Ethics, Morals, Behavior
by Ed Vasicek
The word "goodwill" sends warm wigglies up and down my spine. I love that compound word. Webster defines goodwill as "a friendly or kindly attitude; benevolence" or "cheerful consent; willingness."
I think of goodwill as a positive attitude that expects the best from others, sometimes despite previous disappointments. It is wishing well to another, hoping things will prosper for that person or giving that person a fresh chance to deliver the goods. In my mind, goodwill is related to another one of my favorite words, "edification" (building up) and not far removed from another one of my favorite words, "encouragement." Of course it even borders upon another word we Christians love to use, "grace."
I have seen goodwill on the part of one marital partner literally save a marriage. I have seen Christians take giant spiritual leaps forward because others expressed goodwill toward them. Few of us realize the untapped power available when we have an attitude of goodwill toward others, particularly to those in a vulnerable position. If you do not exude much goodwill, you might be surprised to find that goodwill has the potential to change many of your relationships for the better.
Sometimes goodwill shows itself as a small token act in an effort to direct a negative situation in a more positive direction. For example, if you and a friend have recently had a conflict, buying that person a small gift can be an act of goodwill. Going out of your way to be kind to a person who sees things differently than you (in spiritual or political matters, for example) can be an act of goodwill. I remember in the 1980 presidential election debate when Ronald Reagan surprised everyone by walking over to Jimmy Carter's side of the stage and shaking hands. You can show goodwill toward those with whom you compete.
There is a big difference between goodwill and its inferior imitators: gullibility, naiveté, or a guilt-driven people-pleasing personality. Goodwill is exercised as an act of kindness or sometimes as a calculated risk, not as an escape from reality. It is not exercised out of guilt or manipulation and is not always present. Goodwill is an act of the will, which is where the "will" of goodwill gets its name. Goodwill is a choice to expect and encourage good in most, but not all, circumstances. (We would be foolish if we did not learn from patterns we see.) You don't always have to exercise goodwill, but I would suggest it should be your default setting.
Goodwill is better caught than taught. For example, if a man who exudes goodwill is buying a used car from another man, his concern is a fair deal, not necessarily the lowest price. If a couple of people are arguing (be they married or associates at work) and one of them exudes goodwill, he is more concerned with being truthful, objective, and teachable than he is concerned about winning the argument. So instead of withholding facts that might cast him in a bad light, he offers that information. He receives legitimate correction with, "You might be right about that." Of course, such men and women seem to be the exception, but they do exist. They are men and women of goodwill. Christians who are strong in the goodwill department are a real asset to the Kingdom of God.
Sometimes goodwill is met with rejection, ingratitude, manipulation, or out and out deception. More often than not, it is met with blessing and sometimes even bonding. Solomon wrote a few interesting Proverbs about goodwill, one of which I shall quote: Proverbs 11:27, "He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it." I might be off a little, but this sounds similar to the American proverb, "You find what you are looking for." If you look for goodwill in others, you are more prone to find it. If you assume evil motives on the part of others, you tend to produce what you seek. That might not be exactly what Solomon meant, but I think I'm in the ballpark.
Goodwill is a great motive for sharing Christ. Our concern for the lost around us and a desire to glorify God form a healthy motivational alliance. But some people share Christ out of guilt or a competitive spirit. We have to agree with Paul that sharing Christ from a false motive is not the best way to do it, but it is better than not sharing at all. Notice Paul's words:
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.
I love the word "goodwill" because it fits so nicely into my pro-schmoozing approach toward evangelism and edification and relationships in general. Considering others, opening up and enjoying others, coupled with the potent force of goodwill is a great way to love other people and to influence at least some of them for the Kingdom of God.
So do you habitually wish others well? Or do you set yourself up in competition with them? Do you enjoy being gracious, overlooking some faults and trying to put yourself in the shoes of others? Do you condemn first and make no effort to empathize, or do you empathize first and then, only if necessary, revise your opinion downward? (We should not avoid facing reality or practicing a compassionate discernment.) Let me encourage you to exude goodwill. It is a matter of the will; your choice in each situation.
Reprinted from the February 2004 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church