Editorial: 2019 will put our goodness to the test

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Paul instructed the Galatian Christians not to “become weary in doing good,” with the consolation being a reward for their endurance (Galatians 6:9).

But what is good?

For some, the word ‘good’ has become as milquetoast as ‘love.’ Like love, which has turned into a term of endearment for someone or something we like a lot at the moment, good has become a descriptor of someone or something agreeable to us at the moment.

How are we not to become weary in doing good if good is so ephemeral? How are we to endure in doing good if all we are doing is playing to the whims of others?

Good news: Good is grounded in the eternal

Another way to translate the Greek of Galatians 6:9 is: “Don’t despair in doing what is honorable.”

In other words, Paul doesn’t call us to the elusiveness of being agreeable but to the solidness of being honorable.

To know what Paul would consider honorable, we only need to look back a few verses in his letter to the Galatians.

First, Paul describes the things to be avoided, the dishonorable “acts of the flesh:” “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21).

These are all things Christians agree are dishonorable in general and in public, though they may not agree on just how bad they are in particular or in private.

Instead of dishonorable acts of the flesh, those who belong to Jesus ought to exhibit “the fruit of the Spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Not only do Christians agree about the honorableness of the fruit of the Spirit, but the broader world also seems to agree these are worthy characteristics. There is no law against them.

These characteristics originate in God, which is another way of saying they are eternal, not elusive or ephemeral. When we give ourselves to the fruit of the Spirit, we give ourselves to a grounded life, a solid life.

Christians ought to exhibit goodness in 2019, not to the exclusion of other fruit of the Spirit, but as one way Christians can do what is honorable.

Good is good all the time

And here’s where this editorial becomes decidedly political, which could be good or bad depending on the reader’s perspective.

More than once during the last two years, President Trump’s closest evangelical supporters have been seen to excuse some of Trump’s behaviors—acts of the flesh—that the broader culture expects Christians to oppose.

In an interview published in the Washington Poston Jan. 1, Jerry Falwell Jr., while presumably not condoning all of President Trump’s behavior, does support Trump’s “business acumen.”

In answering the question, “What about [Trump] exemplifies Christianity and earns him your support,” Trump’s business acumen was the only thing Falwell cited. We are left to wonder if Falwell actually believes Trump’s business acumen exemplifies Christianity.

The larger question was about Christians being nice, to which Falwell seems to answer that when it comes to business, a person doesn’t have to be nice to get the job done in a Christian way.

‘Nice,’ being a word as meaningless in our current climate as ‘good,’ might be a substitute for ‘good’ here: When it comes to business, a person doesn’t have to be good to get the job done in a Christian way. Maybe that’s taking things further than Falwell intended.

Falwell also asserted that Jesus doesn’t expect the United States to be nice just because Jesus might want Christians to be nice, an idea which will make more sense in a moment. His statement might explain how some evangelicals can look the other way when Trump—who said he is “a great Christian”—engages in impurity, conducts business guided by selfish ambition, and—at least according to his detractors—gives in to fits of rage.

More likely, however, Falwell and other evangelicals may be able to excuse Trump’s acts of the flesh—though presumably not yours or mine—because according to Falwell, there are two distinct kingdoms—the earthly and heavenly—as well as a dichotomy between what Jesus taught us to do in personal relationships (the heavenly kingdom) and what Jesus taught us to do in relation to our country (the earthly kingdom): “[Jesus was] here to teach you how to treat others, how to help others, but when it comes to serving your country, you render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”

This statement opens the door to chilling implications.

Furthermore, Falwell asserted Jesus thought the person leading a government ought “to do what’s in the best interest of government and its people,” which isn’t necessarily the same thing as what Jesus “taught us to do personally.”

This idea also is unsettling, revealing a philosophic and theological justification for actions contrary to what I take to be a biblical understanding of what is good.

Going further still, what if the person who leads the government claims to be a Christian, a person who—according to the original definition of ‘Christian’—is an imitator of Christ? Is that person to lead like Caesar or like Christ? For that person, which kingdom prevails—the earthly or the heavenly? What did Christ teach that person?

Putting good into practice now

Since good originates in God and is therefore eternal, then what is good transcends all kingdoms—earthly and heavenly—and is expected in all kingdoms. In other words, what is honorable in heaven is also honorable on earth.

The coming year promises to test our understanding of goodness. Followers of Christ—evangelical or otherwise—will not have to wait to practice goodness in this world. We will have the opportunity to do the honorable thing even before the end of this editorial.

It is possible to agree with a person’s policies while holding that person to account for bad behavior. In fact, if the person behaving badly is a Christian, it is the duty of other Christians to call out those behaviors in order to restore that person.

An honorable thing, a good thing is not to excuse but to hold Trump and anyone else claiming to be a Christian to account for their acts of the flesh—whether or not we support their policies, whether or not we benefit from their business dealings.

We must not despair in doing such good. We must not grow weary in calling out and distancing ourselves from dishonor—even when, especially when the dishonor is our own.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard and a former pastor. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP.

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