by Felisi Sorgwe
When the angels appeared to the shepherds who were watching their flocks on the night that our Savior was born, they sang about goodwill. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV). It is interesting to note that the English Standard Version (ESV) renders this verse: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Without quibbling about which rendering is a better translation of the Greek original here, the two renderings of the verse prompt two questions. The first question is, does God have goodwill toward all men (people)? The second is, is God’s peace only for those with whom He is pleased? The answer to each question is a resounding yes.
God has goodwill toward all people. This does not mean that God approves of anything and everything anyone does. The Bible says that God’s eyes are too pure to behold evil and that He cannot countenance iniquity (see Habakkuk 1: 13). That is why the Bible never glosses over the sins of its heroes. Instead, the Bible exposes their sins, not to make us feel good about committing the same sins, but to teach us to learn from their mistakes, so that we might not fail as they did. God has goodwill toward all people in the sense that His plans for everyone are good. The Bible says that God is not willing that even a single person should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2Peter 3:9). First Timothy 2:4 says the same thing, using slightly different words. It says that God would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. What is said in John 3:16 is applicable to everyone: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (emphasis added). God is not willing that anyone should perish, but some people do perish because they choose to reject God’s plans for them. God’s plans are always to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future (see Jeremiah 29:11). But those who reject His wonderful plans face the consequences of such rejection.
This is why the answer to the second question is also a yes. God’s peace is only for those with whom He is pleased. God has goodwill toward all people, so His desire is for everyone to be saved and to experience His peace. But those who reject his free gift of salvation do not experience His peace. As they reject God’s perfect plans for them, they find themselves being confronted with heartaches, miseries, and unexplained turmoil in the form of internal emptiness or void. Imagine a person who chooses not to drive on a well-constructed highway and attempts to create his or her own footpath to get to a place that is 100 miles away. Would it be surprising to see that person face all kinds of problems?
A person who has goodwill toward people is one who is imitating God. It is a commendable thing. To have goodwill toward people is to think the best of people, or to wish them the very best, or to do both. Now, this does not mean that you are to assume that any stranger is harmless. The reality in this world teaches us to assume the very opposite until we are proved wrong. That way, you do not put yourself in harm’s way. Women have been raped, and many, including children, have even been killed, while trying to help perfect strangers. But you can wish the best for everyone, whether or not you know the person. And when you already know someone, you should not only wish the person the best but also think the best of the person, keeping from questioning the person’s motive for every action, for instance.
Having goodwill toward people also does not mean that you are to approve of, or even condone, whatever people do, even when the actions are clearly sinful. Paul points out that not only is it wrong to commit a sin, it is also wrong to give approval to those who practice sin (see Romans 1:32). What many people do in shrugging their shoulders and saying, “I wouldn’t do it, but as long as it makes you happy, that’s okay” has no warrant in Scripture.
When you have goodwill toward people, you don’t pray for God to punish them, even when they are evil. You pray for them to repent and for God to save them. In some Christian quarters, people commonly pray for God to punish their enemies, but this is unscriptural. The Bible never teaches us to pray for God to punish our enemies.
We are to be godlike in having goodwill toward people, but we are to be wise in dealing with people. Our Lord’s injunction applies here. Christians must realize that we live in this world like sheep among wolves, and we must “Be as wise as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).