The Lords response to the rich young ruler who came to Him was, “There is none good but One, that is, God” (Matt. 19:17). The word He uses signifies moral quality, good in contrast with evil. It is sometimes said of people: for example, Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50) and Barnabas (Acts 11:24). But it applies to people only in a relative sense because no one is thoroughly good. God alone is essentially, absolutely, and consummately good. He hates evil, cannot do anything evil, and cannot be tempted with evil.
The expression “God is good” is found fifteen times in the Old Testament but only once in the New Testament, in 1 Peter 2:3: “…if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (“good” in some translations). Peter uses a different word from the Lord. Aristotle said, “Good has two meanings: it means both that which is good absolutely [as in the Lord’s statement] and that which is good for somebody [as in Peter’s statement].” This latter goodness signifies “goodness in action, goodness expressing itself in deeds of grace and tenderness and compassion” (W.E. Vine).
The difference between these words is illustrated in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. When He overturned the tables of the merchant men and brandished a whip to drive them out of the temple (Matt. 21:12-13; John 2:13-16), He was good, doing the right thing. But to others His goodness was expressed in an altogether different way, as when He was moved with compassion to heal the sick (Matt. 14:14), feed the multitude (Matt. 15:22), restore sight to the blind (Matt. 20:34), cleanse the leper (Mark 1:41), raise the widow’s son (Luke 7:13), etc.
There is an aspect of this goodness that extends to all mankind: “The Lord is good to all…You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:9,15-16). Every good meal, every refreshing night’s sleep, every moment of health and safety, and all that sustains and enriches life are gifts from the God who is good. However, Peter writes about what God in His goodness does for His people. He borrows the language of David when he escaped from Abimelech with whom he had sought refuge. As the Philistines discussed what to do with him, David’s fears mounted, and he acted like a madman. The Philistines assumed that he was out of his mind and sent him on his way. David wrote, “This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him and delivered him out of all his troubles…O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:4-7). Peter knew about that in his own experience. In spite of his best intentions, he had denied his Lord, but the Lord looked towards him, a look not of rebuke or criticism but of compassion and love (Luke 22:61). And subsequently the Lord was careful to get together with Peter and restore him and recommission him (John 21:13-17). Peter could have said, “I have tasted that the Lord is good.” And we can say it too. We were altogether undeserving but “when the kindness [goodness] and the love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (Titus 3:4-5).
All of this demands a response from us:
We should believe that God is good
Some question the goodness of God when they look at the suffering and injustice in the world. Asaph declares, “Truly God is good to Israel and to such as are pure in heart” (Ps. 73:1). But then he considered the wicked: prosperous, proud, violent, greedy, arrogant and apparently able to do as they chose with impunity. In contrast the psalmist sees himself as a God-fearing individual who desired to obey Him. And yet he encounters hardship and suffering. “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me.” But then he adds “until I went into the sanctuary of God and then I understood their end” (v. 17). He saw things from God’s perspective, and he understood. As for the wicked, the judgment of God awaited them. And as for himself, he had all that he needed in God: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none on earth besides You. My flesh and my heart cry fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever” (v. 26). Asaph’s conclusion was, “Truly God is good…”
God’s goodness is to be measured by what He has done for us in bringing us into a relationship with Himself, what He continues in His grace to do in us and for us, and what He will yet do in the future. “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
We should be thankful that God is good
A recurring refrain through the Old Testament is, “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: because His mercy endures for ever.” These words were sung when David brought the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem (1 Chron. 16:34); when Solomon had completed the construction of the temple (2 Chron. 5:13); when the glory of the Lord filled the temple (2 Chron. 7:3); when the captives in Babylon were restored to Judea, as anticipated by Jeremiah (Jer. 33:11); and when reconstruction of the temple commenced (Ezra 3:11). We also find these words “the Lord is good” in four other psalms (106:1; 107:1; 118:1,29; 136:1).
Like the people of Israel, we should respond with joyful singing and thanksgiving, not only because of God’s deeds but because of His person. C. H. Spurgeon put it this way, “Those who only praise God because He does them good should rise to a higher note and give thanks to Him because He is good.”
We should be good as God is good
- The two words “good” which are used about God in the New Testament are found together in the fruit of the Spirit: “kindness” (in dealing with others) and “goodness” (moral uprightness) (Gal. 5:22). It means that we not only do what is right but we demonstrate the kindness and compassion of the Lord Jesus:
- Caring for the weak and needy, as the Lord did when the women of Salem brought their children to Him. The disciples thought the Lord didn’t have time for them, but He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not…” (Mark 9:3-16).
- Accepting the person who is different, as the Lord did with the woman from Syrophonecia. The disciples saw her as a nuisance and a foreigner who had no claim on Him and urged Him to send her away. But the Lord patiently and lovingly led her to a better understanding of His person and an expression of her faith in Him (Mark 7:24-30).
- Restoring the person who has fallen, as the Lord did with Peter, not looking to rebuke and criticize but to restore with compassion and love (John 21:15-17).
- Forgiving the person who has offended, as the Lord did with us. We were sinners and under condemnation and we should be “be kind [good] to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).