By Pastor Glenn Pease
The 8th chapter of Romans is a spiritual palace of comfort and challenge built for the children of God. Nothing could be more optimistic than the words we find here that all works for good, and that if God is before us who can be against us. God has given His Son who intercedes of us, and nothing can separate from His love. We are more than conquerors. Such an optimistic view of things seems to be more than we can believe. We wonder if the writer is some arm chair philosopher who never got his hands dirty, and never knew what it was to suffer. It would be easy for him to sit in his patted chair and write about life, while his servants bring him his mid-afternoon snack.
But wait! We are talking about the wrong man. The author of this chapter is a soldier from the battlefront. He knows what it is like to be hated, despised, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and imprisoned. The Apostle Paul was not writing from a sheltered life, but from one that knew the stress of constant combat and serious struggles. It is important to keep this in mind as we consider his words.
Let's look first at-
I. HIS CERTAINTY. v. 28.
He says, "We know" and in verse 38, "I am persuaded." In a day when nothing seemed certain, and governments can rise or fall overnight, and where text books change their contents every year, we wonder if we can be certain of anything. We can never be sure if things will get better, and we never know whether or not tragedy is waiting around the next corner. There is a superficial optimism that tries to make things look brighter by whitewashing the dark facts, but no one but the blind can find any comfort in this. We don't find this in Paul, for he never buries his head in the sand saying all is well.
A news item in a Canadian paper during hunting season said, "Sam Higgins was accidentally shot yesterday while hunting. One of the wounds is pronounced fatal, but his friends will be glad to hear that the other wounds are not considered dangerous." They could have gone on to say half of the shots never even hit him, but what comfort is that when the fact is he is dead? Paul is not whitewashing the facts. He sees the reality of evil in the world. His confidence is not in the world or self. His confidence is in God. He could say with the unknown poet,
Yet in this maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings,
I know that God is good.
II. HIS CLAIM. v. 28. "All things work together for good."
Certainty Paul is not trying to say that everything in the world is good. Paul knows that the world is evil. He has proof of that in his own body. "He had been to the whipping post so many times that if he had gone to heaven backwards they would have recognized him by his scars." Paul does not mean to give the impression that all that happens is God's will. He certainly knew the Lord's Prayer that said, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We would not need to pray that if God's will was always perfectly done.
Most of the misery and suffering in the world is not God's will. It is not God's will that little girls be kidnapped and murdered. It is not God's will that babies be born deformed. It is not God's will that your appendix breaks and you have to have surgery. In a world where God's will does not fully reign, sin curses all, and all suffer the consequences. What does Paul mean then when he says all things work for good? First of all we need to know what he meant by good. Did he mean that all works together for our health? No, for he just said that we groan in our bodies, and he told in chapter 7 of the war in his body, and in another place of his thorn in the flesh.
Did he mean that works for our happiness and pleasure? No, for Paul was often in distress and his heart was heavy with all of his cares for the churches because of their many problems. He had few pleasures and much pain. Paul's idea of the highest good is seen in verse 29, which is to be conformed to His image. That is the goal of our life, and to that end all things work together. The path may be filled with pits of pain and trails of tragedy may join it, but God in His providence can and will bring you through. You may have to experience the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, but you will also experience the power of His resurrection.
Paul's claim is not that all is good, but that God is great, and He will see that nothing hinders His chosen ones from reaching the highest good, which is the redemption of His soul and its transformation into the image of Christ. Even tragedy will be used in His providence to work toward this goal. In the early 1930's a school bus was caught in a snow drift on a Colorado road. The driver set out for help, but lost his way and perished. Night came and the children were in real danger. The fuel was exhausted and some began to get drowsy. One of the older boys who knew the danger began to aggravate the others and soon had them all screaming and fighting. What a strange sight that must have been, but the fighting kept their blood circulating and saved them until they were found. Some had cuts and bruises and torn clothes, but it was all working for their good. There was nothing good about their injuries, but it led to the good of saving their lives.
Suffering and sorrow are not good in themselves, but God can see that they work toward the best results. It is like the grain of sand in the oyster. It is not a good thing, but in dealing with it the oyster produces a pearl. The boll weevil is not good but destructive. One year it just about wiped out the cotton crop of Coffee, Alabama. It forced them to plant peanuts which restored the starved soil, and it began a new industry that brought wealth. It was an evil event in itself, but it ended up becoming a blessing.
You would have a hard time convincing a child that a spanking is for their own good, for they cannot foresee what it is to be a responsible adult. We do not know all that is ahead for us as we will become like Christ, but we must believe that God will work out all things for the best. This must have been hard for George Matheson to believe. He was engaged to be married but went blind. His fiancee refused to marry him. Many men would see no possible good coming of this, but George cast all his care upon Christ, and he found one whose love did not alter when it alteration found. He went on to write the hymn, "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go." Next, we want to look at-
III. HIS CONDITIONS. v. 28 "To them that love God and are called according to His purpose."
We see this as not an automatic promise to all. It is not even automatic for the Christian. You cannot just lay around and expect everything to be worked out for you. Jesus said, "If you love me keep my commandments." So if you love God, you will not ignore His will and expect a tumor or a tornado to be for your good. In His mercy it may still be because it could cause you to rely on God more completely, but the promise of all working to one's ultimate good is only for those who love God.
Love means life, and life means labor. To love God means to labor to be what He wants you to be. It may be uphill all the way, but He promises that He will never let you go. Some people never get started because they think they have to do it in their own strength. I read a testimony of a man who said he came to Christ with a heavy burden of sin, he placed it at the cross and thought all was right, but the next day his sky was gray. His temptation was strong and he fell. He failed again and again until everyone ceased to believe in him, and he cease to believe in himself. At last in desperation he raised his hands to heaven and said, "Lord Jesus I claim thy promise, I claim thy power, look at me tonight."
He gained the victory and Satan fled. This is a lesson all of need to learn. There is not a one of us who has begun to take seriously all that Jesus has promised. We haven't scratched the surface of the power available to those who claim it in faith, and with a life behind it to prove their sincerity. Our love for God is often not real enough to give us the benefit of this promise of all things working for good. We can praise God that if we miss His best He always has another plan for us. But what a shame to suffer for nothing. The worst affliction is a wasted affliction, and all are wasted that do not draw us nearer to Jesus.
Note the twofold condition, for those who love God and who are called. It is God's role to call and ours to love. Many are called but few are chosen because they do not listen and respond in love. It is the purpose of God that we become like Christ and this high purpose is what enabled Paul and many others who suffered to endure with courage and joy. It was all working for their good when they loved God and were fulfilling His calling. They could praise Him in all circumstances and like Paul be singing in prison. Next we see-
IV. HIS CONFIDENCE. "If God is for us who can be against us?"
With this confidence one can face anything that life brings. When we see that God gave His Son for our salvation that is the guarantee that God is for us. He has done the greatest thing He could do to demonstrate His being for us, and so we can be assured He will do whatever it takes to fulfill His purpose in our lives. He will not hold back on any lesser gift now that He has given His best.
As we partake of the Lord's Supper, let us remember that what it represents is the basis for all our claims and convictions, and it alone can supply the confidence which we see in the Apostle Paul. God has acted in history to redeem us from this present evil world. How can we keep from lifting our hearts in thanksgiving for such a gift as this?