Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
The goodness of God focuses our mind on the fact that everything the Triune God does is worthy of approval – by the Triune God. In a formula that should be familiar by now: there is no standard of ‘good’ outside of God that He is measured against. Rather He is good; He is the definition and the standard of good. All else is measured against Him and against His valuing and approving of what is consistent with His character (see I Tim.2:3). As God cannot be anything other than good, so He cannot do anything other than what is good. His will is good, pleasing and perfect (Rom.12:3), and his Almighty power means that will is perfectly enacted. There is a beautiful inevitability about God surveying the work of creation and declaring it ‘very good’ (Gen.1:31). ‘You are good, and what you do is good’ (Ps.119:68). Always and only ‘the Lord will do what is good in his sight’ (II Sam10:12). Here is the grounds of our worship (II Chron.5:13).
This kind of theo-centrism creates a tension for us. We like to be in on the action. But are we so arrogant as to believe we could determine what is ‘good’? It is God who can discern good from evil (II Sam.14:17). Sin has so assaulted our moral compass that we can barely lift our eyes above measuring ‘good’ by its effect on ourselves, and possibly on other people. We have so forgotten what ‘good’ is, that we have almost lost the capacity to imagine it, and can barely recognise it when it stands before us (Matt.12:24). The epitaph over fallen humanity reads simply: ‘There is no-one who does good’ (Ps.14:1). In addition we are so susceptible to the work of the Deceiver (II Cor.11:14), that we end up believing evil is good and good is evil (Is.5:20). Woe to us. The second half of Ps.119:68 (cited above) sums up our dependence: ‘…teach me your decrees’.
But if we are to (re-)learn what is good we will only do it through conscious dependence on His revelation of Himself and His ways, through His word. There is no other who is good (Lk.18:19), and there is no other source of good (Jas.1:17, III Jn.1:11). If we don’t come to the Lord who is good, we forever lose all sense of, and in due course all experience of ‘good’. As it is we are already so incapable of recognising the goodness of God that we take His myriad of good gifts each day as an inherent right, and see not the hand that grants them (Ps.145:9).
This inevitable collision between the Good and the not-good reverberates throughout the structures of both creation and Creator. God is unable and unwilling to compromise the intensity of His infinite goodness. That is why we love Him. But what does a good God do with a creature that is not good. In our last study we reflected on Nahum 1. In a passage so relentlessly focused on the vengeance and wrath of God, the declaration ‘The Lord is good’ (1:7) seems entirely out of place. But it isn’t. It is the foundation on which the whole chapter is built. It explains why God is filled with wrath (1:2). He is good. And in His goodness lies both terror for those who are not good, and our hope. ‘May the LORD who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God…’ (II Chron.30:19). In His goodness, He rescued us from the grave (Ps.107:1 & 20). In His goodness He sought our redemption, and in our redemption He sought to make us good. And knowing He could leave nothing to our initiative, He prepared those good works in advance for us to do (Eph.2:10); and now He Himself works in us to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose (Phil.2:13).
What tool could God use to fashion goodness once more amongst such moral wreckage? Only one thing is needful. The Scriptures equip us for every good work (II Tim.3:16-17). Listen to some words from those Scriptures which once we could never have understood, let alone put into practise: ‘…do good to those who hate you ... Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High’ (Lk.6:27-35). The goodness of God stretches not merely to withholding His justice, or to redeeming us, or to recreating us to do good, or to preparing the good works we are to do. Not yet content with the display of His goodness, He would now greatly reward us. And as He could conceive of no reward good enough to convey the depths of His goodness, after rewarding us greatly, He adopts us so that we are children of the Most High, the Good God. Is it any wonder that Paul’s desire is that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good (Tit.3:8).
Do you agree with the statement that no human being (outside of Christ by the power of His Spirit, Acts 10:38) does what is good? Why / why not? Similarly, do you agree with Jesus’ statement that there is no-one good except God alone (Lk.18:19). How do you make sense of a comment like that?
What do you think are the ‘ingredients’ of goodness? If you had to define God’s goodness it, how would you do it? What characterises it?
How many of God’s good gifts can you list in 5 minutes? How many of those good gifts could we live without? Why are we so forgetful of His generosity, even when we depend on it for life itself? How can we change so that we receive every good things with thankfulness?
God chooses to give some people more good things than others. Do you agree with this statement? Do you think it is fair?
What would the world look like if God only demonstrated His goodness to those who trusted in Him? Why do you think God decided not to operate on this basis? Why do you think He is good even to those who hate Him? Is it a ‘waste’ of his goodness?
Gal.6:9-10, ‘Let us not become weary in doing good … as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. How can you fulfil this Apostolic imperative this week? How can we encourage one another in this?
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[b] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
For further reflection
Does it excite you to think that God has prepared good works for you to do (Eph.2:10), and that now He Himself works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose (Phil.2:13)? Or does it just exacerbate your sense of failure and frustration because your experience falls so far short of what the Bible seems to teach?
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith (II Thess.1:11).
Spend some time praying along these lines for yourself and for those Christians you know. Can you commit to doing this regularly until the study group meets again? Who will you ask to pray for you in a similar vein? Are there particular situations in which you would value specific prayer?