Of the great stream of information and ideas that flows endlessly from the world’s communication media, much is quickly lost in the ever-changing ocean of human thought. But there are occasionally some ideas that deserve to be rescued from oblivion and given a second notice. One such was offered by Dr. W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, in a speech made in New York some time ago. He called for men and nations to adopt an attitude of “pro-existence” rather than “co-existence.”
Let us take a look at the two concepts, co-existence and pro-existence. Co-existence simply means existing together or in conjunction with. It suggests that circumstances have thrown nations or individuals together, and they might as well make the best of it. We get the idea of mere tolerance and a grudging admission that the other fellow has some rights too.
Dr. Visser ‘t Hooft probably coined the word pro-existence. It is not found in the dictionary. But he used it to mean existing for other nations and people. “It is,” he said, “a pretty good word to summarize the kind of attitude the Bible wants us to take.”
It requires but a moment’s reflection to realize that most of mankind hasn’t even begun to coexist yet. Booming guns and rattling rockets testify to this. But Christians are called to witness to the world that more than mere co-existence is possible, that pro-existence may be found among those bound together by faith in God.
As Christians, we cannot assume the attitude of mere co-existence, “live and let live.” It must be that of pro-existence, “live and help live.” For those who confess Christ as their Saviour live not by the laws of politics and expediency, but by the spiritual injunction, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” Galatians 6:2. Co-existence is a passive concept. Pro-existence has dynamic overtones.
The divine grace of the Holy Spirit known as goodness emphasizes the noble truth “live and help live.” As one writer states, “Goodness is the honest generous face, the open hands of charity.” Goodness is the virtue whereby we communicate to others good things, for their good and benefit.
We read from the Holy Word of God, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.” Galatians 5:22.
How I may ask, what really is meant by goodness?
Webster’s Dictionary defines goodness as the state of being good; the moral qualities, which constitute Christian excellence; moral virtue; religion.
Dr. Webster sees goodness also as “kindness; benevolence; benignity of heart; but more generally, acts of kindness; charity; mercy; compassion.” Noah Webster, American Dictionary of English Language, 1828 Edition, Foundation for American Christian Education, San Francisco, California, 1989.
The word goodness used by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Galatian Christians is used in more than one way, with more than one Greek word, which gives it clarity.
Firstly, goodness as used by Paul is Chrestotes as in the sense of what is upright or righteous. In another sense, of kindness of heart or act, said of God: “Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Romans 2:4.“That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:7. Said of believers: II Corinthians 6:6; Colossians 3:12; Galatians 5:22 (gentleness or goodness). It signifies not merely goodness as a quality, rather it is goodness in action, goodness expressing itself in deeds.
Secondly, goodness as used by Paul in Galatians is Agathosune and signifies that moral quality which is described by the adjective agathos— being good. It is used in the New Testament of regenerated persons. Scriptural examples: Romans 15:14; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9; II Thessalonians 1:11. There is a distinguishing element between Chrestotes and Agathosune “in that the former describes the kindlier aspects of ‘goodness,’ the latter includes also the sterner qualities by which doing ‘good’ to others is not necessarily by gentle means. One example is by the act of Christ cleansing the temple, Matthew 21:12, 13, and in denouncing the scribes and Pharisees, 23:13–29; but chrestotes by His dealings with the penitent woman, Luke 7: 37–50.” Chrestotes is reckoned as “a kindly disposition toward others; while agathosune is viewed as a kindly activity on their behalf.” William Edwy Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1985, 274.
Ellen White, speaking of goodness, shows that, “It is neither wealth nor intellect that gives happiness. It is moral worth. True goodness is accounted of Heaven as true greatness. The condition of the moral affections determines the worth of the man. A person may have property and intellect, and yet be valueless, because the glowing fire of goodness has never burned upon the altar of his heart, because his conscience has been seared, blackened, and crisped with selfishness and sin. When the lust of the flesh controls the man, and the evil passions of the carnal nature are permitted to rule, skepticism in regard to the realities of the Christian religion is encouraged, and doubts are expressed as though it were a special virtue to doubt.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 305.
In “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 2, 1039, we are reminded that, “Goodness alone is true greatness.”
An Examination of the Nature and Source of Goodness
“Goodness is the result of divine power transforming human nature. By believing in Christ, the fallen race He has redeemed may obtain that faith which works by love and purifies the soul from all defilement. Then Christlike attributes appear: for by beholding Christ men become changed into the same image from glory to glory, from character to character. Good fruit is produced. The character is fashioned after the divine similitude, and integrity, uprightness, and true benevolence are manifested toward the sinful race.” My Life Today, 54.
So, then, no human being can truly be “good” who has not surrendered to Christ. It is Christ’s transforming power working in the life of the human being by the operation of the Holy Spirit that brings about the renewing of the character. To be good and to exhibit goodness therefore means a total and complete surrender of self to Christ, so that the Holy Spirit can make us over into new creatures in Christ Jesus.
