by J. Randal Matheny, editor
The word “common” has become a bad word among us. We speak of a common criminal, probably one of those dumb kind who writes his bank threat on the back of his checkbook deposit slip, with his name and address.
The elites speak of the common man with a sneer. And the ESV, NKJV and NASB translate Ezekiel’s phrase describing the lustful drunkards as “men of the common sort” (23:42).
The common soldier has no rank. The common woman has no virtue.
We even want our cookies to be “uncommonly good.”
In the Old Testament, common was not good either. The word served as the opposite of holy. “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10 ESV). When faced with a sheet full of animals, Peter, you’ll remember, objected to the Lord that he had never eaten anything “common or unclean” (Acts 10:14).
In the New Testament, however, that which is common gets its due.
Paul writes to Titus as his “true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4). This commonality makes the faith superior and attractive. It is common because the Christian faith is for all and accessible to all. All draw upon the same powerful grace. The heavenly Father hears all as he inclines from his throne to see his family upon earth. Be he an apostle, a new convert or a co-laborer, the faith is common to all, shared among the obedient.
It’s a common faith, also, because it is the one faith. To God, faith has no name brand nor grades of quality; the faith that is not common to all is no faith at all, because God rejects it as his.
Then there is the “common salvation” which Jude so wanted to write about (v. 3). What a wonderful treatise that subject would have made!
Much of what was said about the common faith can be said about the common salvation. No one has special privileges or knowledge. Conditioned upon obedience, all can know the Lord as Savior, for he is “Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
This common salvation is why saints are sent into the world, so that all may share in its blessings (cp. 1 Corinthians 9:23). Just as the salvation is common, or for all, so also the mission is common, for every disciple.
And let’s not miss the “common good” which Paul insists on as he appeals to the selfish Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:7). Though the word “common” doesn’t actually appear in the text, the larger context requires the idea, since Paul had written in chapter 10 that what really profited spiritually was helping and edifying others.
In 10:23 he wrote: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” In this parallel phrasing, what is helpful (or profitable, from the verb sumphero, also in 1 Corinthians 12:7), is equated with what builds others up.
In verse 33, the profit or benefit for others is even clearer when Paul declared, “I do not seek my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved” (NET).
So when Paul declares in 12:7 that the Spirit gives gifts “for benefiting,” he means “for benefiting others.” For the common good.
That idea, then, throws out Kingdom work for self-benefit or self-promotion. As Maclaren wrote,
You get the life, not in order that you may plume yourself on its possession, nor in order that you may ostentatiously display it, still less in order that you may shut it up and do nothing with it; but you get the life in order that it may spread through you to others.
Common faith, common salvation, common good.
All in all, the gospel is, to adapt Keebler’s phrase, commonly good.