Outward Goodness

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1–3 ESV)

Dr. Dennis Edwards, formerly a North Minneapolis pastor and currently the dean of North Park Seminary, writes: “For many of my adult years I had been in Christian circles that seemed to study the Bible in order to be right, but not necessarily to be good. [. . . W]e didn’t always see the power that the words possess to change us into the kind of people that God wants us to be. [. . .] The basic truth we must follow is that the Holy Spirit is God’s provision to convert our souls and work in us to bring about what is good, and the Spirit uses the written word of God to help accomplish his goals.[1]

When we examine the fruit of the Spirit, it appears that there are three relational aspects of the fruit: upward, outward, and inward. Love, joy, and peace are upward, directly connected to our relationship with God. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:17); we have a source of joy regardless of our situation through Jesus; peace, connected to the Hebrew word shalom, is wholeness that is grounded in knowing God. Faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are primarily inward qualities. The three remaining in the middle are more outward in nature. When we live by the Spirit, we will exhibit patience, kindness, and goodness in our relationships with others.

Recently, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel and standing on a hill north of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus likely delivered the Sermon on the Mount. As I stood there, I tried to envision what people would have seen 2,000 years ago: The buildings would be gone. The hills would’ve been the same. Maybe some of the vegetation would be similar. The gentle waves of the blue-green Sea of Galilee would look the same. I could see some nearby cities; when Jesus taught, there would have been towns in some corresponding places. Even though I was standing in Israel on the possible site of the Sermon on the Mount, it was not clear exactly what the people would’ve seen except for one thing – they would’ve seen goodness. As we read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, we see the same – a goodness demonstrated outward by Jesus to those around him.

In the community around Jesus on the mountain, there were the poor, the hurt, the stressed, the marginalized, and the downcast. Jesus spoke directly to them. He spoke words with weight that, instead of tearing them down more, would lift them up. “Blessed are you!” He spoke comfort, encouragement, hope of justice,[2] and mercy. Those around Jesus saw exactly what goodness looks like. Jesus cared enough about those around him to deal with their heart and to teach them how to live. Goodness overflowed as he provided guidance for those who needed direction – “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) – and correction for those who were going the wrong way – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye” (Matthew 7:5).

I met Caesar, a California pastor, at a pastors’ conference. We connected, shared about our work, and soon found out that we both knew Dr. Dennis Edwards. I knew Dennis from when he pastored in North Minneapolis. Caesar first met Dennis when the professor for one of his seminary classes took an unexpected leave in the middle of the class. Caesar would have needed to take the class all over again the following year, but Dr. Edwards agreed to step in for the professor and personally made sure Caesar received the instruction he needed to complete the course on time, even though it was a sacrifice upon Dr. Edwards’s time.

That’s a glimpse of goodness: drawing close and giving generously what one has for the good of others. It’s not merely words spoken at a distance. It’s not being on a platform, sharing what’s popular. It’s an orientation to others for their good, with the words and care they need now and for eternity.

Like God the Father, Jesus demonstrated goodness on the Mount in giving good gifts to those around him through his words (Matthew 7:11). Through the Spirit, Jesus’s words are what we need today to shape us into people who bear the fruit of goodness.

[1] Dennis R. Edwards, “1 Peter”, ed. Scot McKnight, The Story of God Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 80–81.

[2] Dr. Dennis Edward’s translation of Matthew 5:6 in Might from the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice, (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2020).

Aaron Brockmeier is the senior pastor at Faith Baptist Church in north Minneapolis, Minnesota.