For our study this morning we are going to look at a very familiar verse in the book of Romans.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 ESV
Besides John 3:16, this may be the most loved and quoted promise of the New Testament. How many of you have this verse memorized? And there is good reason for that! Life is filled with trials and troubles, so it is good to know that everything is being worked out according to the plan of a sovereign God.
This verse is often taken out of context, and key words are left out. I've heard it put like this: "Everything will work out in the end" or "All things work together for good." We must remember the hermeneutical principle: context is king. This verse didn't just drop out of the sky, and it must be studied in light of its context. Paul is writing to the saints at Rome during the transition period from the Old to the New Covenant. The context here is the eschatological sufferings of the transition saints.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18 ESV
"Sufferings"—is the Greek word pathema. This is a term for suffering used particularly of persecution and of the sufferings of Christ. In Hebrews 2:10, it's used of the sufferings of Christ, and in 1 Peter 5:9, it's used of persecution. It talks about hostilities against the Gospel, hostilities against Christ.
This is not talking about the sufferings of this life and the sufferings of being human. Paul was talking about the suffering of "his" time, that is, the eschatological sufferings of the transition period. It was persecution for the cause of Christ.
We see this same idea of suffering and glory in 1 Peter 4.
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13 ESV
This is not about the sufferings of life. It does not involve things like losing a parent or a child, losing a job that you had labored in for years, being rejected by a child that you nurtured, or enduring pain caused by disease or injury. It is the sufferings of Christ.
Paul said that this suffering was of "this present time” (kairos). The Greek has two different words that we translate as time. One is chronos, from which we get chronological time (e.g. eleven o'clock, March 29, 2020). The other word is kairos, which we also translate as "time" (although it has more to do with an epoch or event or an age or a point in history). The present time is that epoch or juncture of history. What is the present time for Paul? It is the "this age" of the transition period.
John MacArthur says that Paul “is talking about this present age, and he's talking about another age to come, the glory age, and, frankly, that's basically how the Jews saw redemptive history unfolding. They saw time divided into two sections, this present age and the age which is to come, this present age and the age of the Kingdom of God." But Paul was not writing about the age we live in when he used the expression "this present age." We are living in the age that was to come in Paul’s day. We have eternal life which was a blessing of that age to come.
who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:30 ESV
Throughout the New Testament we see two ages in contrast—“This age" and the "age to come." The New Testament writers lived in the age that they called "this age." To the New Testament writers "the age to come" was future, but it was very near because "this age," the age they lived in, was about to end.
So, Paul says that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Notice that Paul says that this glory is a glory "that is to be revealed.” The Greek word here is "mello" with the infinitive. Whenever mello in the present active indicative is combined with an infinitive, it is consistently translated "about to." Paul told his first century audience that this glory was about to be revealed.
The glory that Paul talks about was about to be revealed; it was not way off in the future. The word “revealed” is apokalupto. It is the same stem from which the title given to the book of Revelation comes. It means a removal of a covering. What was about to be uncovered was God in our midst!
So, the terms "present time" and "is to be" are time words in Greek, and they insist on imminency here. Paul expected this glorification of the saints to occur very soon—within his lifetime. Paul was living in "the last days" and was expecting the soon revelation of the sons of God and the resurrection of the dead.
In other words, the apostle is saying that "You are going to have to suffer, but I want to support you in your sufferings by reminding you that those sufferings are not worthy to be mentioned, not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in you." Paul is talking about the eschatological sufferings of the first-century saints.
Romans 8:18 is not a verse that speaks to us, so what does the Bible say about our sufferings? First of all, suffering is part of life. Everybody suffers to some degree, some much more than others.
For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Job 5:6-7 ESV
Suffering does not grow out of the ground like weeds, but it is established in the divine order of the world, the same order of nature that causes sparks of fire to ascend. Sufferings for believers should drive them to Yahweh in order to cause them to trust Him to work through the sufferings.
