QUESTION: My question is about a verse in the book of Luke. Luke 18: says: “And one of the rulers questioned him, saying: ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?’ Jesus said to him: ‘Why do you call me good? Nobody is good except one, God.’”
I’m a little confused? Clearly, Jesus made a distinction between himself and Jehovah about being good, but surely Jesus is good as well. So what does that distinction mean? Can you help me to better understand this scripture.
ANSWER: Good question. The way to understand why Jesus did not except the accolade of being good is to look at how various tenses of the word “good”, as well as various other qualities, are used in the Bible in relation to God and everyone else.
We might tend to think in terms of antonyms – words having the opposite meaning – such as good and bad. But in Scripture there is a more subtle distinction. What is that? There is a difference between being good and doing good. And it is in that sense we are to understand Jesus’ words.
To illustrate the point, at Acts 10:38 Peter said that Jesus was anointed by the holy spirit “and he went through the land doing good and healing all those oppressed by the Devil, because God was with him.”
What motivated Jesus, the carpenter’s son, to go through the land “doing good”? God was with him. That being the case, Jesus was merely reflecting and extending God’s goodness. And isn’t that what Jesus said over and over again, that he came to do his father’s will and to reveal the character of his Father?
So, that is why Jesus did not accept anyone calling him “good,” because everything that Jesus was, his beauty, his mercy and compassion, his courage and any other quality you can think of, originated with God. We, including Jesus and his prehuman self, are all made in God’s image.
That is why in the very last verse in Romans Paul said that God alone is wise. Does that mean everyone else is a fool? No, not necessarily. The Proverbs exhort us to be wise. But, again, like goodness, any wisdom we may attain originates with God. That is why the 8th chapter of Proverbs depicts God’s first creation to be the expression and very personification of wisdom – God’s wisdom.
The same can be said for love. God is love. However, in imitation of him we may also be loving – doing acts motivated by love. That’s why the apostle exhorts us to become imitators of God.
Basically, this is why God is so deserving of our worship and devotion – he is the source of everything good, righteous, true and loving.
AS AN AFTER THOUGHT
Obviously Jesus was much more spiritually attuned than you or I, or anyone else down here. He may have perceived the man’s comment as a form of flattery inspired by Satan to entrap him. Keep in mind that when “good”- intentioned Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from his self-sacrificial course he turned his back on the apostle and said: “Get behind me Satan!”
So, Jesus may have perceived the guile of the Devil in flattering him with being good. Had Jesus not rejected the title he may have offended God the same way Moses did when he struck the rock and exclaimed: “I’ll give you water, you rebels!”
Even though God esteemed Moses as the meekest man on earth, because on just that one occasion Moses failed to credit Jehovah for the authority and power he wielded, God forbade him from entering the Promised Land.
Thankfully Jesus Christ never failed to give glory to God.