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OCTOBER 11 2015

The Goodness of God

[I. Introduction] Certain people have qualities about them that stir up a desire in those who know them to want to be around them and support them. Some might call this group of qualities charm or charisma. Winston Churchill had it. For you younger people who may not know who he was, he was the Prime Minister of Great Britain during WW2. He is most well known for his leadership skills, his great speeches, and his role in bringing about victory over the great tyrant of the 20th century, Hitler. But there was more to the man than these three things. He overcame great obstacles in his life. He stuttered as a boy. He applied himself to overcome it and he did. He was the proverbial 98-lb weakling as a youth and mocked. So, he ordered a pair of dumbbells and began training diligently. He overcame his weakness and became fit. His father was overly strict and berated him. He did poorly in school as a youth and his father would severely punish him because of his grades. He overcame this as well.

Despite these difficulties he became a great leader who was visionary, able to communicate and impart his vision to others, and possessed personal virtue. One evening during the war, a cleaner at the Ministry of Defence was heading for her bus to go home and spotted something in the gutter: a file covered with pink ribbon and notices saying “Top Secret.” She picked it out of the puddle, tucked it under her raincoat and took it home. She showed it to her son, and he immediately realized it was terribly important.
Without opening it, he hurried back to the Ministry of Defence. By the time he got there, it was late, and most everyone had gone home—and this young fellow was treated pretty insolently by the people at the door. They kept telling him just to leave the file there, and someone would deal with it in the morning. He said no and refused to go until he had seen someone of flag-officer rank.
Finally someone senior came down and took the file—which turned out to contain the battle orders for Anzio, in which the Allies planned to try to establish a beachhead on Italy’s west coast. The war cabinet was called the following day to work out how serious the security breach was and whether the Anzio landings could proceed. They looked at the file carefully and decided that it had only been in the water for a few seconds and that the cleaning lady’s story was true—and so on balance, they decided to go ahead with the invasion of Italy.
Churchill turned to Gen. Hastings Lionel “Pug” Ismay, the chief of the Imperial General Staff, and asked, “Pug, how did this happen?” Ismay told him about the woman and her son, and as he did, Churchill started to cry.
“She shall be a Dame Commander of the British Empire!” he said. “Make it so!”

Of course, the cleaning lady was not made Commander of the British Empire. But Churchill wanted her to be and the tenderness that he exhibited in weeping about the events of that lost file revealed the kindness that he possessed. One could say that to know Winston Churchill was to love and admire him.

The most captivating person that I have ever met was J.I. Packer. He is most well known for his classic book, Knowing God. If you have not read that book I would highly recommend it. Brother Packer came to where we were living back in the late 1990’s and gave a series of lectures for two weeks. Besides providing great and wonderful teaching he took the time after each lecture to answer questions as long as people wanted. He answered those questions with grace and humility. Then, after his lectures were done Josie and I met he and his wife for breakfast and had a very pleasant conversation. It was probably a combination of his knowledge and his soft-spoken kindness that made me want to move in next door to him and learn more about him, something I could not do since he lived in Canada. One could say that to know J.I. Packer is to love and admire him.

When someone possesses true virtue it stirs up a love for that person for those who come to know them. God is like that. To know God as He really is – not man-made ideas about Him – is to love Him. Therefore, one of our great duties in life is to come to know God, because the more we know Him the more we will love Him.

This morning I would like us to consider one character quality of God: the goodness of God. Our Scripture reading is Exodus 34:5-7. I am going to read out of the NKJV.

Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, 7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

In this marvelous passage Yahweh, the one true God, reveals his character to Moses via a direct, verbal description. This is God’s own testimony of who he is! Take note of verse 6 where God describes himself as “abounding in goodness and truth.”

The NIV has “abounding in love and faithfulness” for this phrase.
The ESV translates it “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Other versions (e.g., KJV, Darby, MEV) read similarly to the NKJV and have “abounding in goodness.” The word in Hebrew that is alternately translated goodness, steadfast love, lovingkindness, or simply love is chesed. The word has no direct English equivalent and any of those translations are acceptable.

However, the description God gives in this passage is a fulfillment of his promise to Moses in the Exodus 33:19.     And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
(Exodus 33:19 ESV)
Here, the word “goodness” is a different word in Hebrew (tub), a word that does have a clearer and precise meaning. It is indeed “goodness.” Most of us already have a good idea what goodness means but we will fill out the meaning of it shortly.

What I would like for you to see is that Exodus 34 is a description of the goodness that Yahweh promised Moses would understand when it “passed before him.”

All these descriptors together make up God’s goodness. It is a goodness that is not in isolation, although God would still be good even if he were completely alone. Rather it is a goodness that expresses itself towards his creatures. Towards us!

There is another word, besides “love” or “lovingkindness,” that gets to the heart of what the Bible means when it speaks of God’s goodness. It can be seen in Exodus 34:6 in that phase “abounding in goodness.” The word “abounding” clearly implies generosity. Generosity means that the giver is not inclined to hold back. The giver has a disposition to give to others in a way that is not limited by what the recipient deserves. A generous giver consistently goes beyond what the recipient deserves and does so gladly. That is God! God is overflowing with generosity because he is good! And, God is consistent in his generosity!