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV
Do we need suffering to help us keep our trust in God? Yes, we do. The health/wealth Gospel is a lie from Hell. Suffering, not wealth, drives us to God. Notice what Paul says about his suffering in his letter to the Corinthians.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV
Paul’s weakness (suffering) caused him to trust in Christ's strength. God controls all things, even your suffering. Trust Him in it.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. Romans 8:19 ESV
What is "the creation”? The majority view here is that Paul is talking about the physical creation. Think through this with me. Is it possible that Paul is not talking about the physical creation in this verse? The context here leads me to believe that he is talking about Israel. Israel is the "creation." The Greek word used here for "creation" is ktisis. It occurs 20 times in the New Testament and, depending upon its context, it can be translated as either "creation" or "creature." At times it is used for the physical creation, but it is also used for mankind.
The eighth chapter of Romans discusses the role of the Spirit in setting believers free from the Law to serve God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It compares the actions of those indwelt with the Spirit to those who do not have the Spirit. In looking at the overall context, one would have to ask why Paul would interject an allegorical passage about the creation in a chapter that is otherwise devoted solely to a discussion of the role of the Spirit in the life of believers versus unbelievers. Therefore, the overall context of the chapter suggests that Paul was not talking about the non-rational creation.
This anxious longing and eager waiting was for the "revealing of the sons of God"—what they are looking for is for God to reveal those who are His true sons.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1 ESV
Yeshua was the true vine, the true Israelite, the true son of God. And all those, and only those, who put their faith in Him were also the true sons of God. It is the Christians who are the children of God. And in A.D. 70 God cast out the bondwoman and her sons and made it clear to all the world that those who believe in Yeshua the Messiah are the true sons of God.
Please remember that it was the Jews who were the main instigators of persecution against the Christians throughout most of the first century. The Jews were insisting that they were the true sons of God.
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24-25 ESV
Notice that Paul says, "We wait for it"—this is from the Greek word apekdechomai. This Greek word is made up of the following three words: (1) the word "to receive" which speaks of a welcoming or appropriating reception such as is tendered to a friend who comes to visit, (2) the word "off," which indicates here the withdrawal of one's attention from other objects, and (3) the word "out" (used here in a perfective sense) which intensifies the already existing meaning of the word. The composite word speaks of an attitude of intense yearning and eager waiting for the coming of the Lord. They were waiting for the redemption of the body. They were still under the Old Covenant and its bondage. They waited eagerly for it because it was near. Yeshua said to them, "Your redemption is drawing near."
Apekdechomai is only used seven times in the New Testament and every one of them is in reference to the Second Coming. It is used three times in Romans 8 alone.
They had the promise of redemption and they had the Holy Spirit as the guarantee, but they still waited for the consummation. Redemption was still a hope to them. Until A.D. 70 and the consummation of all they were promised, they lived in hope.
The return of Christ was their blessed hope because all that they hoped for would be fulfilled by His presence.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Christ. 1 Peter 1:13 ESV
The transition period was an age of hope. They hoped for what they did not see. They hoped for the completion of their redemption.
There are some Preterists who think everything was completed in the death of Christ on the cross in A.D. 30. They see no transition period. In other words, they fail to acknowledge the biblical position of "already but not yet.”
With that as the immediate context, let’s look at Romans 8:28:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 ESV
Understanding the context, we see that the "all things" has to do with their sufferings while the body was being conformed into the image of Christ. God had determined, predetermined, and predestined that they would be glorified, and therefore, everything that happened would work together to that end. That is to say, their eternal glory is fixed; it is unalterable. The good of which He speaks here is their glorification. They, not us, were being conformed to Christ's image. Sometimes it seems like audience relevance robs us of our most precious verses.
Before you get too discouraged, let me ask you this: Can this verse apply to us? I believe it can be and is a source of great encouragement. It is not written to us, but the truth it teaches is a truth taught throughout the Scriptures:
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 NASBAnd we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV
Different translators have interpreted this verse in different ways. Some saw "God" as the subject and have translated it "God causes…" (NASB). Others believed that "all things" is the subject and rendered it "all things work together for good…" (KJV). There are actually eight different ways to translate the two readings, and so it's a rather complicated textual problem.
