Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
I have had the Living Bible with me for quite a long time, and have always found it very helpful. It’s a bit out of favour these days, but I like it, and the way it helps me.
The other day I read Proverbs 13:6 about ‘goodness’. It says, “A man’s goodness helps him all through life”. And in the New Testament we read in Galatians 5:22 “…the fruit of the Spirit is… goodness”. Goodness is a special quality, which we talk about in different ways: I can tell you a good movie to see or That was a good meal last night. But what do we really mean? I heard someone say, I may not be a nice person, but I am a good human being. What does that mean? I’m not sure I fully understand. I think there is a lot of confusion about goodness.
It was Abraham Lincoln who used to say: I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day…When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion. He was known as a thoroughly good man.
At the very end of the movie Saving Private Ryan, when Private Ryan is now an old man and he returns to Normandy Beach where so many of his comrades died that he might live. He is standing before the grave of a guy that saved his life. His wife comes over to stand next to him. He turns to her and says, “Tell me that I am a good man. Tell me that I lived a good life.”
I think there’s something that registers with each of us. As we get older, we want to know we have achieved something significant in our lives, and we need to know that our lives were worthwhile. This becomes more important with age I guess.
Helping others—friends and strangers
When we say, She is a good person, what do we mean? Kind, helpful, caring, understanding, patient, and loving are some of the words that come to mind. And we usually know a person is good by what they do, such as performing thoughtful deeds. A good person helps others—not just those they know, but strangers as well.
They have an inner strength to make a difference in the lives of others. They understand the pain of others—and feel that pain. A good person takes responsibility for his or her actions. They don’t make excuses, and are honest. Good people strive to be honest with others and themselves—and they are fair in their decisions. This means wishing to work for the common good.
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Emma Atkins was in Vietnam in the early 1960s because her husband was an American engineer for the military. She was curious about the fact that every Vietnamese woman over 60 had a bent back. Then she noticed that after the monsoon season the sweeping of the debris was inevitably done by older people who used a broom with a short handle.
Since wood for the handles cost too much and was in short supply, Emma found a long-stalked reed and planted shoots from the reed by her door. She tended these reeds carefully. One day when neighbours were in her house she cut a tall reed, bound coconut fronds to it and began to sweep with her back straight. When the people questioned her concerning the reed, she told them where they might find it growing.
Four years later, after she had moved back to Pittsburgh, Emma received a letter from the leader of the village thanking her. The letter read:
In the village of Chang Dong today, the backs of our old people are straight and firm. No longer are their bodies painful and bent. You will be pleased to know that on the outskirts of the village we have constructed a small shrine in your memory… at the foot are these words: “In memory of the woman who unbent the backs of our people.”
What a great compliment to pay to someone, that they have unbent the backs of others!
Seeking to be full with goodness
The great leader of England, Winston Churchill, once said, “You make a living by what you get but you make a life by what you give.” The Bible’s standard for good is to be filled with goodness. This means being a good person and doing good to others. What is goodness? The Bible tells us that God created everything good in the beginning. He made everything for a purpose.
Ephesians 2:10 in the Living Bible says: “it is God Himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others”—in other words, doing good things and being a good person. And Galatians 6:9 in the same version says: “And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up”.
Did you know the Bible instructs us to give to those in need—that is one of the qualities of a good person:
- “Don’t forget to do good and to share what you have with those in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16 – TLB).
- “Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them” (1 Timothy 6:18 – TLB).
It is easy to show mercy to people we like and those in need. However, a person who possesses the qualities of a good person should also demonstrate mercy and kindness to their enemies.
- “And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, what good is that? Even sinners will lend to their own kind for a full return.
Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked.
You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:34-36).
- “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 – ESV)