Sometimes people give me funny looks when they learn that I’m reading a book on marriage. As a single person who has never been married this particular genre isn’t one which fits my current life.
Recently a copy of Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ latest book, The Language of Love & Respect, came my way. The target audience is married people, but there are many good points in the book which are helpful for all relationships.
Dr. Eggerichs addresses the issue of “goodwill” in the fourth chapter of his book, stating:
A simple definition of goodwill is “the intention to do good toward another person.” But there is much more to it than that. A spouse may intend to do good, but fail to deliver. Good intentions do not necessarily guarantee good results.
As Jesus said to His disciples when they went to sleep on the job in the Garden of Gethsemane, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Jesus knew His disciples had goodwill toward Him even though their follow-through didn’t match their good intentions.
The apostle Paul captured the reality of good intentions but poor follow-through when he wrote about his own struggles with the flesh in Romans 7:19: “I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things that I don’t want to do.” (NIRV)
Take what Dr. Eggerichs says and put it in the context of any relationship – friend, coworker, boss – and consider the implications of these statements:
When your spouse fails to follow through on good intentions, your definition of goodwill must also include the idea that goodwilled people do not mean any harm; they do not intend real evil toward one another. Your spouse may be neglectful, forgetful, or make a careless, even thoughtless remark. As a result, you may be hurt or angry and may lash out in some way to retaliate. But despite all these failings, deep down you both care for each other. Beneath the turmoil on the surface of what is going on, your goodwill remains intact.
We are goodwilled people – or at least want to be – but sin still holds us in its grip. This is why, even though we have goodwill toward our mate, we can still sin against our mate in all kinds of ways. So, my counsel to married couples who are serious about practicing Love and Respect is always the same: whenever your spouse’s good intentions fail to produce loving or respectful actions toward you, you have only one good option, and that is to make a deliberate choice to trust your spouse’s goodwill.
What would happen if we based all of our responses on the premise that the other person has goodwill toward us?
Let’s say, for example, that a friend recently did or said something to deeply hurt me. I could respond based on my feelings of hurt, which say that my friend is an inconsiderate jerk who doesn’t care for anyone else’s feelings, or I could choose to believe that my friend genuinely has goodwill toward me. If I respond out of my hurt then it is likely that I will do or say something equally hurtful which, as Eggerichs says, is “designed to send the message, ‘You hurt me, so I am going to hurt you so you will stop hurting me!’”
In other words, I will try to take some sort of emotional vengeance and perpetuate a cycle of hurt – I get hurt and I hurt the other person in return. However, if I choose to respond with belief in my friend’s goodwill toward me then, even though it doesn’t negate the emotional pain I feel, I am able to extend grace toward my friend. With grace we are able to work through the difficult feelings and toward reconciliation.
Along with his Romans 7 confession of not being able to always do what he wants and not do what he doesn’t want, Paul also teaches that, despite our weaknesses, goodwill is a reality. Following through on our good intentions is possible when we seek to do God’s will from our hearts and “with good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” (Ephesians 6:7)
Paul tells us not to pay back evil for evil, but to live honorably and, as much as possible, peacefully with everyone (Romans 12:17-19). If we hunt for the goodwill in others, we will find that our lives work more smoothly. Moreover, if we exhibit goodwill toward everyone then we will love people the way Jesus loves them, which is the same way He love us.
In the end, that is what our relationship with Christ is all about, especially since we are His Bride and He is our Groom. Dr. Eggerichs’ teachings about love and respect in marriage have a broader application than the relationship between husband and wife. As we choose to seek goodwill in every relationship, we begin to more truly live out Jesus’ directive to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is the quintessential definition of goodwill.
Michelle Brown is the administrative assistant to the Vice President of Media for LIFE Today and the assistant editor of Words of LIFE. Excerpts taken from The Language of Love & Respect: Cracking the Communication Code with Your Mate by Emerson Eggerichs. (Thomas Nelson)