Alexander the Great was another leader who inspired others and who engendered loyalty. He certainly did not have the kind of virtue that Churchill or Packer had. He did some despicable things. But there is an interesting account told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded in royal fashion, "Cooper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving."

If a great sinner like Alexander was generous, how much more generous is God?

Having a better understanding of what goodness is, we ought also to see that…

[II.] God is good to all. Turn to Psalm 145. In verses 3 through 9 we read:     
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
        and his greatness is unsearchable.
    One generation shall commend your works to another,
        and shall declare your mighty acts.
    On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
        and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
    They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
        and I will declare your greatness.
    They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
        and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
    The LORD is gracious and merciful,
        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
    The LORD is good to all,
        and his mercy is over all that he has made.      (ESV)

In verse 7 we see that phrase again – “abundant goodness”!
And, in verse 8, a reflection of Exodus 34.
In verse 9 David writes under the direction of the Holy Spirit: “The LORD is good to all!” “And his mercy is over all that he has made.”

Do you know that everything he has made is either in rebellion against him or is an expression of the curse because of the rebellion? It is! Meaning, that no one deserves anything except punishment. Even severe punishment for rebelling against a good God. But his mercy extends to everything he has made! Oh, that is good news!

God is not just good to his chosen people but to all!

In verse 15-17 we read:     
The eyes of all look to you,
        and you give them their food in due season.
    You open your hand;
        you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
    The LORD is righteous in all his ways
        and kind in all his works.
(Psalm 145:15-17 ESV)

This is our God! He provides for all though none deserve it! As J.I. Packer has said, “…every meal, every pleasure, every possession, every bit of sun, every night’s sleep, every moment of health and safety, everything else that sustains and enriches life is a divine gift. And how abundant these gifts are! Count your blessings, name them one by one…”

Yes, God is good because of the blessings he bestows on all.

[III.] God is good to his chosen ones in a greater way. READ Psalm 107:1-22.

The mercies of God on the natural level, however abundant, are overshadowed by the greater mercies of redemption.

God is good and his mercies go out to everyone, but there is a greater goodness that is expressed to those who belong to him, to those who call upon him in trouble. Have you called upon him? Have you experienced his greater goodness?

Before we move on to the last point there is a certain mystery to God’s goodness, especially to the elect. That is the mystery of suffering. When a person suffers it is natural to question the goodness of God. We may ask, “How can a good God allow this person, who I love, to suffer so? We ourselves may experience suffering. We may ask, “How can a good God allow me to suffer so?” There is not an answer to either of those questions. But we do know that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We do not know why or how times of suffering will be for our good ultimately. But they will be…in the end, after all is said and done on this earth. God is asking us to trust him in those difficult times.

There is one more important point to be made.

[IV.] God’s goodness must be remembered along with another of his attributes: severity. In Romans 11:22 we read: Therefore, consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but towards you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. (NKJV)

We have considered his goodness. We have been the recipients of his goodness. In Romans chapter 11 Paul has been rehearsing how Israel, once God’s chosen people, were cut off from his grace and mercy because of unbelief. Being cut off from God leaves no hope in the next life. God’s goodness is great, but so is his judgment.

The Gentiles, that’s us, have received goodness. We have received the greater goodness – the goodness of redemption. But we must continue in his goodness. That is, we must continue to trust God in what he has revealed about himself.

His goodness is to encourage us and to cause us to love him more than we do. His severity is to discourage us from sin, to cause us to fear him more than we do, and to motivate us to call out to him for a full and real salvation if we have not done so.

Earlier in Romans Paul wrote to the church that the goodness of God ought to lead them to repentance. This is because the goodness of God is shown by his great patience with sin. But God’s patience comes to an end. That is his severity.

[V. Application and Conclusion] What ought we to do?

[A.] We ought to appreciate the goodness of God. Count our blessings. Learn not to take natural benefits, even small ones, and pleasures for granted. Thank God for them all. Learn not to take the gospel of Jesus Christ in a casual way. It is a matter of life and death. Some may have been moving towards God for years. It is time to take that final step and give all of yourself to Christ. That is repentance. What a tragedy it would be to miss heaven by only inches!

Some may have been following Christ for years but have taken God’s goodness for granted. You have failed to continue in God’s goodness by a lack of trust. This lack of trust shows itself in either sin or a lack of service to the Lord. Instead of serving him you are serving yourself. The goodness of God leads you to repentance. Repentance is not only for the one who has not submitted to the Lordship of Christ. It is for the believer who has drifted away from the goodness of God.

[B.] We ought to appreciate the patience of God. Allow me to quote J.I. Packer once again. “Think how he has borne with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him, and you have so richly deserved his rejection. Learn to marvel at his patience and seek grace to imitate it in your dealings with others.”

[C.] Finally, appreciate the discipline of God. Earlier I had spoken about the mystery of suffering. It is not the only answer, nor is it a complete answer. But, one reason for suffering may be because God is disciplining us. “God’s severity touches us for a moment in the context of his goodness.”

[D.] God has graced certain people with virtue and when we see it we are drawn to them. How much better to be drawn to someone because of their character rather than a pretty face or an attractive figure! God is like that. To know him more is to love him more. To love him more is to enjoy him more. This is our purpose: to glorify God and enjoy him forever! God’s goodness draws us to him.

He is generous in his goodness. Believe and experience his goodness.