Several years ago, as part of the release of a new pen, the Bic corporation developed a project called “The Universal Typeface Experiment.” The intent was for individuals around the globe provide handwriting samples for each letter of the alphabet and that those samples would be compiled by an algorithm into a single universal typeface. While differences were noted geographically, one writer noted this about the resultant script:
As of this writing, more than 400,000 samples have been collected from around the world, and the resulting alphabet is…well, sort of boring. It turns out that averaging thousands of authentic expressions of individuality yields something that looks like a grade school writing sample. Contrasting the left-handed average with the right-handed average and gender averages and comparing industry averages—what’s a broker’s “B” look like compared to an artist’s?—reveals disappointingly similar results. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that we’re not so different after all. [Smithsonian]
There you go. We are all ordinary. Common. Non-unique.
But we didn’t need Bic or the Smithsonian to tell us that. We not only understand it through our experience, but we also see it in our Bibles. Scripture affirms that we all come from one man, Adam (Gen. 2-3). As created beings, we are limited in every way — in knowledge, strength, location, existence (we are not self-existent), and lifespan. Those limitations apply to all people — they are commonly experienced, making us all “common.” Further, all people everywhere, apart from the God-Man, Jesus Christ, are humbled and limited by sin (Rom. 5:12ff). We are common in our propensity to sin and in our struggle with fleshly desires.
As we read the historical portions of Scripture, those common limitations are apparent. Even when we read chapters that expose the “remarkable” deeds of godly people (like Hebrews 11), we understand that those deeds are really done through people who are weak and frail. While we know that all people are born sinners, the biographical accounts of Hebrews 11 consistently uses stories of people who, while noted in some ways for godly character, are also stained by significant sin:
- Noah became intoxicated and was naked in that state.
- Abraham (twice) lied about his relationship with his wife (calling her his sister) to attempt to escape potential harm. He also initially disbelieved the promise of God about the covenant.
- Sarah scoffed and laughed about God’s promise of a lineage that would come from Abraham and her.
- Jacob’s name means “supplanter” and he lived up to that reputation as a manipulator.
- Moses disobeyed and rebelled against God’s command in anger, and consequently God did not allow him to enter the Promised Land.
- Rahab was a harlot.
- Gideon was a doubter.
- Barak, Samson, and Jephthah all had significant flaws.
- David, while being called “a man after God’s heart” was also an adulterer, polygamist, liar, and murderer.
All the people in this chapter were “flawed” sinners.
So what are we to make of the stories in the chapter? There are at least three major lessons to learn from Hebrews 11.
First, the stories in Hebrews 11 are all about the character of God. They demonstrate that God is faithful and God is trustworthy. When He makes a promise, it will be fulfilled. The “attainment” of His promises is not dependent on the power of individuals, but on His power and His righteousness. He will always grant what He has promised (remember Heb. 10:35-36).
Secondly, God uses flawed people. Apart from Christ, the only kind of people available for God to use are flawed sinners. So he only uses ordinary and weak people. That reality is hopeful for all of us, because it reminds us that whether we have the prominence of an Abraham, Joseph, or Daniel, or the sordid background of a Rahab, God is not limited or prevented from using us. It is true that we are not adequate for any work He calls us to do, but He is adequate and He will work through us (often, in spite of us) to accomplish His purposes (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15 – 3:6). Whatever your station in this world, God is not hampered by your limitations. He can use you and He has gifted you for the purpose of using you (Rom. 12:3-8).
Finally, He uses sinfully flawed people so that we are never confused about who is self-existent and self-reliant, and who is created and dependent. He does that so that we are never confused about who gets the glory (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-31). His work is always about His glory. Our work is always about His glory. And even flawed, weak, ordinary people can be used by God to accomplish His eternal purposes.