by Tyler Arnold
My father passed away in 2003 at the age of 70. I was 28 years old. My family was still young, and I especially mourned the fact that my sons, just 6 and 3 years old, had only a short time to know their grandfather. He was a hardworking laborer, a devoted husband and a loving father and grandfather. There is no man, save Jesus, that I have ever respected more. At his funeral, many friends and acquaintances told me stories about his kindness toward others and his faithfulness toward God. Many times I heard, “He was a good man.”
In Acts 11, we read that Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch. When he arrived, he saw evidence of God’s grace and was glad. Acts says, “He exhorted the believers to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:23–24, emphasis mine). If we follow Barnabas around the New Testament, we quickly discover that whatever he was called to do, he did — and he did it well. It was Barnabas who spoke up in defense of Paul when all the other Church leaders were fearful of this alleged new convert to Christianity (Acts 9:27). It was Barnabas who gave proof of his Christian love through his generosity to his needy brethren (Acts 4:36–37).
The words “he was a good man” aren’t words we usually use in today’s world when we talk about the living. Maybe we are more accustomed to adjectives like “strong,” “assertive” or “powerful.” Maybe these are the words we want people to use to describe us. “Good” sounds so dull and ordinary by comparison. Who among us wants to be labeled a “goodie two shoes,” after all?
Yet goodness is exactly and precisely what God looks for and desires in you and me. This is exactly and precisely what God sees in those who live in Christ by grace through faith. Though “he was a good man” is a common refrain at funerals, the Lord uses it to describe His “living” children — those baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection — as well.
An interesting problem, though, tends to surface in the lives of people who think they are good. They often don’t believe they need any outside help. For us Christians, that line of thinking is exceptionally dangerous. God’s Word repeatedly warns us against thinking that we can make it on our own. Listen: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Paul, here, is talking about a misplaced confidence in one’s own “goodness.” Christianity is faith in what God has done for us in and through Christ. Barnabas had faith and, therefore, was called “good.” The part about being “good” goes hand in hand with “full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” Our goodness is always rooted in Christ’s goodness.
My father was a good man. He was good at his job, good at being a neighbor and friend, good at being a husband, father and grandfather. Yet like Barnabas, he was only truly good by virtue of what he was in Christ — filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. He was “made good” by God’s grace through faith and, therefore, lived out his days as a blessed tool used by God to share the love of Christ to others.
People today still tell me, “Your father was a good man.” They are right! Jesus made my father a saint and filled him up with goodness by His death and resurrection. By God’s grace, you are filled with His goodness, too! Thanks be to God!
The Rev. Tyler Arnold is senior pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Platte Woods, Mo. He is also a Collegium Fellow for DOXOLOGY – the Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel.