Agathosune 5

2 Timothy 2:14-15

When I think about reaching out to people who are not believers, not members of a church, people who have no specific faith in God, I remember my college room-mate. He had been raised in a church and was part of a very strict family. As soon as he was old enough not to go to church, he stopped going. I believe he had been presented with the wrong image of God, the wrong examples of what it means to be a Christian.

In this letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to live a life of agathosune, to be an example and leader to others. Verse 14 refers to what Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 2:11-13. What is Timothy to do with this information? What will nit-picking and fighting do? How should Timothy present himself?

I have the song “What if I Stumble,” by DC Talk, on my MP3 player and I listen to it often. “What if I stumble? What if I fall? What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?”

The words express the fear so many of us may have. What if I am a poor example of agathosune? What if my good intentions drive people away rather than bring people nearer to God?

We can all probably name someone, or several someones, who have preached and preached with such arrogance and self-righteousness that they have pushed people away from God. We don’t want to be a person like that. But how do we avoid it?

Be like Timothy and remind people of who Jesus really is. He gives life. He is faithful. He gives love.

But also heed the advice not to argue or get caught up in “quarreling about words.” As is pointed out “it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.”

Instead we should do our best to present ourselves as one approved, one who lives a life of agathosune, one who is truly righteous and not simply acting righteous. We need to correctly handle the word of truth.

And how do we do learn to do that? Pray. Study. Pray.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Find a Bible passage that speaks to you of hope, salvation, and God’s love. Learn it; study it; consult the commentaries. Pray about it, and then be prepared to talk about it if the opportunity to witness ever arises.

Agathosune 4

James 5:13-20

Our medicine cabinet (actually a plastic basket in the linen closet) is full of a variety of medicines for various ills. We have cold medicines, pills for sinus relief, antibiotic cream, band-aids, pain relievers, anti-diarrheals, and even something to remove ear wax. James, on the other hand, offers a cure-all for any occasion.

What situations call for prayer? What reason for prayer is given in verse 15? What should we do, according to verse 16? Who is offered as an example? What encouragement is offered in verses 19-20?

There is nothing more frustrating than a helpless Christian. So many people throw up their hands and say, “What can I do?”

Answer – pray.

It seems like such an easy solution and it can come across as such an insincere thing, but verse 16 points out that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. If we are going to live as Christians and exhibit agathosune in our lives, then we must cover our lives in prayer. We must come to the Lord daily and ask for His blessings and His guidance. And remember that when you ask God to bless something, that doesn’t just mean you get good things. It means that God will work through it and make it good.

Before we give up on trying to live a life of goodness by claiming we are flawed and sinful, we must remember that the prayer offered in faith makes the sick person well and the sinful person forgiven.

And who can offer such prayers?

Anyone. James offers the example of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets (maybe THE greatest prophet) of the Old Testament. He was just a man, just an average person like you and me. But he was willing to have faith and pray.

How can we possibly live a life of agathosune? Pray for forgiveness. Pray for guidance. Pray for strength.

If you offer your prayer in faith God will respond. God will forgive and bless you. Then you can consider yourself a righteous person. Because that is the catch here – the prayers of a “righteous” person are powerful and effective. If you can seek forgiveness and God’s guidance, you can be made righteous. Then you can pray for others, those who have wandered from the truth. And you, through righteous prayer, prayer offered in a spirit of agathosune, can save that person from death.

DAILY CHALLENGE: I have already said it – Pray for forgiveness. Pray for guidance. Pray for strength.

Agathosune 3

Acts 5:1-11

Sometimes when driving in an unfamiliar area the selection of paved ways can be confusing. To help keep from making a terrible mistake there are signs that say simply “Wrong Way.” Often, to know where we should go, we need to see where we should not go.

Such is the case in today’s reading from Acts. The young church under the direction of Peter is growing (see Acts 2:42-47) with members sharing with one another. But then Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife, do something selfish.

What do they do? What does Peter know? What does Peter mean by what he says in verse 4? What happens to Ananias? What opportunity is offered to Sapphira (verse 8)? What happens to Sapphira?

In talking about goodness – agathosune – some may ask “what is goodness?” Today’s passage is an example of what is not goodness.

These two individuals are part of a faithful group of believers, much as any member of your church might be. They are given the opportunity to share with the others, to be part of this holy gathering, but instead they choose to be greedy and self-serving. They fail to live out agathosune.

Ananias is confronted first and dies as a result of his sinfulness. His wife is given an opportunity to admit the truth, but she continues with the deceit. She too dies.

Such a story can disturb us as we consider this early movement. Is this cruelty on the part of Peter? Is this God being too strict?

In truth we can sometimes get so caught up in the forgiveness and mercy that comes from God that we forget we are called to live a certain way. We can start believing that since God is so merciful we can live however we choose and not suffer any consequences.

But we are indeed called to holy living. If we are in step with the Spirit, if we are really Christian, if we really want to follow Jesus, then we will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. We will live out love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness.