Whether the subject is "God" or "all things" is not critical to our understanding of this text because in either case the idea is that all things work together for good because of God's agency. All the versions mean basically that God is so supremely in charge of the world that all the things that happen to Christians are ordered in such a way that they serve our good.
Let's break this verse down and get its meaning, and then we'll apply it to us.
"And we know"—the verse starts with the conjunction "and.” The thought is transitional. It ties in with what Paul has been saying about suffering. The word "know" is from the Greek word eido which means "to have seen or perceived, hence to know." It suggests a fulness of knowledge. How do they know? From the revelation of God.
The ESV says “For those who love God all things work together for good.” The NASB says that "God causes all things to work together for good"—the word "causes" and the words "work together" are both from the Greek word sunergeo from which we get synergy. The term means to "cooperate with, work together with, help someone to obtain something, or to bring something about."
God works "All things" together. The context seems to indicate all kinds of suffering and persecution, but God truly does work "everything" together for the good of His saints. "For good"—the word here for good is the Greek word agathos. It refers to what is morally good. The text does not say that all things are intrinsically good or pleasant. All things are not necessarily in themselves good. We know that. The point is that God works them into good. That doesn't mean He works toward our short-term happiness or delight. He works towards what is best for us by doing what is eternally good in us and for us. But in all experiences of life, even the most difficult and painful, God is still at work doing something good. Notice what Jeremiah says:Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. Jeremiah 24:4-5 ESV
Jeremiah receives a message from God that He was sending the people into captivity in Babylon for their good. Being taken captive by a foreign power doesn't sound too good to me, but God said it was for good.
Look at what God says about Manasseh and his captivity:The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. 2 Chronicles 33:10-11 ESV
That doesn't sound good, does it? Notice the next verse:And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 2 Chronicles 33:12 ESV
Now does his captivity sound good? It was definitely good for his spiritual life.
How about sin? Can God bring good out of sin? Joseph, you remember, was sold into captivity by his brothers after they weakened in their desire to kill him. He was sold into the hands of the Midianities and ultimately found himself in bondage to the Egyptians. You recall the story of how by the providence of God Joseph’s brothers, who had first sought to kill him by throwing him into a pit, were brought down to Egypt because of a famine. At first Joseph concealed his identity from them. When he finally revealed himself, he wept out loud and fell upon their necks and told them the events of his life from the divine standpoint. He said:And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. Genesis 45:5 ESV
In verse 7 Joseph says again:And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. Genesis 45:7 ESV
Then again in verse 8 he says,So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Genesis 45:8 ESV
Three times Joseph tells them that it was God who had sent him to Egypt and not them. Why did God send Joseph to Egypt? To "keep you alive!" Was it sin for Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery? I would say "Yes." Did God work their sin for good? Absolutely!
We looked last week at Jacob’s cry of pain:And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me. Genesis 42:36 ESV
I can't say that I blame him because things sure didn't look good for the old guy. Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt like all the circumstances in your life were against you? I have. Forty-one years ago I had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that occurs when the body's defense system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system. This leads to nerve inflammation that causes paralysis. I also felt this way when I became a Preterist and lost my job and income. I surely felt like all these things were against me. But, just as in Jacob’s case, they were actually working for my good. I can see that now.
When their father Jacob died, the brothers thought that Joseph would seek revenge. "Now that Jacob's gone, Joseph will surely punish us for what we have done." But Joseph comforted them, and said to them:Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:19-20 ESV
So, Joseph was taken down to Egypt where he spent 13 years in slavery. Eventually he became the Prime Minster of Egypt. This position made it possible for him to bring good to his brethren even though they had put him in the pit and then had sold him into slavery. And so it is with every calamity of those who love God. God meant it for good!
When the beautiful and pure Esther was taken into the harem of a godless Persian king, God was at work for good. When the pope condemned Martin Luther, God was at work for good. When Charles Spurgeon suffered attacks on his character, God was at work for good.
