Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.
The Dependable Fruit
Goodness is the dependable fruit. It’s simple, hardy, and it complements all other flavors and occasions. Goodness—real goodness—resembles another kind of winter fruit: the citrus, which, though plenteous, is also widely imitated. Like the orange, lemon, and lime, the flavorful appeal of true goodness is easily faked in combination with other behaviors and thoughts. Many attitudes and actions conceal their rotten intentions with false aromas of goodness. (Looking for an example? How about this: unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation is made to smell like “liberation” from tyranny. Fill in the blanks with any number of aggressors and victims.) Yet because there’s so much phony goodness on the loose, it’s incumbent on believers to produce as much authentic goodness as possible. More than ever, the world thirsts for goodness; it can’t and won’t be satisfied with watered-down Tang. It needs full-bodied goodness it can depend on without reservation. We have the potential to bring genuine goodness to life.
Known for Our Fruit
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a daunting statement: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7.19-20) Obviously, the “good fruit” He speaks of is a generalization, but there’s no doubt “goodness” prominently figures among the good fruits. Furthermore, I’m prone to believe a life that doesn’t blossom and bear goodness in the right season is less liable to produce other good fruit. At the very least, it will not be sought after as a source of good fruit. We’re known for our fruit, Jesus says. If we fail to yield goodness, why would anyone be inclined to believe our other fruits—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22)—are any good? (I’m just saying…)
Followers of Christ must be extremely vigilant to make sure they don’t deceive themselves into manufacturing imitation goodness instead of nurturing the real thing. Goodness is an extraction of “godliness”—it contains the essence of our Maker’s nature. It loves unconditionally, forgives without qualification, gives without expectation, and hopes without proof. “Being good,” then, is being—behaving and thinking—like God. Goodness grows, lives, and thrives in the heart. “Acting good” is just acting. It produces nothing of nourishment or lasting value. Truly good fruit can’t be faked. And, as Jesus warns, trees producing anything other than good fruit get cut down and tossed into the fire.
“Surely,” David wrote, “goodness and love will follow me.” As we walk with Christ, goodness should—and will—automatically follow. But before we nod in implicit agreement and move on, it’s refreshing to back up a verse or so to observe how David reaches this conclusion with such confidence. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23.5) Here we find a three-step description of growing in goodness.
Step One: God feeds us. He feeds us in the most extravagant, exhibitionistic manner imaginable. He finds us surrounded by enemies—doubters, haters, antagonists, and every other sort of person who feels justified in rejecting us. He pushes them aside and lays a table of His blessings before us. “Here, this is all yours,” He says. “Eat all you want. Take your time,” He says, nodding at our adversaries. “Don’t worry about them. I’ve provided this for you.” Step Two: He pours His Spirit over us, into us, and through us. He anoints us, declaring we’re His children, empowering us to serve His cause, and entitling us to claim His name. Step Three: He gives us more than enough, more than we need… more than we can contain. Goodness follows us like fruit falling from our limbs. And, thank God, His goodness is the real deal.
Goodness is easily imitated; but the world craves the real thing, which we as believers naturally produce.