OceanSide church of Christ
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THE WORD “GOOD”
Victor M. Eskew
The Holy Spirit revealed the mind of God unto lost humanity by means of words. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Cor. 2:12-13, emp. mine, vme). Each word of the Biblical text is inspired and is important. Therefore, it is essential that one studies each word in its context, or, he may come away with wrong impressions as he reads the Biblical text.
One word that could cause some problems is the term “good.” In Matthew 19:16, an individual approached Jesus using the words, “Good Master,” to address the Christ. In response, Jesus said: “…Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God: but if thou wilt enter into eternal life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). Here Jesus asserts that only one Being is good. That Being is God. Yet, when one reads the qualifications of elders in Titus 1, he finds that a bishop is to be “a lover of good men” (v. 8). There seems to be a contradiction in the Biblical text as one compares this verse with Jesus’ words. If only God is good, no one else can be good. Therefore, there are no good men for elders to love. Since the Bible does not contradict itself, there must be more than one definition of the word good as it is used in the Bible. In addition to the various usages of the word in the Bible, confusion also arises because of the definition man has given to the word “good.” Let’s look at various uses of this word and try to understand its different shades of meaning.
Only God Is Good
Let’s look again at the conversation between Jesus and the young ruler who called him, “Good Master.” The dialogue is found in all three synoptic gospels. Luke’s gospel contains these words: “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:18-19). Here Jesus uses the word “good” to denote sinless perfection. In this sense, only God can be said to be good. He, and, He alone, is the only perfect, holy, and righteous Being. The psalmist gave this description of Him in Psalm 25:8: “Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners the way.”
Man is born a sinless creature. However, he is born into a sinful environment that appeals to his flesh (Ps. 51:5). No human being remains pure. Ultimately, each person yields to temptation and becomes a sinner. The apostle Paul spoke of man’s corrupt condition in Romans 3:9-12. “What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin: as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seekth after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
In holiness, man cannot compare to Jehovah. God cannot look upon evil (Hab. 1:13), but the lust of the eye appeals to humanity (I John 2:15-17). God cannot be tempted to sin (James 1:13), but man has his lust enticed and easily succumbs to temptation (James 1:14-15). God cannot sin, but man always practices iniquity. In this sense, “none is good, save one, that is, God.”
Before leaving this point, we want to consider one more statement that Jesus made to the ruler. Jesus asked: “Why callest thou me good?” Was Jesus inferring that only God the Father is sinless? Absolutely not! Jesus was trying to get this ruler to understand the weighty nature of his words. By referring to Jesus as good, he was calling Jesus God. And most certainly, He was. The Hebrew penman declared the sinless nature of the Christ in Hebrews 4:15. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (emp. mine, vme).
Man Can Be Good
The word “good” can be applied to man in a sense other than sinless perfection. Several times in the New Testament the word “good” is applied to man. Jesus himself used the word to describe man in Matthew 12:35. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things…” In Romans 5:7, Paul noted that some would be willing to lay down their life for a good man. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.” We have already mentioned that an elder is to be a lover of good men (Tit. 1:8). To fulfill this qualification good men have to exist. In addition to the previous examples, we read that Paul exhorted the younger woman to be good (Tit. 2:5)
Good in these texts deals with the character and virtue of man as well as his relationship with God. Man can be good in the sense that he is living in harmony with the will of God. When he sins, he seeks pardon that God offers through the blood of the Son of God (I John 1:9). When we speak of these individuals, we often refer to them as being moral, upright, honest, pure, trustworthy, diligent, selfless, caring, compassionate, just, righteous, and godly. Sometimes we call them saints. These individuals sustain a right relationship with God and are diligent in living their good life before others. All of have known “good” people. Our lives were blessed because we came in contact with them.
Man Can Be Good, and Be Lost
In this last section, we are considering man’s definition of “good.” This definition involves many of the positive traits listed in the previous section. The difference is that man applies it to individuals who have not obeyed the gospel of Christ. When we see a person who is honest and caring, we call him/her good. A man who is a diligent laborer; who gives an honest day’s work for a day’s pay; and who is trustworthy will often be called good. A family man who loves his wife, and cares for his children, and who works to support them is also called good. In Acts 10:1-2, we are introduced to a man who was good in this sense of the term. His name is Cornelius. “There was a certain man in Cesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave alms to the people, and prayed to God always.” Applying man’s definition of “good” to Cornelius, one could not refuse to call him anything less than good.
Cornelius, however, was not a saved man. Cornelius was told by an angel to send men to Joppa, and call for Simon Peter; “who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14). This man was a sinner before Jehovah. He was in a lost condition, even though we would call him good. Man’s definition of goodness does not mean one is saved. Sadly, many are in the same condition in which Cornelius found himself. These men and women are devout and are seeking to obey God to the best of their knowledge, but they are lost. They have not obeyed the words of God that will save them. Dear reader, do not trust in your own goodness to save you. Only obedience to the gospel of Christ will make you good in the sight of God (Rom. 1:16; James 1:21; Rev. 22:16). Cornelius was not deceived by his self-righteousness. When the Lord told him that he needed to be saved, he did not balk. He did as the angel of the Lord bid him. In a brief span of time, he was washed in the blood of Christ (Acts 10:47-48) and was made good in the sight of God. All “good” men will follow the example of this centurion (See Luke 8:15)!