To be a Christian means to live a life of goodness – agathosune. It means that we will stop doing what is wrong and strive to overcome the humanness of ourselves, to resist the temptation of living for ourselves. We will begin displaying agathosune in all we do – being honest, being fair, being loving, caring, serving, sacrificing.

If we are unable to live a life of agathosune then we are Christians in name alone. Then, like Ananias, we are deceiving ourselves and lying to the Holy Spirit. Ananias and Sapphira had only the appearance of being true believers. Their behavior, the way they lived, displayed a spirit that was not part of agathosune.

I doubt that those of us who cannot live out agathosune will be struck dead where we stand, but I believe those who cannot bear the fruit of the Spirit will experience a spiritual death. Our hope and joy will be gone.

The good news is that we can turn away from the selfish life we are living and return to God. There we will be forgiven and there we will find new life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there a selfish sinfulness in your life that needs to be placed at the feet of Jesus?

Agathosune 2

Malachi 3:3-4

Busy weeks, distractions, interruptions, and unexpected hospital visits can all add up to a weak sermon for me. When I have had a bad week and I am not happy with what I have produced I often excuse myself by saying, “It’s not my best, but it will do.”

This usually results in a sleepless night and either a late Saturday night or an early Sunday morning where I rewrite the message to get it closer to being my best. And it is times like these when I finally wise up enough to hand it all over to God and let Him work with me and through me.

What image of God is presented in Malachi 3:3? What is the result of God’s refining ability?

Sometimes we can allow our humility to be an excuse not to be good. As Christians we like to remind ourselves and others that none of us are perfect. We all fall short of the mark of what we should be. And then we leave it at that.

By no means do I believe that we must all be perfect to be a Christian. By no means do I think only the best of the best should be in church. But neither do I subscribe to the belief that we are all going to fail and we should just accept that.

There are none of us who are perfect, but we do need to be working toward that goal. Rather than simply accepting the fact that we are not perfect, we should accept the fact that we cannot be perfect on our own. We need God to make us perfect. That it is the step that so many leave out.

Yes, we are flawed. Yes, we are sinful. Now what do we do?

We must hand ourselves over to God and allow Him to be the refiner described in Malachi. Allow God to refine you, to purify you and make you into a person who can live a life of goodness – agathosune.

It is impossible to live a life of agathosune on your own. But your times of worship and Bible study should not be just times when you feel accepted as you are. They should also be times when you allow God to do His refining so we can bring offerings to God in righteousness.

Worship and Bible study are times to know that God accepts you just as you are, but they are also times when you can be purified through the Lord’s instruction and teaching. Then, as we are purified and refined, it will be easier to exhibit the agathosune we are called to live out.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What keeps you from being “good?” How can God refine you and remove that obstacle?

Agathosune 1

Psalm 25:8-10

In the movie “Educating Rita,” the character of Rita (played by Julie Walters – now famous for playing “Mrs. Weasley” in the Harry Potter films) is a middle-aged woman returning to university to study English literature. After writing an essay, her professor (Michael Caine) tries to be polite, but she insists that if her work is not good she should be told that it is no good and she can try again. The line (which I will not repeat here because of language) is one that has echoed in my mind for years.

It expresses a noble determination to improve, to be honest about what is good and not good, so that we can move forward and be better.

In today’s reading, how is the Lord described in verse 8? Therefore, what is the Lord qualified to do? How are the “ways of the Lord” described?

While Rita’s attitude is focused on her writing, the same attitude should be in each of us when it comes to living a life of goodness as we walk in step with the Holy Spirit. Part of the fruit of the Spirit is goodness. In Greek it is agathosune (pronounced ah-gah-tho-SUE-nay).

Agathosune, according to William Barclay, is “a word that is peculiar to the Bible and does not appear in secular Greek.” Therefore, this word must be one that speaks of a holy goodness, a purity that can only occur in those who follow God.

Barclay continues to say the word is defined as “virtue equipped at every point.” This means that those who exhibit goodness – agathosune – are prepared to be a help to others and to do what is right, and not just when it is convenient or advantageous, but always.

The term “goodness” seems to be one of those descriptive words that we can toss around in conversation and in life with its meaning shifting and changing to apply to the specific situation. But if we are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit we must have goodness – agathosune – as part of who we are.

And it is appropriate here to emphasize again that the fruit of the Spirit, all of it, is something we as Christians must live out. We cannot decide that this one is too hard so we drop it from our list.

As the psalmist points out, the Lord is good and His goodness can be an instruction and guide for us. That is, we should learn to be as good as God. And why should we be as good as God? Because God’s way, the way of goodness, is loving and faithful.

It may be difficult to be good always. It is so easy to qualify yourself by comparing what you do to what others do, to what seems acceptable in society. But we are supposed to be above all that. We are to work to have agathosune in all that we do and say. We are to live a life of godly agathosune – goodness – no matter how challenging that can be.

And if we are not exhibiting agathosune we need to be told so we can start again.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How close are you to living a life of goodness? What can you do to improve?