Ripped Out of Context: God Will Turn Things Around
One of the most magnificent promises in the Bible is , but it is often misunderstood because it is often quoted out of context during tough circumstances. Usually the whole verse is not even quoted.
It is usually loosely quoted, “All things work for good.”
The verse is usually taken to be God’s promise to us that everything, no matter how dire the circumstances, is going to turn out all right. God will turn the circumstances around.
• If I lose my job, it’s okay. God has a better one in store for me;
• If I or my loved ones get sick, it’s okay; God will heal me (or them) because God only wants “good” for me (us);
There are many issues with how the passage is usually quoted
First, the verse is often quoted to show that God has good things in store for everyone, including non-Christians. But when the whole verse is quoted, it shows that the promise is limited in scope to a specific group of people:
“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.”
Whenever verses are taken out of context, it is usually the parts of the verse that are not quoted that give the meaning to the text. In this verse, Paul says that this promise is for “those who love God.” This is not talking about those who have an emotional feeling of love towards God, but those who are His people – those who obey Him (). Paul shows this in this passage by clarifying that those who love God are also those who “are called according to His purpose.” This promise of is given to Christians, those who have answered God’s call to submit to Christ.
The second way that is misused is by assuming that the “good” that God causes to come about is physical things such as good health, a better job, etc… that God is going to turn the physical circumstances around… The context does not bear this out. The context actually shows the OPPOSITE! The focus of the second half of is that God’s people must suffer before receiving their reward. In verse 17, Paul says that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Sometimes we tend to think many wrong things about trials when they come…
First, we just assume God will take them away – that this is how He will be glorified. But God does not promise that He will just turn things around and make everything better physically for us… He may do this at times, but He doesn’t promise it.
Second, we also tend to think that God will not allow us to go through trials that we are unable to deal with on our own. We commonly hear brethren say, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” I don’t know what you may mean when you make such a statement, but on the surface, it just is not true. God does allow us to go through hard things. We go through situations that we do not have the strength within ourselves to deal with them… Situations in which we feel helpless…
Paul himself went through trials like this… In , listen to what Paul says about the trials he went through as he preached the Gospel:
(NASB) 8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; 9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves…
Paul pretty much says here, “We were given more than we had the strength to handle.” They were afflicted beyond their strength to endure. It was so bad that they despaired even of life. But why did God allow Paul to go through these trials that he did not have the strength to deal with? So that He could be reminded that he cannot deal with them ALONE.
Look at verse 9 again…
9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead…
He was given this suffering so that he would learn to trust in the Lord as He went through his suffering. He didn’t have the strength to deal with it, but God surely had the power to help Paul come out of the suffering seeing God’s hand in all that was going on in his life.
Third, we tend to blame Satan for all of the trials we go through… I often hear brethren say to those going through trials, “Remember, this is not from God, but from Satan.” The question I would ask is, “How do you know this?” How do you know that it was Satan, and not God, who brought this trial? Did God tell you this about the specific trial someone is going through?
Scripture shows us that Satan is not the only one involved with our trials. He often is involved, but not the only one. Do you remember the suffering of Job? He went through so many painful things… losing his children, much of his property, his health, etc. He had his wife and his friends discourage him, and they made Job feel that God was against him. We may look at all of the suffering of Job and think, “it is amazing the things that Satan did to Job in this book.” And it is true, Satan did do a lot of things to Job in this book. But it was not ALL Satan… The ONLY reason Satan was able to do what he did to Job was because God gave him permission to do so. God brought Job to Satan’s attention. God gave Satan permission to afflict him. God gave Satan permission to take his property and his children from him. God gave Satan permission to take his health from Him. Satan had to work within the limits that God gave Him and COULD NOT do more than what God allowed him to. We see in this passage that GOD IS SOVEREIGN. He reigns over everything, and nothing happens in this world without his permission.
We also see this in Paul’s life. In . After Paul describes a man who was given great revelations and visions of Heaven, he says:
(NASB) 7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness."
Who gave Paul this thorn in the flesh? It sure seems clear to me that this “messenger of Satan” was given to Paul by the Lord. This “thorn in the flesh” was given to Paul to keep him humble… to keep him from exalting himself… Satan sure would not care enough about Paul to help stop him from becoming proud. God gave Paul this thorn in the flesh to humble him. God was using this messenger of Satan for His good purposes.
shows how God is working in us while we suffer to prepare us for glory and to help us anticipate the time when our bodies will be redeemed (v23). We also see how God’s Spirit helps us during this process (vs26-27). We see in these things that suffering is part of God’s plan, and it may not be the case that the ‘good’ that God is working towards is the alleviation of suffering in THIS life.
In verses 29-30, we see the end-game – the good that God has in mind in verse 28.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Verse 29 starts with the word “for”. Paul is giving some further explanation of verse 28 in verses 29-30. What is the ‘good’ that God is working towards? What is the good that God is making all things work together for?
• He is working in us as we go through trials to make us like Jesus.
• He is working to magnify Christ through us, showing Him to be the preeminent one among His fellow heirs.
• He is working in us so that we can receive what He has predestined for His people: glorification. He called us and justified us so that he could work in us to the ultimate end of glorifying us and bringing us to His glorious presence…
As I said in the beginning of this lesson, THIS IS A MAGNIFICENT PROMISE. It is a promise that gives us hope in the most dire of circumstances. A promise that reminds us that God is ALWAYS at work in our lives – when things are comfortable and when things are painful and difficult.
Whenever we take this promise out of context, we are missing a great promise of what God is doing within us during hardship.
We tend to look at hardship as “bad” or “evil.” Suffering is not a bad thing. Even though Satan may try to use it to discourage us and lead us to doubt God’s promises, God has good that He is working towards in the same circumstances. God is “for us” () even during hardship. He loves us and is working in us. We can have hope even in the midst of suffering. We can know God is at work, and that being the case, we can be victorious.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 35 …Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 37 …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (, , )
If it is God’s will to turn the physical circumstances around… if he desires for Himself be glorified in healing someone of a sickness, then praise God! May He be glorified… But if it is not his will for someone to be healed, then may he be glorified in how His people trust in Him as they endure their hardship, even if it leads to death… God’s people will be victorious in their suffering.
No matter what His will may be, to take our suffering away or to allow it to remain, may He use the hardship He graciously permits to come our way to help His people be more like Jesus and to help others see the hope we have, even as we suffering, so that we can have the opportunity to tell them about the One who gives us our joy in trials.