Useful Goodness - a Fruit of the Spirit

Useful Goodness - a Fruit of the Spirit
My son buys knives. If you let him, he’ll show you a whole video about how cool one particular brand of knives is. Lots of acrobatic swinging of blades, slicing of bamboo poles, destroying of melons, etc. I love him anyway. Especially since he bought me a knife last year. Now I have some extremely nice Cutco knives (bought during my other son’s brief affiliation with that company), and didn’t feel the need of another. But I tell you what, that new knife is useful. For everyday chopping of any vegetable in existence (not sure about bamboo poles), I reach for it as my tool of choice.

Kindness has its place. Goodness is great. Gentleness, so misunderstood these days, is wonderful. But in a pinch, when chaos reigns, your schedule is berserk, the budget is busted, toddlers are bouncing off the walls, vegetables need chopped and people are bailing on you, don’t you really want someone who is useful? Me, too.

I started out to write about kindness this morning, as in “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness...,” and looked up the verse in several Bibles. Then I looked up the Greek.

The word translated kindness in most English versions of Galatians 5:22, and gentleness in the KJV, is also rendered goodness in much of the rest of the New Testament. It's χρηστοτητος (chrestotetos), Strong’s number 5544, and it means, (are you ready?) usefulness. Strong’s goes on to say it indicates moral excellence in character or demeanor. So…moral usefulness. I have to tell you, that sheds megawatts of new light on the passage. If I am indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit, I will grow loving and joyful, be filled with peace, deal with people from a deep well of patience, and be useful.

You can fake kindness, goodness, and gentleness with smooth words and sympathetic looks, but it’s pretty hard to fake being useful. You change the diaper or you don’t. Bad example, I don’t change any diapers. You get the bills paid or you let them pile up. You answer the phone at 2 a.m., climb into your car and go sit with the distraught couple, or you roll over and go back to sleep. You commit to being somewhere to help. You show up and help, or you make excuses. People may believe you’re kind or good if you say the right things. But no one’s going to believe (for long) that you’re useful unless you roll up your sleeves and do stuff.

Now I understand that I’m hyper-focusing on the literal meaning, and not taking into account the more nuanced implications of the word. After all, word 5544 and its root 5543 show up 17 times in the New Testament, and they are never translated useful in the English versions I have access to. I’d love to know if other languages somehow get the “useful” part of the definition into their translations. But I just have English and Greek, and couldn’t read any others if I had them, so I’ll resort to the best Bible study strategy, and look up the other occurrences of 5544, to learn from the bigger context. Here goes.

Six of the ten occurrences of 5544 refer to God’s goodness or kindness toward us. God’s goodness is not a nice-smile-and-a-kind-word sort of goodness, but a truly useful goodness. For example, Romans 2:4 says that the goodness of God leads us to repentance. Ephesians 2:7 links God’s kindness to Him displaying “the immeasurable riches of His grace” to us in ages to come. In fact, the goodness/kindness of God is tied to His love for us, and His provision for our reconciliation with Him. Very useful goodness, that. Sounds like heaven!

Finally, take a look at Romans 3:12. “All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good (5544), there is not even one.” See that? Doing good is contrasted with being useless. Too cool. The context is a discussion of how all humans are guilty before God, all under sin, incapable of doing true good (being morally useful) apart from God. We are all tainted by selfishness, bad motives, deception and worse. Like Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:5-6, we need to be saved. Our own righteousness is like filthy rags (can you imagine anything less useful?) and we need to be rescued by God’s gentle, kind, extremely useful goodness. Thank You, Yahweh, for Jesus’ all-sufficient atoning sacrifice on our behalf.

Now go, be good and useful.

You Should Also Read:
The Patience of a Saint
Peace that Passes Understanding
What is Joy?

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