I think I heard Ronnie before I actually saw him. He was hard to miss, tall for a Costa Rican, but with huge, powerful arms and a large core, from which emanated his tremendous belly laugh.
The belly laugh is what I heard first. He picked us up from the airport in San José, where we would make our first home in Latin America. We were there to learn Spanish, in preparation for church planting work in Perú.
Navigating through a new culture and language with three small children under the ages of three was not easy, and we needed a lot of help along the way. During that year, Ronnie appeared often at our door with his van, a big smile, his broken English (better than our Spanish!), and of course that great laugh, always ready to help us with whatever area of need was manifesting itself at the time.
Ronnie spent hours with us, always cheerfully answering our questions, patiently guiding us around the city, and the country, laughing and playing with our kids, always glad to help. Ronnie was very good to us.
“The fruit of the Spirit is…goodness…” (Galatians 5:22).
Ronald Fung, in his commentary on Galatians, explains “goodness” by pointing to Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner and the day laborers in Matthew 20:1-16. The vineyard owner paid the same wages to the laborers who worked one hour as he did to those who worked all day. When the full-day laborers complain, he asks them why they begrudge his generosity to those who worked less, if they also had received the original wage he promised them. The owner asks the laborers,“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15). A more literal and wooden translation of the owner’s second question (Or do you begrudge my generosity?) goes like this:
“Is your eye bad because I am good?”
This is a reference to the “evil eye” of envy with which they viewed the owner, his money, and the other beneficiaries of his goodness. That’s because the opposite of goodness is a begrudging, hostile, envious spirit toward a generous person, her goods, or the objects of her kindnesses. “Goodness”, says Fung, is “magnanimous kindliness which issues in practical generosity.”
Goodness is “outgoing”, John Sanderson says in his book The Fruit of the Spirit. It seeks out relationships and desires to generously pour resources into them, resources of treasure, talent, and in Latin America especially, time. There is so much goodness we experienced from God’s people in Latin America. There was also the opposite: much envy, sometimes a begrudging spirit, even in the church. As Galatians 5 makes clear, we are broken people with competing passions in our hearts, Spirit always warring against flesh. But for my part, I am mostly aware of the lack of goodness in me, despite the manifold goodness I have received from God and man.
I was reading the Bible one morning when I observed my neighbor let his dog out the back door, to go to the bathroom. I watched as the minutes passed and the neighbor, who had closed the back door and left the dog to do his thing, did not return. I watched as the dog wandered, eventually coming across the street toward our house and then turning to wander off down the street.
The thought nagged at me: “Go downstairs, get the dog, and take it back to the neighbor. He probably doesn’t know it wandered off.” Then another thought countered: “How inconsiderate of him to let his dog wander off and poop in other people’s yards. Why should I help him?”
I’m sad to admit that the second thought won the day, and I stayed looking out the window, under my blankets, Bible in hand, prayers no longer quite as fervent. Then out comes my neighbor, obviously concerned, striking out to find his dog who has disappeared. I heard our door open and Lori, my dear wife, had also seen the neighbor’s dog out the window, but unlike me, she was good, and generously gave of her time and energy to roust herself out of the house to help a neighbor and lost dog in need.
When I went downstairs, I asked her who she was talking to (as if I didn’t know), and she told me the neighbor had come looking for his dog, explaining to her that in his rush to get ready for work he’d forgotten he’d left the dog out back, and when he realized his mistake he’d come out and realized the dog had run off. He was so thankful for Lori’s goodness toward him, returning his dog to him safe and sound. Ouch!
Lori’s goodness exposed my stinginess. I was convicted and confessed to her what I’d done. I also found myself confessing my sin to the Lord and asking Him how I could lack such basic character. I was reminded that His perfect goodness toward me was unchanged by my lack of goodness toward my neighbor. My sin can’t change the gospel: that Jesus came for me, possessing perfect goodness, that magnanimous kindness of God issuing in generous grace to a sinner like me.
God’s goodness is the kind and generous smile of One who is not looking at my brokenness and calculating how much of His time, talent, and treasure it will cost Him to deal with me, but of One, like Ronnie, who delights to share his time, talent and treasure with me, so my needs can be met. His goodness gives me confidence to confess: “Jesus, I am calculating what others might cost me to enter into their needs and brokenness. Forgive me, and change my heart to be more like yours. Produce in me by your Spirit a heart of goodness to replace my envy and stingy spirit.”
The goodness of God is my hope for the goodness I long to see in me. Ronnie’s belly laugh in my doorway was my invitation to ask him for anything I needed. It made me know his heart was with me to do me good. I believe we need to develop an ear of faith to hear the belly laugh of God in the doorway of our hearts. The glory of the gospel is that God really is that full of goodness toward sinners like us. Jesus is the proof. Listen for His laugh, and let it put a spring in your step as you press on to grow in goodness through the Spirit’s power.
As we believe, and the Spirit works, that laugh we hear in our ears will gradually make its way into our bellies. We will find ourselves seeing others in need with new eyes, kind and good eyes. And we will wake up one day and realize the stingy spirit is no longer predominant in us, and where it used to be, there is a genuine delight in pouring His goodness into the lives of those around us.
Mark Berry is the Latin America Regional Supervisor for Serge, an international mission agency that sees the gospel and the power and motive for mission. This article is one of a series on the fruit of the Spirit.
>> For other vignettes on the fruit of the Spirit, explore our current blog series (love, joy, kindness, faithfulness) or sign up in the upper right hand column of this page so you don’t miss the upcoming post on the elusive fruit of “self-control.”