He Works All Things Together For Good

And we know that He works all things together for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose.    Romans 8:28


I asked God for strength, that I might achieve; I was made
weak, that I might learn humbly to obey …
I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things …
I asked for riches, that I might  be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise …
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God …
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;  I was given life, that I might enjoy all things …
I was given nothing that I asked for – but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoiled prayers were answered.
I am among all men, most richly blessed.
– an Unknown Confederate Soldier

Romans 8:28 is among the most well known passages of the Bible.  It is indeed a powerful statement of hope for all who are the Lord’s.  Since the lessons for the day have drawn our attention to this promise, it is a good opportunity to examine some aspects of it.

It begins with “and we know”: this follows hard on the heels of how Paul just declared that even though we don’t really know how to pray properly, the Holy Spirit assists in our weakness, Himself interceding for us according to the will of God. Our Lord is so intent in hearing our hearts and minds that He has made it impossible to miss our deepest concerns and our greatest desires.  He has literally drawn close, even to making our bodies His temple, because He truly desires to walk through our days and our lives.

And now, everything which follows in the rest of the letter will be involved with this keystone of comforting truth.

“We know”: this is not something learned in a vacuum – the Greek word emphasizes that this “knowing” comes from “seeing,”  on the order of “I see what you mean.”  It’s the knowing which comes from the realization of a truth, but if so, how have we come to realizing “that God works all things together for good”?

The unbendable support for this knowledge is the Cross.  On the Cross God did an unthinkable thing.  He took the worst possible rebellion, the murder of God, and brought the greatest blessing out of it, the salvation of even His murderers, eternal life for all who repent and turn away from their rebellion against God.  Of all which is terrible in our world, what could be worse than the murder of God the Creator?  Yet God brought out of this event not just a small goodness or a minor positive – if His extreme power can bring the greatest of all blessings out of the worst of all sin, what do you think He can do within your life when you open the door to Him?

Additionally, we have all sorts of Biblical evidence of what God has done for those who are called by His Name.  Page after page in Scripture is case study after case study, each demonstrating God’s definition of His Glory in Exodus 33 and 34.  When Moses had asked to see God’s Glory, the very next verse – the immediate response – was to declare He would show him His goodness, Covenant relationship, grace, and mercy.  Then in chapter 34 He added His steadfast Love, faithfulness, forgiveness, and justice.

And of course, sometimes we need only to look back upon our lives and others’, seeing that, despite the wandering path and apparent disasters, how God brought a valuable good in the end.  And, sometimes in looking back we realize how many other elements had to be addressed, how many other lives were being touched in the process, as He made good things come out of even apparent disasters.

“we know that He works” or “that God works”: it is strange how many translations chose to sound as if mere fortunate happenstance or good luck made “all things work together for good.”  Yet the Greek verb is very definite in saying “HE”; some manuscripts even add “God” so that there is no confusion.  This is of crucial importance.  In this fallen world things just won’t automatically fall together in a fortunate way or in some sort of good luck.  Instead we know that this is from the hand of a personal and involved God Who follows a definite plan for our good.
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However this is where we experience discomfort in the promise.  What happens when those prayers which the Holy Spirit helps us with, Who intercedes for us – what happens when what you seek and expect from God’s promises suddenly takes an abrupt numbing turn in the most opposite direction there could ever be?  Perhaps a beloved person’s medical diagnosis pulls the rug out from under you, or a close friend’s rebellion plunges deeper into self-destructive ways?  What happens when disappointment fills your heart and despair dogs your heels?

Sometimes our lives do have an overwhelming chaos in them.  Horatio Spafford experienced the death of his son, he lost His wealth overnight in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, He lost his four daughters in the sinking of the S.S. Ville du Havre – only his wife survived –, then he lost another son from scarlet fever.  Despite his close associations with such evangelists as Dwight L Moody, he was an outcast of his church because the sentiment was that for someone so beset by such tragedy, he had to have been a contemptible sinner.

During the terrible conditions of the Thirty Years War, during the severe plague of 1637, in that year Pastor Martin Rinkart performed over 4,000 funerals, one of which was for his wife.   He was the sole surviving pastor in a town which was overrun by opposing armies, each demanding tribute from the townspeople.

