There are times and circumstances in our lives that make us question why Yahweh does what He does. Several weeks ago, my wife’s friend and her husband were killed in a head on collision while they were vacationing in Hawaii. They were believers who loved Yahweh, and now they are gone. And their daughter, who was also in the crash, lies in in critical condition in a hospital bed in Hawaii. Last week Cathy’s sister called her to inform her that a coworker, who was on vacation in the Bahamas, was attacked and killed by a bull shark. To bring it closer to home, Gary watches Brenda struggle to do the simplest things. He suffers daily as he watches her suffer.
We all look at the condition of our country and we question why the Lord is allowing evil people to destroy our nation?
In light of these things, I thought we could use some encouragement from the Word of God to comfort our hearts and minds. So, this morning we are going to look at one 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 so filled with trials and troubles; it is good to know that everything is being worked out according to the plan of our great 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 that 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 reflects the eschatological sufferings of the transition saints. The "all things" has to do with their sufferings in which the body was being conformed into the image of Christ. God has determined, predetermined, and predestined that they would be glorified, and therefore, everything that happened to them would work together to that end. That is to say, their eternal glory was fixed; it was 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.
So, can this verse apply to us? Absolutely! 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 NASB
And 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 so they rendered it "all things God works…" (NIV). 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.
"All things work together for good"—the words "work together" are all 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 and of themselves good. We know that. But 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, 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 received a disturbing message from God. For their good, He was going to send the people into captivity in Babylon. 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 said 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'll 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 his way into the hands of the Egyptians. And then you know the story of how, finally, the brethren of Joseph, who had put him in that pit, were brought down to Egypt in the providence of God, and Joseph, longing to unveil himself to them, finally revealed himself. He wept out loud and fell upon their neck and told them the story 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 8, Joseph said again that "it was not you who sent me here, but God." Three times Joseph told them that God sent him to Egypt, not they. Notice verse 7.
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
Why did God send Joseph to Egypt? To "keep alive for you many survivors!" Was it sin for Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery? Of course. Did God work their sin for good? Absolutely!
Meanwhile, think of what was going on with Jacob, Joseph's father. He had lost his son Joseph, and then he lost Simeon, and now the prime minister of Egypt announced "I want Benjamin." Benjamin was the full brother of Joseph, and the only other son of Rachel, Jacob's beloved. In the midst of all this, Jacob said:
"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-four 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 ministry and my income. I surely felt like all these things were against me.
Although he couldn’t see it at the time, everything was working for good for Jacob. Joseph wasn't dead; he was the prime minister of Egypt. Simeon wasn't in prison, but he was detained by a brother's heart, who was bursting to express his love for him. Only because he wanted to see Benjamin, his full brother, did he confine Simeon. They were starving in the land, and Joseph was the one who had charge over all of the grain that was stored in the greatest kingdom upon the face of the earth at that time. When Jacob said, "All these things are against me," they really weren't against him. They were working for him.
When their father Jacob died, the brothers worried that by his absence, Joseph would surely punish them for what they had 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 went down into Egypt and spent 13 years in slavery before becoming the Prime Minster of Egypt—a position that ultimately worked for the good of the brethren who put him in the pit and then 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 her good. When the pope condemned Martin Luther, God was at work for his good. When Charles Spurgeon suffered with attacks on his character, God was at work for his good.
All things don't work together for good for everyone; there is a qualifier here.
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
It is only "for those who love God." In other words, the beneficiaries of this promise are people who love God. Now who are those who love God? One commentator wrote that "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, things working for good are all up to him and how he acts. What does that do to the promise?
Do all believers love God? Before you can answer that question, you need to know if I am talking about the believer’s "position" or his "practice." I believe that many believers don't love God in practice. Love in the Scriptures is defined as 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.
Positionally, do all believers love God? Positionally, do we meet all the requirements of the Law in Christ? Absolutely! Do we have a sacrifice for atonement? Do we have a temple? Do we have a high priest? Are we circumcised? Do we keep the Sabbath? Yes, to all of them.
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
The comma is in the wrong place here, it should be after nature, not after law. Gentiles don't have the Law by nature, but these Gentiles do the things of the Law. How is that possible? They are Gentile Christians, they have trusted Christ, and the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them. In the same way, the Gentile Christian, who is physically uncircumcised, keeps the requirements of the Law by faith in Yeshua and, thereby, shows that he has been circumcised in his heart. Whenever someone believes the Gospel, the Torah is being fulfilled. His faith fulfills the Law!
When we have faith in Christ, the requirements of the Law are fulfilled in us, and, therefore, we are righteous according to the obedience of the Law.
in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:4 ESV
The phrase "who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" is not a qualifying phrase. In other words, it doesn't have anything to do with how we act. It is a descriptive phrase. To walk after the flesh is to seek to live under the Law. A Christian is one who does not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit. To walk in the Spirit is to trust in Christ and His finished work on Calvary.
This verse doesn't say that we might fulfill the Law but that it might be fulfilled in us. We are passive; God is the actor. The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us by God. What is it the Law requires? Righteousness! Covenant faithfulness.
I have fully obeyed the Law by faith in Christ. This puts me in union with Him 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.
"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" That is the essence of all Jewish faith. That is the first article of the manifesto of Judaism. "The Lord our God is one God." And that is repeated throughout the Hebrew Scripture. God is one God. There are no other gods. God will tolerate no other worship. We are to love God.