Now, Bereans, please understand this—all things don't work together for good for everyone. There is a qualifier here. It is “for those who love God” that “all things work together for good.” Now who are those who love God? Yeshua taught that love was demonstrated by obedience.If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV
How do we love God then? By living in obedience to His commands that are outlined in Scripture. All believers are called to love God, but not all do. We have seen this in our study of 1 John:If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20 ESV
So, John is saying that genuine love for God necessarily will show itself in observable love for others. If you don’t practice sacrificial, committed love for others, you are revealing that you do not really love God.
Yeshua said the world could measure our status as disciples by the measure of our love for one another.By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35 ESV
To be a disciple is to abide in Christ. They will know that we are His disciples and know that we love Him by our love for one another. So, both Yeshua and John taught that love for God was shown through obedience.
Referring to Romans 8:28, one commentator wrote the following: "The only thing that I have a part in when it comes to having things work for the good is whether or not I love God. That's my responsibility in all of this." So, all things working for good are all up to him and his obedience? What does that do to the promise of Romans 8:28? How is that promise encouraging if it is contingent upon our obedience?
In our study of 1 John we have seen that love is marked by obedience, by keeping his commands, and by loving fellow believers. John is referring to our practice. And in practice many believers don't love God. They are not living in obedience. So, in actuality, all believers don’t love God. Would you agree?
I don’t believe Paul is talking about our practice here in Romans 8:28 but rather about our position. In Christ, all believers do love God. Positionally, we meet all the requirements of the Law when we trust in Him. And the main requirement of the Law was to love God.For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. Romans 2:14 ESV
This is not a very good translation of this verse. The CSB does a much better job.So, when Gentiles, who do not by nature have the law, do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. Romans 2:14 CSB
Gentiles don't have the Law, but these Gentiles do the things of the Law. How is that possible? It is possible because they are Gentile Christians. Because they have trusted Christ, the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them. When the Gentile Christian, who is physically uncircumcised, keeps the requirements of the Law by faith in Yeshua, he demonstrates that he has been circumcised in his heart. Whenever someone believes the Gospel, they are fulfilling the Torah. Their faith fulfills the Law!
By having faith in Christ, the full requirements of the Law are met in us, and therefore, we are righteous according to the obedience of the Law. I have fully obeyed the Law by faith in Christ. This puts me in union with Christ who fully met the Law's righteous requirements. I share all that Christ is and has. Faith in Christ is obedience to the Law.
When Paul talks about "Those who love God," he is referring to the most basic command of Torah. This is the Shema:Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV
According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah, 42a), Jewish boys were taught this biblical passage as soon as they could speak. Deuteronomy 6:4 must have been the first portion from the Torah that Yeshua committed to memory. A devout Jew would recite this twice a day.
Now understand this: When you trust in this One God, Yeshua, you are doing what Torah really wanted. Ask a Jew to summarize the Torah. Ask Yeshua that same question. What does He answer?And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV
This is what Torah was all about—loving God! All Christians love God positionally in Christ. But practically speaking, not all believers love Christ because they do not obey Him. In our text, Paul is talking about our positional love of Christ. This is clear from the qualifying phrase “for those who are called according to his purpose.”
In our verse in Romans 8, Paul gives the people of God a new epithet—God lovers. In other words, Christians are the true Law keepers; they are the true Israel. Paul is simply giving us another phrase that parallels with "saved, redeemed, and justified." He is not defining a special category of Christians, but rather, all Christians. We see this clearly by the same term, "called," used in the golden chain of redemption in verse 30. Believers are those effectually called out by the Gospel.
The believers' love for God is ultimately due to God's purpose in calling them to salvation. In the phrase, “for those who are called according to his purpose,” the word "called" is kletos, and it must be understood as an effectual call. The beneficiaries of this promise are those who once did not love God but now do love God. They love Him because God Himself has called them effectually from darkness to light, from unbelief to faith, and from death to life. He has planted within them a love for Himself. The effectual call of God is the New Covenant fulfillment of the promise in Deuteronomy 30:And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV
All the “called” are lovers of God.
"According to His purpose"—what is Paul's reason for adding this phrase? I think it was to make perfectly clear that the call of God originates in God's purpose and not in ours. The call of God is not a response to anything we purposed to do. God has His own high and holy purposes that govern whom He calls, and His call accords with these purposes and not with ours.
