“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NASB)
Emotionally I am just a pile of rubble, and have been for the last three years – how does Romans 8:28 apply to that?
It’s easy to say that all things work together for our good, and I really do believe that, but I have been “persevering” and wandering around this deep, dark valley for so long that I wondered what I might have been missing in that verse that would enable me to overcome this trial. God has been leading me slowly upward out of the worst of this valley, but I am a long way from a so-called “mountaintop experience”.
Looking at this scripture the first thing that we usually notice is that little word “all” – the little word with a big meaning. When things go well in our lives, as we perceive going well to be, it is easy to thank our Father for it if we are conscientious. If we have fallen into the habit of being less concerned with thankfulness, we are likely to cruise on through life completely forgetting about “and be thankful” in Colossians 3:15 (NASB)
But when things don’t go “well” that’s a different story altogether. Christians generally believe that, sooner or later, the problems and sorrows we experience will work together for good. This verse is so often quoted that it has been assumed to mean that this promise is for everyone, but it is not. Notice the two things that need to be true for this promise to apply to a person. One is that (1) he/she love God, and the other is that (2) the person be called according to his purpose “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”
Then the next few verses complete the explanation: “28 Furthermore, we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with his purpose; 29 because those whom he knew in advance, he also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers; 30 and those whom he thus determined in advance, he also called; and those whom he called, he also caused to be considered righteous; and those whom he caused to be considered righteous he also glorified!
31 What, then, are we to say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare even his own Son, but gave him up on behalf of us all — is it possible that, having given us his Son, he would not give us everything else too?” Romans 8:28-32 (CJB)
Love for God is the mark of the truly called person — all the time – not up and down, strong today and weak tomorrow. When we truly love God, He is the focus of our affections, not His gifts and all of the “good” things He can do for us.
Over and over in the Bible as well as in history, God’s people and everyone around them observed the truth of Romans 8:28. Here are a few examples.
One of the most familiar examples is the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. His brothers threw him into a pit, and then sold him into slavery in Egypt.
Then, Joseph seems to prosper in Potiphar’s house until Potiphar’s wife lies about him and accuses him of attempted rape. So he is put in prison.
At long last, after about seventeen years of nothing visibly working for any good for Joseph, he interprets a dream for Pharaoh and Pharaoh rewards him by putting him in charge of all the food in the land preparing for the coming seven-year famine.
This famine is threatening his family in Canaan and so the brothers who had sold him come to Egypt. Who was there ready and wanting to help them, but Joseph, who lovingly explains to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” Genesis 50:20 (NASB).
This is an Old Testament version of Romans 8:28. All things work together for good for God’s people, all things — including all the evil done to Joseph. Just as Joseph’s brothers intended it for evil, so also God designed it for good.
Remember how many terrible things happened to Job? He lost his wealth, his children, and his health, not ceasing to recognize the sovereign hand of God. According to Job 42:11 God did not just bring good out of Job’s misery, but he actually designed Job’s misery.
I can’t help but question, “Why?” James 5:11 (CJB) says, “Look, we regard those who persevered as blessed. You have heard of the perseverance of Job, and you know what the purpose of Adonai was, that Adonai is very compassionate and merciful” (Also Exodus 34:6; Psalms 103:8; 111:4) and that confirms that God planned and worked all things for Job’s good.
And there was Esther, a young, beautiful, Jewish girl forced into the harem of an unclean, Gentile king. Just before the Jews are about to be slaughtered by Haman’s wicked strategies, Mordecai says in a message to Esther: “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.” Esther 4:14 (CJB). As it was with Joseph, God’s people are preserved by someone “predestined” for a certain task.
There are many others like Jonah and Paul, and the ultimate of all, Jesus Christ and His story of sacrifice for us. For Christians, Romans 8:28 should be a battle cry to follow Jesus, because we love God, all the time, because no matter how it unfolds, it will work for our good.
“All things” must by definition include “bad” things. Satan, and all his temptations and suggestions, often unintentionally work together for good to God's children; for, "the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation [trial]" 2 Peter 2:9 (NASB).
It isn’t usually difficult to see when what we consider good things work out the way we want them to or in a happily surprising manner. And we don’t usually question the whys and wherefores of it. What creates more questions is when we suffer and it seems nothing is bringing it to an end, nothing is changing, and we feel abandoned by God or ignored by Him, discouraged, maybe even defeated. Then the “how” of my question above (‘how does Romans 8:28 apply to that?’) kicks into high gear.
All that the devil and his underlings can do, will work for our good. No matter how they may plot and contrive to destroy our lives, all will still work for good; because "It was for this very reason that the Son of God appeared, to destroy these doings of the Adversary.” 1 John 3:8 (CJB)
I still questioned the nuts and bolts of how my many lacks and weaknesses work for my good, but it quickly came to mind what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “but he told me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness.” From my deficiencies/lacks God takes the opportunity to magnify his power. I still find that challenging to settle my agitated spirit once in a while, even though I wholeheartedly believe it, because my mere human nature says, “Enough already! I need a break!”
I may think I need a break sometimes but the other big answer to my “how” question puts all anxiety to rest. All of our sufferings work for good for the cause of Christ. If Paul, who endured much more persecution of various sorts than most of us ever will, could write, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,”
(Philippians 1:12 NASB) we need not begrudge any persecution. We only need think of all the people who have ever read of Paul’s trials, tribulations, and persecutions, how they have been encouraged, and how that has spread the gospel of Christ. Surely, I can handle a fraction of what Paul did…can’t I?
That is a reward, a blessing, in itself but if we need a little more to sweeten it, “If we persevere, we will also rule with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us.” 2 Timothy 2:12 (CJB) and “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:18 (NASB)
Realistically, all of Romans 8 speaks of bad things so verse 28 was probably included by Paul to give us comfort, encouragement and hope, because before and after this verse, the prospect of the Christian life on this earth is not very enticing. Looking at scriptures in the 1599 Geneva Bible with all of its footnotes can be enlightening sometimes by providing insight we can overlook with our modern paraphrases and translations. Just the eighth chapter of Romans has 66 footnotes in the Geneva Bible, but I am just going to quote the three from verse 28 here.
Romans 8:28 1599 Geneva Bible (GNV) 28 Also we know that all things work together for the best unto them that love God, even to them that are called of his purpose.
What we often fail to realize is that if we are genuinely true Christians, we are highly privileged people. Our character should be such that instead of asking why God lets certain difficult things happen to us if He loves us so much, we should be professing our knowledge and understanding that God loves us so much we can’t help but trust He is allowing it to happen for our good.