“Faith in Christ will be the means whereby the right spirit and motive will actuate the believer, and all goodness and heavenly-mindedness will proceed from him who looks unto Jesus, the author and finisher of his faith.” This Day With God, 88.
Also, from the book In Heavenly Places, 368, we read, “As we think of how Christ came to our world to die for fallen man, we understand something of the price that was paid for our redemption, and we realize that there is no true goodness or greatness apart from God.”
God Is the Source of All Goodness
This truth is evident in the following Scripture passages:
- “And He said, I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Exodus 33:19
- “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Exodus 34:6
- “He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” Psalm 33:5
- “Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually.” Psalm 52:1, last part
- “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” Psalm 107:8
- Psalm 23:6; 27:13; 144:2; 31:19; Jeremiah 31:12; Hosea 6:4; Zechariah 9:17; Romans 2:4; 11:22
Jesus is Called Good in Scriptures
- “And, behold, one came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16
- “And He said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? there is none good but One, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17
- “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” John 10:11
- “I am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” John 10:14
- Mark 10:17, 18; Luke 18:18, 19; John 1:46; 7:12
We may note that goodness has its origin in love, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is the only source from which goodness stems. To have goodness or to be good, the sinner must surrender to Jesus, Who in turn places him/her under the supervision of the Holy Spirit Who regenerates the mind and plants the seed of love into the renewed mind. When this is done, the divine grace of the Holy Spirit, which is goodness, along with all the other graces, will develop in the life of the regenerated person. This is true greatness; this is what gives power!
“From a worldly point of view, money is power; but from the Christian standpoint, love is power. Intellectual and spiritual strength are involved in this principle. Pure love has special efficacy to do good, and can do nothing but good. It prevents discord and misery, and brings the truest happiness. Wealth is often an influence to corrupt and destroy; force is strong to do hurt; but truth and goodness are the properties of pure love.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 138.
It is on this basis that the apostle Paul states, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind.” I Corinthians 13:4. The Greek word for kind is chresteuomai and comes from the word chrestos and means to show oneself useful in manner or morals, also goodness.
The question therefore that I would like to ask for our consideration is, why is the world destitute of goodness? Why is the church destitute of goodness?
I will endeavor to answer this question with a few quotations from the book The Adventist Home: “In the earliest years of the child’s life the soil of the heart should be carefully prepared for the showers of God’s grace. Then the seeds of truth are to be carefully sown and diligently tended. And God, who rewards every effort made in His name, will put life into the seed sown; and there will appear first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.
“Too often, because of the wicked neglect of parents, Satan sows his seeds in the hearts of children, and a harvest of shame and sorrow is borne. The world today is destitute of true goodness because parents have failed to gather their children to themselves in the home. They have not kept them from association with the careless and reckless. Therefore the children have gone forth into the world to sow the seeds of death.
“The great work of instruction, of weeding out worthless and poisonous weeds, is a most important one. For if left to themselves, these weeds will grow until they choke out the precious plants of moral principle and truth.
“If a field is left uncultivated, a crop of noxious weeds is sure to appear which will be very difficult to exterminate. Then the soil must be worked and the weeds subdued before the precious plants can grow. Before these valuable plants can grow, the seed must first be carefully sown. If mothers neglect the sowing of the precious seed and then expect a harvest of precious grain, they will be disappointed; for they will reap briars and thorns. Satan is ever watching, prepared to sow seeds which will spring up and bear a plentiful harvest after his own satanic character.
“Eternal vigilance must be manifested with regard to our children. With his manifold devices Satan begins to work with their tempers and their wills as soon as they are born. Their safety depends upon the wisdom and the vigilant care of the parents. They must strive in the love and fear of God to preoccupy the garden of the heart, sowing the good seeds of a right spirit, correct habits, and the love and fear of God.” Ibid., 201, 202. [Emphasis supplied.]
“The prevailing influence in the world is to suffer the youth to follow the natural turn of their own minds. And if very wild in youth, parents say they will come right after a while and, when sixteen or eighteen years of age, will reason for themselves and leave off their wrong habits and become at last useful men and women. What a mistake! For years they permit an enemy to sow the garden of the heart; they suffer wrong principles to grow, and in many cases all the labor afterward bestowed on that soil will avail nothing. …
“Some parents have suffered their children to form wrong habits, the marks of which may be seen all through life. Upon the parents lies this sin. These children may profess to be Christians; yet without a special work of grace upon the heart and a thorough reform in life, their past habits will be seen in all their experience, and they will exhibit just the character which their parents allowed them to form.