It is here where we face the temptation of Adam and Eve all over again.  Satan challenges God’s motivation, His wisdom, and most of all His trustworthiness.  Why does God withhold what is plainly advantageous for us?  Is He hoarding His goodness?  Is He as capricious as were so many false gods who really didn’t care that much about humans, but rather only about themselves?  Is He really listening or is His intimacy with us merely a sham?

Yet consider: in the midst of grief, Spafford wrote “It is Well with My Soul,” a hymn of such powerful confidence from which countless others have drawn comfort and strength.  Amidst the chaos of plague and war Rinkart wrote “Now Thank We All Our God,” a wonderful hymn celebrating God’s goodness.  How could they have such perspective when things go wrong?  Or should the question for us be which we trust more – what we see or what is promised?

The opening quote by the Confederate soldier gives us pause.  Suddenly we are aware that there are two different concepts of what is “good”:  on the one hand are the things which make us more comfortable in this world, and, on the other, are the things which make us as Paul put it in verse 29, “conformed to the Image of His Son.”  In other words, that our reason for being in this world is to reveal Jesus in not only His Glory but also in His humility, suffering, and self-giving for the sake of others.

Paul introduces the idea of “predestination.”  Some have big arguments in regard to this topic, but that only diverts attention from Paul’s picture.  Instead I appreciate the idea that there is only one Way, one Way which has a fully guaranteed – predestined – destination, and Jesus said that He is that “Way, Truth, and Life – no one comes to the Father except through (Him)” [John 14:6].

In describing Jesus as “the firstborn among many brethren” in verse 29, Paul reveals that our predestination is based entirely on, as St John put it, “He gave the right to become the children of God” [John 1:12].  In the New Birth of Baptism, now God’s children, along with the Holy Spirit, a new nature has been placed into us, along with what you might call “spiritual genes” which are to reflect the one Image of the Son of God, Jesus.

This why our text doesn’t just say “He works all things together for good,” but also adds, “according to His purpose.”  First, as was just discussed, we have the purpose of revealing the Image of the Son, so that the world may see and know God.  Second, this is the reminder that are not just sitting around with merely some kind of a status, but rather are an active partner in what Jesus is and will be doing.  Some people think of heaven as boring, but I am convinced that this partnership is not for this world only, instead it will be for forever.  There is no way we could possibly imagine as to all which we will be involved in as God continues to go about His business in eternity.

This is why the Church is described as the Bride of Christ and that the Last Day is a Wedding Feast – the Wedding is not the end, but rather the beginning of a relationship in far greater depth than what was before.

An interesting thing about the word ”purpose” used in this passage is that it is also the word for the showbread in the temple [Matthew 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4], the bread which then, after its time in the presence of the Lord, became a kind of communion for the priests.  This directs our attention to our altar, where we see the bread which becomes, with His promises, the Body of Christ to be shared with His predestined saints, you and I.  Within this thought then the Lord makes all things work together for good, according to His purpose, and His purpose involves be equipped by the presence of Jesus Himself – no mere symbolism, but the reality of His being here among us.

Surrounded by His promise, filled by the presence of the Lord and the Holy Spirit, we are indeed those who have come to love God.  This is what we have been called for.  This is what diverts our focus from the goodness based upon our comfort  to the goodness of our God, a love based on nothing less than the desire to be with this God forever. This is what we have been predestined for.  It is a goodness which fills us with the gifts and blessings of being in the image of God’s beloved Son.  This is what we yearn for.

It is no wonder then, as Paul finishes this thought, that you can almost catch the wonder in his writing as he declares, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” [vv 31-32].

Yes, there are times when we don’t always agree with the “good” which the Lord brings out of certain situations, and yet as we realize the depth of this promise, we come to the same conclusion as that Confederate soldier we quoted at the beginning, and also which Paul finds Himself rejoicing in, “I was given nothing that I asked for – but everything that I had hoped for.  Almost despite myself, my unspoiled prayers were answered.  I am among all men, most richly blessed.”

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