Now understand this, when you believe in this One God, you are doing what Torah really wanted. Ask a Jew, "What is the summary of 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 as is made clear from the qualifying phrase,
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
In this 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. "For those who are called according to purpose"—the word "called" here 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 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 to 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 "according to His purpose"? I think it was to make perfectly clear that the call of God originates in God's purpose, 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 (proth-is-is) 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 word occurs—Romans 9:11. In the context, Paul explains that not all Israelites are true Israelites (verse 6). In other words, not all are the children of Abraham just because they are descended from him (verse 7). The difference 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. But God set His favor on Jacob and not on Esau. Why? Why did God not wait until they grew up to see which one would 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. It was "so 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 the believers. It's the plan of a loving Father. His love exposes all the difference in the world between the false doctrine of fatalism and the 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, "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. God's moral will is revealed in the Scriptures, so we don't have to ask, "What is God's will?" We know His moral will. Yeshua tells us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. Our response to God's moral will is obedience. As hard as obedience can be, I think that believers have a greater problem with God's sovereign will than 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 in 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. Let me give you a couple of things that the Scriptures reveal about God's sovereign will.
1. It is Certain.
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" Daniel 4:35 ESV
God's sovereign will cannot be frustrated by gods, angels, men or anything else. The sinner who tries to defy God's plan may shake his fist to the heavens, but God has determined how many times he shakes it and whether that man will live to shake his fist tomorrow.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Ephesians 1:11 ESV
The things that happen in this life are simply the working out of what God has planned from eternity. So, God's sovereign will is certain.
2. God's sovereign will is exhaustive.
It includes the germ as well as the galaxies, the fly as well as the Pharaoh, the mosquito (malaria) as well as the monarch. God determines who lands on Park Place. Some of you are familiar with the poem:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For want of a horse the rider was lost;
For want of a rider the battle was lost;
For want of a battle the war was lost.
If God doesn't control the "nails," then wars cannot be controlled. R. C. Sproul, in his book, The Sovereignty of God, said one of his childhood heroes, race car driver Bill Vukovich, was killed in the Indianapolis 500 when he was going around a turn, and his car lost control because a little $.10 cotter pin broke. James says, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." Not only are our lives under God's sovereign control, but so are our actions.
Think about this: The fulfillment of any one prophecy requires control of the whole universe, lest something prevent its occurrence. Judas and Pontius Pilate had to be born in a certain century, and therefore, their parents had to marry at a given time. This and many other conditions had to be carried out, and these conditions depended upon even more remote events. Take the prophecy of Genesis 15.
Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. Genesis 15:13 ESV
God caused Jacob to migrate to Egypt to fulfill this prophecy. Was it possible for Jacob to will not to go to Egypt? Can man's will prevent God's plans from coming to pass? Is it beyond your paradigm to say that God controls men's will? Consider this: Abraham moved south to Gerar, in the kingdom of Abimelech. Abimelech became enamored with Sarah's beauty and took her for his own. Did he lie with her? No. Why not?
Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore, I did not let you touch her. Genesis 20:6 ESV
Abimelech could not have chosen to lie with Saran; his will was not free. God’s sovereign will is exhaustive. He determines the every ruler’s personal plans.
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1 ESV
God determines the numbers that come up when the dice are thrown.
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. Proverbs 16:33 ESV
God rules over all the affairs of men.
He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; Daniel 2:21 ESV
that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. Daniel 4:25 ESV
No one can act outside of God's sovereign will. Centuries ago, Augustine said that "Nothing, therefore, happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen: He either permits it to happen, or He brings it about Himself." God calls ALL the shots; He rules over all. Why is that? Because He is God. The sovereignty of God is asserted, either expressly or implicitly, on almost every page of the Bible.
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 was 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 communicates this message to the aged priest. It is difficult to conceive of a more difficult message for a parent to receive. The message that his children are going to be suddenly killed, under any circumstances, 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 was 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?"
Another biblical example would be that of the life of Job. According to Scripture, Job was "blameless and upright." If ever there was a man who might reasonably expect Divine providence to smile upon him, it was Job. For a time, things went great for him. The Lord blessed him with seven sons and three daughters. He prospered him in his business until he owned great possessions. But suddenly things changed. In a single day Job lost not only his flocks and herds, but his sons and daughters as well. News arrived that his cattle had been carried off by robbers, and his children were slain by a cyclone. How did he receive this news? Notice carefully his reply to a catastrophe that is beyond what we could even imagine.
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Job 1:20-22 ESV
Have you ever suddenly received extremely bad news? I have. I was awakened early one morning by a phone call. When I answered the phone, my brother said, "David, Dad died." I was devastated! I hurt worse than I ever had. I had just lost my father. But Job lost ten children and all his wealth.
Notice that Job traced his afflictions back to their first cause. He looked behind the Sabeans who had stolen his cattle and beyond the winds that had destroyed his children and saw the hand of God. He said, "The Lord has taken away." But not only did Job recognize God's sovereignty, he humbly submitted to it. Job trusted God because he knew God. He knew that God was sovereign, and in this he rejoiced.
When loss after loss came Job's way, what did he do? Did he cry about his "bad luck"? Curse the robbers? Murmur against God? NO. He humbly bowed before Him in worship. Believer, we, like Job, must learn to humbly submit to God's providential will.
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!