What it Means to be Good
At the heart of goodness is obedience. Test yourself and your family in four key areas.
It was Thoreau who said, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”
“An investment?” you ask. That’s right, an investment … in your mate, your children, your employees, or even a stranger.
Our grayish culture of no absolutes has bleached out the once colorful connotations to the word “good.” Today if something is “good” that means it’s “just okay.” Good is third in line at Sears behind “better” and “best.” And we know to steer clear of a “good” used car—it’s probably been a rental car driven for 225,000 miles and then used in a demolition derby!
To recover the once lofty meaning of “good,” I am reminded of the conversation between the rich young ruler and Jesus in Matthew 19:16-17. Jesus’ words to him in verse 17 were: “Why are you asking me about what is good? There is only One who is good …”
There’s our first clue: Only God is good. The Psalmist adds, “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5). Merrill Unger writes of God’s goodness, “It expresses the supreme benevolence, holiness, and excellence of the divine character, the sum of all God’s attributes.”
Are you beginning to grasp God’s perspective on “good”? Enlightening, isn’t it?
How to be good
Our children continue to teach us about being good. Sure, we train them, but occasionally (without knowing it) they’ll take us to school. When our son Samuel was eight years old, he typed out a treatise entitled “How to Be Good.” The following is Samuel’s own, unedited work shared exclusively with verbal permission for your benefit:
HOW TO BE GOOD
- Obay you parntes and GOD.
- Do want other kids want to do.
- Do not be selfish.
- Be good to babbysearts.
- Do want parntes say.
- Do not cheat.
- Play right.
- Be a good player.
- Dont be a por sport.
- Do not cuse.
Not bad, huh?
So how can we be good? Samuel’s insight mirrors Christ’s command to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 in the last half of verse 17: “… but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
At the heart of goodness is obedience. Since “being good” is tied to obeying God’s commandments, maybe we should consider how they apply to us today. I wonder how many of us could even name all of the commandments. Why not pull out Exodus 20 and read and discuss them at dinner tonight. I’ll give you a head start by discussing four of them below.
1. You shall have no other Gods before Me. I’m convinced that one of modern Christianity’s worst forms of idolatry is our worship of things. Materialism. Barbara and I constantly struggle to stay out of this quicksand. We never wanted to leave a legacy of materialism to our kids. (By the way, this is the one commandment to which God attaches a warning that He will visit our sins on the children—even to the third and fourth generation.)
Another form of idolatry is our worship of self-fulfillment. Careers, the number of children we decide to have, our attitude about divorce, and our general preoccupation with “what’s in it for me” have all been sired by the personal rights movement. The Christian Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn said it best: “The time has come to speak not so much about human rights, but about our human responsibilities.”
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain. Taking God’s name in vain is more than just using His name as a curse word. It means “to take His name to mean nothing.” “Praise the Lord” can become slang if we say it just ’cause we’ve been saying it. Beware, God is holy and sacred … the God to be feared. If we are to have a “good” family, then its members must hold His name in highest respect.
3. You shall not commit adultery. I was stunned by a poll I once saw in one of our local newspapers. The question asked was, “Would you cheat on your spouse (have an affair) if you knew you would not get caught?” How do you think the “good” people of Arkansas, people who live just a few miles from the buckle of the Bible-belt answered that question?
Are you ready for this? SEVENTY-FOUR percent said they would cheat! I immediately wondered what the national response would be: eighty, eighty-five, maybe a horrid ninety percent?
We need a moral epidemic of “good” teenagers (as well as adults). How about talking about the value of virginity and fidelity with your pre-teen or teenagers at the dinner table tonight? Or preparing your first and second grader for all they’re hearing or going to hear about sex at school.
4. You shall not steal. A good businessman, or businesswoman, obeys God in his dealings with his employer, employees, and clients. He reports all of his income at income tax time. Why would a Christian who wants to be “good” have a fuzz-buster? Or why would he rob his children by failing to spend time with them? (Aren’t we stealing from their potential by not giving them our time?)
Are you a “good” employee—putting in a string of hard-working hours that makes up a hard day’s work? Or are you an average employee—one who fudges on expense reports (but not as much as “all the others”), works maybe three-fourths of the time, and fosters a critical attitude toward those in authority by picking away at their flaws and magnifying their failures. I often wonder why Christians don’t receive preferential hiring by employers.
Struggling with obedience
We know these commandments (and the six others not mentioned) contain a moral snapshot of God’s character and His goodness. We find out what He’s like and how we are to live by looking at these sacred laws and by living them.
But even though these commandments make sense, why do we struggle with obedience to God?
The prophet Isaiah says it best—”All we like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6). In short, we have a will that is contrary to God’s will. We resist Him and compromise His commandments. And, as a result, we get exactly what we wanted … our own way.
Yet sheep are not the only creatures that resemble man’s selfish plight. Dogs do too. I can see my response to God especially mirrored in the training of that special breed of bird dogs: retrievers. Chesapeake Bay retrievers, black Labradors, and golden retrievers must all be trained to fetch and return game to their masters.
Each special breed of dog, however, responds to this training differently. The Chesapeake Bay retriever is one of the strongest-willed. Trainers must use a club to teach this “hard-headed hound” to obey the commands of his master. Lighter training materials are used on a black Labrador—only the sting from a freshly cut switch is needed to teach him to follow. But the golden retriever is the most sensitive of all—the trainer needs only his voice to train him. Evidently, his heart is tender to the tone of his master’s voice.
Like those purebred dogs, we respond to our Master’s training in different ways. Perhaps all you need is to hear a whisper of displeasure in your Master’s voice and you’ll correct a bad attitude. Yet others may need the switch or even the club. Ouch! Which retriever are you most like? (Not unlike their parents, our children have different natures resulting in different responses to training. As parents we need to adapt our “training style” so that we don’t crush one child or be too lenient on another.)
So what does it mean to be good? It means that we are to be like the God we represent. It means we are not called to be above average in our ethics, but pure—as good as God. It means we need to be honest when no one is looking, when our children are watching, and when our neighbors (or associates) tempt us to be bad.
We need good Christians who are determined to establish good Christian homes. We need a resurgence of good homes—people who are committed to obeying God. Tocqueville said it best: “America is great because America is good. When America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Good homes will preserve our nation from moral collapse in this generation and the next.
Copyright © 2006 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.