the Lord gives you opportunity.