The word "purpose" here is from the Greek word prothesis which means: "to plan in advance" and comes to mean: "that which is planned or purposed in advance." Purpose means an intelligent decision which the will is bent to accomplish. God has two purposes—our good and His glory.
We can see the force of this little phrase "according to His purpose" if we look at the one other place in Romans where the words occur—Romans 9:11. In the context, Paul is trying to show that not all Israelites are true Israelites (verse 6) and not all are the children of Abraham just because they are descended from him (verse 7). Whether one is a true Israelite or a true child of Abraham depends on God's purpose and call and not on man's. Notice verses 10-12:And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Romans 9:10-12 ESV
Jacob and Esau were in the same womb. They had the same father. They had done nothing good or evil. And God set His favor on Jacob, not Esau. Why? Why not wait until they grow up and see which one will choose Him? Why did God reveal His choice even before they were born? Verse 11 gives the answer, and it uses the very words of Romans 8:28.though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— Romans 9:11 ESV
It was "in order that God's purpose of election might continue." Now, this is not fatalism as if there is a blind chance behind the things that happen to believers. It's the plan of a loving Father, and that makes all the difference in the world between the manmade doctrine of fatalism and the true doctrine that is taught in the word of God. This is what theologians call, "God's eternal decree." The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, Paragraph 1 states that "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass…"
Do all things in our lives work together for good, or was this just true of the transition saints? God has a purpose in everything that happens to you. Our lives are not the haphazard result of the moving of blind chance. All that comes to pass in our lives is according to the eternal plan of the all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving great God and our Father.
Have you ever asked "Why is this happening to me?" Listen, believer, it is happening to you because it is the will of God. We know God's moral will because it is revealed in the Scriptures. Yeshua tells us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. Our response to God's moral will is obedience. Obedience is hard, but I think that believers have a greater problem with God's sovereign will than they have with His moral will. We are to obey God's moral will as revealed in the Scriptures, but we are also to submit to God's sovereign will of providence. God's sovereign will involves everything that takes place in life. All events in time proceed from His plan, and absolutely nothing takes place by chance.
The Christian who has a mature understanding and trust in God's sovereign plan is spiritually prepared for anything. He doesn't understand why he had to endure some difficulty, but he will know that his experience was part of the sovereign plan of an all-wise and loving God. All of our "Why is this happening to me?" questions must ultimately have the same answer—our loving God, in His sovereign wisdom, willed it so. His plan is perfect.
Now let's be honest. When circumstances don't go the way we want them to, the way we've planned, we usually get upset. Would you say that that is true? If we believe that God controls every event in time and if we believe that nothing happens apart from His sovereign plan, then why do circumstances upset us? The answer to that question is this: We get upset by circumstances because our will conflicts with God's will. We don't like God's plan. We want it our way. Listen, believer, it is not only important that we live in obedience to God's moral will; it is also important that we live in submission to His providential will.
Whatever it is that we are going through, we may be sure that our Father has a loving purpose in it. We need to learn to submit to God's providential will even when we don't understand.
Let me give you a biblical illustration of a man who submitted to God's will of providence even when it meant great pain to him. Eli was the high priest of Israel. In 1 Samuel 3 we learn how God revealed to the young child Samuel that He was about to kill Eli's two sons for their sinfulness. The next day Samuel communicated this message to the aged priest. It is difficult to conceive of a more difficult message for a parent to receive. Under any circumstances, the message that his children were going to be suddenly killed would be a great trial for any father. Yet, this was the message to Eli. What was his response when he received these tragic words from Samuel? What did he say when he heard the awful news?So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him.” 1 Samuel 3:18 ESV
Believers, that is submission! He knew God and he trusted God. He didn't argue with him or try to talk God out of His plan. He simply bowed to God's sovereign will in humble trust. When is the last time things went contrary to what you wanted, and you said "It is the Lord, let Him do what seems good to Him?"
If you don't believe in Romans 8:28, what do you believe in? Fate? Chance? The impersonal forces of nature? Believer, God has a purpose in everything that happens to you. Trust Him in it!