Have you ever wondered what made Jesus so effective in reaching out and helping others? Granted, he knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards and applied God’s Word perfectly to each person’s situation.
But what made people willing to listen to him in the first place? How did they know they could trust him, that he had their best interests at heart?
The people Jesus encountered had countless religious teachers and counselors available to them, yet you don’t see the multitudes swarming to them for advice or help. There was something about Jesus that, even as he maintained an uncompromising standard, drew people to him in droves. Publicans, prostitutes, even some of the Pharisees—sinners of every description flocked to Jesus for help and spiritual healing.
It was the goodness of Jesus, as much as anything else, that made his ministry so effective.
Jesus’ popularity was clearly due in part to the wisdom with which he spoke. The multitudes were constantly marveling at the authority and understanding so clearly displayed in his teaching. Yet even this does not explain what made untouchable, despicable sinners huddle up with Jesus at the dinner table and converse so eagerly with him.
The goodness of Jesus was at least as much of a draw for people as the content of his message. They could see—anyone could see—that Jesus lived a very different life than the pompous Pharisees and Sadducees. This man practiced what he preached.
It was also clear, from his actions as well as his words, that Jesus had a genuine, consistent, and intense compassion for the pain of those around him. This man wept with those who were weeping, went to those who were lame, waited for those who were blind, and sought out those who were overlooked.
Scripture makes it plain that goodness is one of the absolute essentials for real ministry. Whether in private or in public, whether declaring the gospel from the pulpit or sharing it in the break room—any ministry must flow out of good living, good motives, and good counsel in order to be Christ-honoring and personally useful.
This is the unmistakable implication of Paul’s words to the Romans: “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14, emphasis added).
The confidence Paul expressed in the church’s ability to instruct and edify one another was grounded, first of all, in the goodness that was displayed in their lives.
We cannot help others draw closer to God if we are not ourselves maintaining a close walk with God. As elementary as this may sound, it is widely ignored in many modern approaches to church organization and growth. People who have experienced little, or no, sanctification themselves are put in positions of leadership in Sunday School classes, small groups, or even public preaching.
Several years ago, I actually had a preacher sit across from me and tell me he was unrepentant for some well-known sexual sins in his life because he felt he could not possibly minister effectively if he did not understand the sinners among whom he labored. He said if he was living in sin himself he would be able to reach out to and help other sinners.
Apparently, this man did not consider the best example of ministry in the whole Bible—Jesus Christ himself. According to this man’s criteria, Jesus could not have had a useful ministry because he rubbed shoulders with sinners his whole life without ever sinning.
Of course, this is ridiculous, because Jesus’ life is to be our model. Any other philosophy of ministry results in one drowning man or woman trying to save another. Neither will be helped.
The Bible makes it clear that personal virtue, or goodness, is necessary for even Scriptural knowledge to be useful. Peter exhorts us that the first thing we need to add to our God-given faith is personal virtue—and then, to that virtue, we are to add knowledge (2 Pet. 1:5).
Paul expressed his desire that the church at Colossae be filled with knowledge so that they might “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:9-10). Knowledge and goodness go hand in hand.
Paul’s language of “goodness”—especially being filled with goodness—might sound strange to those who feel they are great sinners and unworthy of the least of God’s mercy. But God’s mercy is exactly where this goodness comes from.
Paul tells us in Galatians that goodness is a fruit of the Spirit ( Gal. 5:22), and, again in Ephesians, that the fruit of the Spirit is “is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:9).
Sanctification and growth in godliness is not something we can aspire to on our own, yet it is clearly expected of us and should be displayed in us. Paul shared his prayer request with the church at Philippi, that they would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11).
The fruits of godliness, including good living, can only come by Jesus Christ, but they are expected from us in order that God might receive praise and glory through us.
However, the idea of goodness carries with it more than just right living. Even the Pharisees could put on a show of “good works.” Goodness also carries with it the idea of right motives. In other words, the person who is trying to encourage, admonish, or advise another must be clearly doing so out of a desire for that person’s good.
This seemingly obvious criterion is broken daily in households all over the world. Husbands hurl instructions or expectations at their wives or children and wonder why they are not well-received in the midst of their tirade. Wives criticize and belittle their husbands, then are surprised when they do not see any change in behavior.
The problem is that knowledge without genuine love—without good motives—is utterly unprofitable (1 Cor. 8:1). We cannot realistically expect to help anyone if our advice and counsel are not flowing from a deep, Christ-centered love and desire for the other’s good.
One of the pastors under whom I grew up used to remind us as up-and-coming leaders in the church that people will listen to you only if they already know that you love them. However, if they do know you love them, they will follow you almost anywhere and receive almost any criticism. How many young ministers need to remember this maxim!
Our goal, then, with any counsel we give, should be the good of the person to whom we are speaking and, ultimately, the glory of God. Our goal for each other, in other words, should be the same goal God has for us. As Paul prayed in 2 Thessalonians 1:11, our hope for each other should be that God will “fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,” in each of us.
Despite living a godly life and desiring the good of someone, many saints have failed to actually share helpful counsel when it was needed. This is because good counsel does not always feel or sound good to the listener. Since every one of us struggles with a people-pleasing nature to some extent, we sometimes hesitate to share what we know needs to be said simply because we know it will not be easy or pleasant to hear.
Goodness sometimes requires that we be stern, share unwelcome advice, or even “wound” a loved one for their own good. The writer of Proverbs, however, reminds us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6).
As much as we may be tempted at times just to say, “Everything is going to be alright,” or “things will get better soon,” this is simply not always the case. Sometimes drastic, personal change is needed before things can turn around for the better.
If a person doesn’t stop spending more than he or she makes, they will not get out of debt; if a couple continues to fight and wrangle over every little thing, their marriage will not improve; if parents do not correct their child, their relationship with the child will only get worse.
Goodness, then, does not always look like a warm and fuzzy hug or an encouraging slap on the back (though it might include these). Goodness is a personal investment in the glory of God, which overflows in a desire to help others draw closer to God, no matter what challenges we may have to face to achieve this end.
Personal goodness, coupled with an intimate knowledge of God’s good word, equips us to help the many hurting people that need the goodness of God so desperately in their lives.
Truly good ministry must flow out of good living, good motives, and good counsel in order to be Christ-honoring and personally useful.
Justin Huffman has pastored in the States for over 15 years, authored the “Daily Devotion” app (iTunes/Android) which now has over half a million downloads, and recently published a book with Day One: Grow: the Command to Ever-Expanding Joy. He has also written articles for For the Church, Servants of Grace, and Fathom Magazine. He blogs at justinhuffman.org.