Even if we have faith in God, if we don’t have faith in one another, I’m not sure how effective our work as the church can be. So we are wondering about the divide between God and humans and we are wondering about our faith in the common good.
When I was thinking about this series and the variety of subjects we would explore, I came to this week and I mentioned the subject of the common good to a friend. She looked at me and said, “Is there a common good?” I, personally, don’t often question whether there is a common good because I see it so clearly made obvious in the people around me.
But, of course, I see evil all the time. We witness such abject evil it is not surprising we would question the common good.
It doesn’t surprise me that corporations and governments and nation-states, as units, make us question the common good because I am not sure they can hold it. It seems to me that they manufacture evil. And even though we may treat these collectives as individuals, but they are a kind of virus who mimic the form of the Body of Christ but are driven by a different spirit. In fact, when the church is enslaved to them, when people are enslaved to institutions and philosophies and patterns of the world, I am not sure I have much hope or faith.
I think that’s the position many of us find ourselves in. Stuck in our old patterns, feeling bad about ourselves, and unable to get out. The self-aware slave might be the one that suffers the most. You know what imprisons you but you can’t get out. And the rest of the world isn’t helping.
Faith in the common good is really about faith in the Holy Spirit. It’s about taking what the Holy Spirit gives us. It’s about knowing that God created us to be containers for him. Good containers for him.
We have some created good in us. Despite our sin and temptation, and despite how seductive the enslavers of the world can be, God has given us something that I think relating to him makes whole. We are further made whole as we commune in the body. Alone in the cold world, the little flame that’s inside of us doesn’t seem so warm—it’s there, but it’s not overwhelming. In the Body of Christ, I think we are made warmer. Consider your goodness to be like a hot coal. By itself it gets cold quickly, but surrounded by others it stays warm and gets hotter.
Paul uses the phrase “common good” in 1 Corinthians 12.
In the beginning of the chapter he makes the point that not all diversity is good. Our diversity needs to point to Jesus. The people in Corinth have witnessed Gentiles, or people of non-Jewish origin, and pagans demonstrate the same kinds of what Luke Keefer calls “ecstatic activity.” Paul’s point here is that not all ecstatic acts are signs of the Spirit, but only the ones that God gives. If you are wondering whether someone’s goodness is of God or not, Paul says, they’ll declare Jesus as Lord—if they explicitly condemn him, we are talking about something else. We’ll get to this in a moment, but just because someone does something great does not mean it benefits the common good.
Paul continues and tells us that we are all differently abled. We all have certain gifts. In fact the triplet that he recites in verses 4 to 6 (“there are varieties… but the same”) is a rhetorical tool to catch his audience’s and our attention. We are diverse people, and even though the pagan expressions of the gift that oppose Christ are not of Christ, that does not mean that there is no room for diversity in the body of Christ. In fact, it seems like Paul is requiring such.
Then we get to the heart of our discussion. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The word for common good there is sympherō (συμφέρω), which could be translated “being brought together for good.” Another way might be “a good that is carried with others.” Most translators in English use “common good” here.
This common good that we hold together is specific. Paul uses the definite article. If he were just to say “a” common good, we might think of the merchandise and the mercantilism that made Corinth a hotbed of evil in the first place. Common goods are like guns and butter, the common good is a manifestation of the Spirit, identified not just by good vibrations, but by a collective mission. Not unlike the one we have in Circle of Hope.
I think we are referring to the Spirit-given common good. Each of us has a piece of that common good that points to Christ. You can see that everywhere. There are good things happening all over the world in religious and non-religious environments. In fact, there are good things in every fallen culture. We can learn from each other and from the world extensively. People exercising this common good may not be aware of how they are relating to Christ, but I think we can help them along.
But it works best in the body, where we have a different kind of common good and mission. The Holy Spirit gives us a piece of that common good, and we express it collectively and we carry it collectively. We all have a part to play.
Start with yourself. Think of the gifts God has given you. Consider what your strengths are. Consider what is good about you. If you can’t come up with anything, ask your friend or your cell leader. I think if we are going to contribute to the common good we need to believe that we are a part of it.
Think about others. Consider how they need you. You may think you are safer protecting that little flame of yourself than sharing it, but I think sharing it grow it. Every one of us is part of the collective common good and our mission here. You matter. Whatever it is you are bringing and how you are gifted contributes to us, and I hope you will be generous with it and be confident in it. Honestly, our common good is manifested in the way we (at Circle of Hope) talk about money. All good is God’s and all our money’s is God’s too. We have a common fund that we all share in. So even if you could only give twenty bucks, you are doing your part. Maybe you can see all of your goodness that way.
Ask God to give you the eyes to see the good stuff in the world and other people. There will be a time for your discerning evil, but I think our relationships benefit when we start to see people positively. If we can only see them and the world as bad, I’m not sure we are very healthy. That kind of judgment keeps us children. Adults have a deeper understanding of how people relate and rarely split people into bad and good groups. Chances are if you are doing that to someone, you are doing it to yourself, too.
On the other hand, being a part of the common good also means being able to discern what isn’t good. Let’s develop a keen eye for false spirituality and evil. There may be good in all things, but there is also not good. I think in order to really have a collective good we need to be able to point out what is not good. So pray that you develop that gift of discernment Paul points out later in chapter twelve.