Common Sense is Good!

Rev. Tony Cooke

Over the years, much wonderful teaching has been shared on how God leads us by his Word and Spirit, and I am most thankful for it. In this article, I want to address another way that we are enabled to make decisions and take action: common sense. Proverbs 2:7 states, He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity” (Proverbs 2:7 NLT).

If you’re not used to that translation, the term “common sense” may surprise you. Some would argue that good sense is not all that common anymore. We are used to hearing about wisdom, and we are comfortable with that. To some, common sense may sound too natural, or even carnal. We have been warned (and rightly so) against the dangers of “natural human reasoning,” but all reasoning is not wrong. For example, God himself invited us to reason with him. He said, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18 NKJV).

The problem is not simply reasoning; the problem is when reason against God instead of reasoning with him. When we reason with God, we allow his Word and his Spirit to be a governing part of our thinking process. Remember, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by the removing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

In one place, Jesus’ observation that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8 KJV) should cause us to stop and think.  Another translation renders it, “Worldly people are more clever than spiritually-minded people when it comes to dealing with others” (Luke 16:8 GWT).

Early in my ministry, I read a book on time management by Ted Engstrom and Alec Mackenzie. They were challenging believers to think wisely and strategically, and not to shy away from certain principles of thought and organization that they might deem unspiritual. They wrote:

Somehow ungodly men have developed systems of organization which permit them to work together in states of relative harmony and unity, whereas godly men, refusing to admit that these organizational structures are needed, live in states of chaos and disunity.  The tragedy of this fact becomes evident when we realize that many of the successful systems of organization under which the ungodly men work and which the godly men refuse to accept are biblically based.

Before I go further, let me share this disclaimer: When the Bible gives explicit directions or when a person has truly heard from the Holy Spirit, that certainly trumps whatever else we might think about the issue. However, in many cases, supernatural leadings from God and common sense are complementary, not contradictory.

We see the complementary nature of supernatural leadings and common sense in the directive given by Samuel to Saul as the new king began his reign:

1 Samuel 10:6-7 (NLT)

6 At that time the Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them. You will be changed into a different person.

7 After these signs take place, do what must be done, for God is with you.

It seems that Samuel was telling Saul that there would be an instance where he would have a supernatural experience (verse six), and other times when he would simply need to use good judgment and good sense (verse seven) — Do what must be done! Other translations of 1 Samuel 10:7 read:

  • “Do as the occasion demands; for God is with you” (NKJV).
  • “Do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (NIV).
  • “Do whatever your circumstances require because God is with you” (HCSB).
  • “Do whatever you think is right! God will help you” (CEV).
  • “Whatever job you’re given to do, do it. God is with you!” (MSG).

 I wonder how many people have remained passive and done nothing because they didn’t have some spectacular guidance about something, when they could have used good sense, acted on general wisdom and basic directives from God, and seen powerful results.

When John Wesley and his team became aware of a massive health crisis facing many in London, he met with his leaders about the problem and requested a map. He divided the city into twenty-three sections, and then appointed forty-six people — two persons to be responsible for each section of London. He resourced these workers with some basic medical supplies from their dispensary and gave them instructions about visiting the sick, praying for them, and ministering to both their natural and spiritual needs.

In his journal, Wesley later wrote that this work continued for several years and stated, “Through the blessings of God, many who had been ill for months or years, were restored to perfect health.” I can’t say whether Wesley had some kind of specific leading from God to do what he did, or if he simply thought strategically through the issue, developed a plan, and took action. He certainly had a scriptural basis to reach out to the hurting in his city, and God greatly blessed their efforts. Remember that the leaders in Jerusalem explained a major decision they had made by saying, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28 NLT). 

What about Jesus? Did he ever just use good judgement or common sense? We know that Jesus listened to the Father’s voice and was led by the Holy Spirit, but I see some places in Scripture where it appears that Jesus simply operated wisely — there is no reference to a specific leading, but he did what needed to be done. Consider these practical, common-sense decisions Jesus made:

John 7:1 (NLT)

1 After this, Jesus traveled around Galilee. He wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death.

John 11:53-54 (NLT)

53 So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death.

54 As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.

It’s not that Jesus was walking in fear. Rather, he was walking in wisdom. There would be a time when Jesus would set his face like flint toward Jerusalem (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51) knowing that it was his time to be offered up, but until that time, he used good judgment and kept his distance from people who wanted to kill him. This is why Proverbs 22:3 says, “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (NLT). 

When Paul was in Damascus, a plot was formed to murder him. Paul and the other believers could have prayed, bound, loosed, rebuked, interceded, etc. (and perhaps they did some of that), but they also waited until night and “lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall,” enabling him to escape (Acts 9:25 NLT, see also 2 Corinthians 11:33). They just used good judgment and got Paul away from those that wanted to kill him.

In studying the book of Nehemiah, we never read that God specifically told Nehemiah to rebuild the broken-down walls of Jerusalem, although he certainly could have. I have no doubt that God at least put that project on Nehemiah’s heart. What we know for sure is that Nehemiah had (1) passion (he wept at the distressed condition of those in Jerusalem), (2) he developed a plan, and (3) he formed partnerships with the people to accomplish the work. 

When there were threats from the enemy, they didn’t only trust God (although I know they did). We also read that “the common laborers held a tool in one hand and a spear in the other” (Nehemiah 4:17 MSG). Nehemiah used wisdom and good sense in making sure that he and the people accomplished the plan of God.

A person with common sense is realistic and insightful. He or she is not naïve, gullible, or presumptuous. Harriet Beecher Stowe remarked, “Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.” Her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, said “If a man can have only one kind of sense, let him have common sense. If he has that and uncommon sense, too, he is not far from genius.”

The Bible often refers to wisdom, discernment, understanding, prudence, judgment, etc. Here are some of those verses in more modern translations that simply render them “common sense.”

Proverbs 2:6 (CEV)

6 All wisdom comes from the LORD, and so do common sense and understanding.

Proverbs 3:21 (NLT)

21 My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them…

Proverbs 8:5 (HCSB)

5 Learn to be shrewd, you who are inexperienced; develop common sense, you who are foolish.

Proverbs 8:12  (CEV)

12 I am Wisdom — Common Sense is my closest friend; I possess knowledge and sound judgment.

Proverbs 10:21 (NLT)

21 The words of the godly encourage many, but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense.

The simple truth is that God wants his people to be wise. Jesus told us to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NKJV), and Paul advised the Corinthians “not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20 NKJV).

May God not only give us all great wisdom, but may we have the boldness to take action and do all that needs to be done — for his glory, for the benefit of those around us, and for our own benefit.