Close up image of a fresh fig cut in half on a wooden chopping board with walnut pieces. Words over the top: Songs of the Spirit: goodness, Faith in Grey Places

Songs of the Spirit: goodness (a poem)

This is part of a series of poems on the virtues described as the fruit the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Once again, I’m struck by how much I discover when I get out my concordance and start looking at the Greek words. 

Take, for example, Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:17 where he says that every “good” tree bears “good” fruit. These are two different words in the Greek, but many English translations render both words as “good”. 

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Some describe the tree as “healthy” or “sound” and say it bears “good” fruit, but if you ask me this is the wrong way round. The goodness of the tree is the bigger word. In fact, the only translation on Bible Gateway that conveys this meaning is the Voice: “Good trees bear beautiful, tasty fruit.”

It turns out there are two commonly used words in the Greek of the New Testament that are translated as “good”. 

The first is agathos / ἀγαθός, from which the word agathosyne / ἀγαθωσύνη, meaning “goodness” is derived. (There are several other words with the same root, but I’ll skip over them for now.) 

Agathos is used 102 times in the New Testament, and the 1984 NIV translates 89 of these as “good”. Agathosyne is only used 4 times; it’s translated once as “good” and three times as “goodness”. This is the word used in Galatians 5. 

The other word is kalos / καλῶς. It’s used 100 times in the New Testament but is translated as “good” only 65 times. Other instances are rendered “better”, “right”, “beautiful”, “noble”, “excellent”, “fine” or similar. 

To give you some examples: 

  • Matthew 7:11: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good [agathos] gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good [agathos] gifts to those who ask him!” 
  • Matthew 7:17: “Likewise, every good [agathos] tree bears good [kalos] fruit…”
  • Matthew 12:33: “Make a tree good [kalos] and its fruit will be good [kalos]…”
  • Matthew 12:35: “A good man brings good [agathos] things out of the good [agathos] stored up in him…”
  • Matthew 13:1–23: “Still other seed fell on good [kalos] soil … But the seed falling on good [kalos] soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it.”
  • Matthew 13:24–43: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good [kalos] seed in his field. … The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good [kalos] seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ … The one who sowed the good [kalos] seed is the Son of Man. … The field is the world, and the good [kalos] seed stands for the people of the kingdom.”
  • Matthew 19:16–17: Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good [agathos] thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good [agathos]?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good [agathos]. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’

Mark and Luke follow the same use of words when they relay the same stories. Mark and Luke also say that salt is good [kalos] (Mark 9:50, Luke 14:34.)

Notably, Nathanael asks if anything good [agathos] can come out of Nazareth in John 1:46 and Jesus describes himself as the good [kalos] shepherd. I also find it intriguing that Paul describes the “commandment” of God as good [agathos] in Romans 7:12, but the law as good [kalos] in Romans 7:16. 

Oh and for the record, the three uses of “goodness” in 2 Peter 1:3–5 are a different word altogether. 

It strikes me that the goodness [agathos] talked about in the context of the fruit of the Spirit is more about an inherent quality that is consonant with the character of God. When the Greek word kalos is used, the meaning is more functional; something may praiseworthy, excellent, fine – but it is so for a particular purpose. In contrast, when something is good in the agathos sense, it is inherently good in its own right without reference to anything else. 

I think this is part of why Jesus says that no one is “good” except God alone. And yet, of course, God gives good [agathos] gifts to us: his Son and his Spirit. 

With all that in mind, I wrote today’s poem. 

Songs of the Spirit: goodness

Make goodness the stuff that I’m made of,
So all of my fruit may be sweet,
Refreshing, reviving, infused with your love,
A taste of your generous feast.

Make goodness the stuff that I’m made of
Then all of my speech will be wise,
Both saline and sanguine, and full of your hope,
That all the downtrodden may rise.

Make goodness the stuff that I’m made of
For that is the gift of your choice,
Unending, unresting, unfailing in power,
The singular voice of my voice.

Sharing another picture from artist Helen Yousaf that reminded me of the themes of this poem. It’s title is “Morning has broken” and the image is on her Instagram profile.

[Image description: Profile picture of black woman rejoicing, arms outstretched, looking upwards, mouth smiling an open. Background has a bright centre, surrounded by rays of red, yellow and orange.]

Helen kindly said I was free to share so long as I’m sharing hope. Her instagram is here: Helen Yousaf. Her website shop is here: Helen-Yousaf-Art.

Photo by Matthias Heil on Unsplash

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