Why Do You Ask Me What Is Good?

I’ve been thinking about “good” today.  As in Scripture when the rich, young ruler came to Jesus in Matthew19:15-22 “Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”  18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.


Jesus’ words to the young man suggest that the young man should already have known what is “good.” All of the commandments that Jesus initially pointed out to the young man had to do with one’s conduct toward others and the young man affirmed that he had kept all of those and asked “what do I still lack?’.  Then Jesus went to the deeper heart of the matter….testing the young man’s heart itself, pointing out what he truly loved…..advising him to give away his money and follow Jesus.  This exchange seems to me to be a test both of the young man’s discernment regarding the truth of who Jesus himself is and whether or not he is willing to do what is the true will of God….to give up his idolatrous love of money , to know and follow in obedience to God alone, which the young man would not do. For him to have done that promptly and completely would not only be “good”, Jesus says, but it would be “perfect!” 

Seven times in Genesis God looks upon his created work and calls it “good.”  In each case, that upon which God looked was exactly as God intended, just as God had spoken into existence. It would appear a case of that which is in keeping with God’s intended will is “good.” 

Throughout the Word there is evidence that God’s will is that his glory should be declared by his creation, that his created beings should know him and follow his commands. 

Jesus also spoke of “good fruit”, “good seed”, “good news”, “good deeds”, “good soil”, “good gifts”,  and “good shepherd.”  There is also the welcome greeting of praise, attributed to God,  of one being a “good and faithful servant.”  Somehow the word “good”, even “perfect”, seems to be associated closely with faithfulness to God’s intended will, to obedience to God’s plan for one’s life and purpose. 

Some will strive to live into that goal, to pursue the Fruit of the Spirit that includes “goodness”.   Many, however, like the rich young ruler, have other things that occupy a higher place in their hearts than God.  When asked by others what the most important commandment was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all our soul, all your strength, and all your mind.  The second is like the first. Love your neighbor as yourself.” These constitute the fullness of the law and the prophets according to Jesus.  Do this and you will live, Jesus said. This, too, I believe, God would call “good.”

How does God define “good”? How does a person define “good”? How many of us can truly claim “good” in describing ourselves when we consider it from Jesus’ perspective?


Cathy Byrd  8-26-17