“The young should not be suffered to learn good and evil indiscriminately, with the idea that at some future time the good will predominate and the evil lose its influence. The evil will increase faster than the good. It is possible that after many years the evil they have learned may be eradicated; but who will venture this? Time is short. It is easier and much safer to sow clean, good seed in the hearts of your children than to pluck up the weeds afterward. Impressions made upon the minds of the young are hard to efface. How important, then, that these impressions be of the right sort, that the elastic faculties of youth be bent in the right direction.” Ibid., 200, 201.
How is the Christian Known?
Let’s look at two verses from the gospel of Matthew:
“Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.” Matthew 12:33.
“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” Matthew 7:17.
It is character that is being addressed in these texts.
“As the context makes evident, Jesus here refers to Himself. The healing of the demon-possessed deaf-mute was the ‘fruit’ [Matthew 12:32], and none who witnessed the miracle could deny that the ‘fruit’ was ‘good.’ The Pharisees, however, attributed this good ‘fruit’ to a corrupt ‘tree,’ to ‘Beelzebub the prince of devils’ (verse 24). But Jesus declared that only a good character can produce ‘good things,’ even as an evil character produces ‘evil things’ (verse 35). A ‘good tree’ is always to be known by its ‘good fruit,’ and a ‘corrupt tree’ by its ‘evil fruit.’ ” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 396.
The Old Testament always compares a person or a people to a tree, e.g., Judges 9:8–10; Psalm 1:3; Isaiah 56:3; Daniel 4:10.
A person whose character is sound will automatically display that character in his words and deeds. Likewise a person whose character is unsound or evil will do the same. Matthew in his gospel points this out clearly: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” Matthew 12:35.
God’s servant, Ellen G. White, emphasizes the point that, “The Lord has placed every human being on test and trial. He desires to prove and to try us, to see if we will be good and do good in this life, to see if He can trust us with eternal riches, and make us members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King.” My Life Today, 54.
The golden rule is the fundamental principle of the divine grace of the Holy Spirit known as goodness!
This is demonstrated in Matthew’s gospel: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:7–12.
Significantly, the golden rule is only relevant when it is understood in the light of God’s goodness to us who ask and receive. Our prayers will have no significance to God if we fail to do good to others as we wish to be done to us by them.
“This is the golden rule—the Christian’s law of reciprocity, which will serve as a rule of conduct for all the life. Legitimately applied, it would serve all social life, family life, commercial life, political life, church life, and national life. To obey it out and out would soon bring the golden age.
“The principle here stated by our Lord is the second great commandment—‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ [Mark 12:31]. Place thyself in thought, in the condition of thy neighbor, and judge accordingly.” Thomas H. Leale, The Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary, vol. 21, Logos Research Systems, Inc., Bellingham, Washington, 174.
“The golden rule summarizes the obligations of the second table of the Decalogue, and is another statement of the great principle of loving our neighbor. Only those who make the golden rule their law of life and practice can expect admission to the kingdom of glory. Our attitude toward our fellow men is an infallible index of our attitude toward God.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 356.
Rabbi Hillel, who lived a generation before Christ, commented concerning the golden rule: “ ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof.’ …”
“The golden rule also appears in the Appocryphal book of Tobit, (ch. 4:15): ‘Do that to no man which thou hatest.’ [These statements are expressed in a negative form.] …
“It is worthy of note that Jesus transformed a negative precept into a positive one. Herein lies the essential difference between Christianity and all false religious systems, and between true Christianity and that which consists in the form of religion but denies the vital power of the gospel. The golden rule takes supreme selfishness, what we would like others to do for us, and transforms it into supreme selflessness, what we are to do for others. This is the glory of Christianity. This is the life of Christ lived out in those who follow Him and bear His name.” Ibid., 356, 357.
Jesus said this is the law and the prophets or the whole Scriptures. “Here is the whole duty of man.” (See Ecclesiastes 12:13.) Of course, it is evident that Christ is referring to that side of man’s duty, which belongs to his fellow-men. Yet even the further duty of serving God is here best fulfilled.
“He prayeth best who loveth best All things both great and small.
“In human intercourse this maxim may be taken as a universal guide. Were it always employed no more would be needed.” H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1962, 296.
We can conclude on this by saying the law of Christ dictates that the service or good I seek is the service or good I should give. Therefore we need always to remember that the way in which the Christian treats his fellow men is the acid test of the genuineness of his religion.
John the apostle confirms this in his book: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” I John 4:20, 21.
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” I John 3:14–16.
What greater good can we then contemplate than that which was done by Christ for fallen man, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name.” Philippians 2:6–9.
Christ’s goodness towards the human race has been sufficient for our past, relevant for our present and is fully guaranteed for our future. So we can pray like the Psalmist: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Psalm 23:6.
Think About It!
Because Christ is the Good Shepherd, by His great goodness wherewith He has loved us, if we surrender our lives to Him fully and completely, He will lead us safely Home. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen!
Today, once again I invite you to accept Jesus as your Lord and master, so that, by the operation of His Holy Spirit you may experience and be transformed by the goodness of God working in your life!
Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.