Perhaps no verse in Scripture is taken out of context more than Romans 8:28. In that verse, Paul says that all things work together for good to them that love God, and people take that to mean a lot of things it doesn't mean. So in this message Stephen reminds us of the real meaning and power behind this promise from God.
What it IS
In her book Mystery on the Desert, Maria Reich described a series of strange hills and valleys made by the Indians in Peru, centuries ago. These hills would go on for hundreds of yards and then abruptly stop, or turn suddenly or smoothly to the right or left. There wasn’t any kind of pattern. For centuries, these hills were believed to be the ancient remnants of some sort of irrigation system. Or perhaps, ancient boundary markers for some sort of mystical religion.
But in 1939, the mystery was solved. Dr. Paul Kosok of Long Island University discovered the true meaning by simply observing those hills from high in the air as he flew over the territory in an airplane. The seemingly random hills and valleys, forming straight lines, then curving this way and that, were actually lines which formed enormous drawings of birds and other animals.
Timothy George, “Big Picture Faith,” Christianity Today, September 23, 2000
Imagine, creating art that you couldn’t really appreciate on earth.
In fact, you couldn’t make sense of it on the ground – you had to gain a higher perspective to see the beauty of these works of art!
Paul is saying in our text for today, that the beauty and art in your life is most often impossible to fully appreciate from earth’s perspective. You need a higher altitude to put the pieces together.
Romans 8:28 says a lot about that kind of higher perspective.
He writes to the Roman believers, struggling to make sense of the difficulties of the Christian life, now that they’ve come to Christ, these incredibly encouraging words. By the way, he is writing to them . . . and to us!
“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. – let’s read further – 29. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.
Now, in our last discussion, I spent the entire time with you exposing what this verse did not say.
Romans 8:28 was not:
-a precise explanation for suffering
There are other passages that explain the fallenness of mankind and how God allows mankind the freedom to make moral decisions – which leaves open the freedom to do immoral and evil and violent things.
Many of us, I’m sure have been watching the story unfold in Lakeland Florida where that 11 year old girl was abducted and killed. Every Mommy and Daddy’s nightmare came true for that poor family.
Romans 8:28 is not the verse to quote . . . it neither explains the evil of mankind, nor does it promise some sort of special protection from evil men.
It does promise, as we’ll see in a moment, to take the evil of men and turn it into the good and glory of God’s children.
But what deeply concerns me is the way this verse has become a, sort of, Christian’s rabbit foot – who superstitiously wear it around their hearts and then, when it doesn’t seem to work, walk away from God – disillusioned and defeated.
Furthermore, this verse is not a prohibition against sorrow and grief.
You are not embarrassing God by grieving and weeping over your loss . . . your pain . . . your questions.
Third, we learned that Paul does not intend this text to provide some pretext for avoiding the disciplines and challenges of life.
God’s gonna work everything out, so I won’t get involved. I won’t work . . . I won’t confront . . . I won’t sweat . . . I won’t evangelize . . . I won’t sacrifice . . . I won’t risk anything . . . God’s gonna work everything out anyway.
That isn’t what this verse is saying.
Finally, Romans 8:28, is some sort of permanent ticket to comfortable, first-class living.
My friends, do you know what these four things are attempting to do? They are trying to make sense of the twisting hills and valleys on earth – from earth’s perspective.
What we need is an elevation of perspective! We need to see below from heaven’s point of view. And that’s exactly what Paul had in mind as he wrote Romans 8:28.
He provides an aerial perspective into the sovereign purpose of God for His children. And we discover our security, not in the events and circumstances of life; we find our security in the promise that God is managing and moving everything according to His purpose.
Last Lord’s day I told you there were 6 things I wanted to show you in these verses – now I want to show you 7.
First, I want you to see
The Certainty of God’s Purpose
Paul writes, “For we know!”
Earlier in verse 26, Paul had written, “For we do not know how to pray as we should.”
Now, in verse 28, he says here is something we do know.
We do not know how to pray ... we do know God has a purpose!
Would you notice that Paul did not write, “For we think . . . for we hope . . . oh we wish . . .”
Aren’t you glad Paul didn’t begin this verse by writing, “For we feel . . .”
For there is a huge difference between feeling and knowing.
The truth is, we might be feeling exactly the opposite of what God is actually doing! We might not feel that God is in control. We might feel that God does not love us. We might feel at times that God has abandoned us.
The truth is, in this fallen world, as fallen human beings, surrounded by fallen humanity, we must recognize that our feelers are fallen too!
Would you notice as well that Paul did not write, “It is my personal opinion . . .”
Listen, when the clouds of life roll in and the pressures and problems of life seem to overwhelm us – when the hills and the valleys in our lives take strange turns and make abrupt dead ends – we don’t need anybody’s opinion – even Paul’s!
Paul writes, “For we know! We know!”
In the New Testament there are several Greek cognates translated knowledge, or know, or knowing.
One Greek cognate for knowledge is the word ginosko, which is a word that relates to knowing something by means of personal experience. Paul used it when he wrote, “That I might know Him . . . the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.”
Paul was saying, “Oh that I might know by means of personal experience – I want to be involved in knowing by experiencing His power and His sufferings.”
By the way, this same thought is expressed when a wife tells her husband, “I don’t know if you really love me.” And what do most men do . . . they remind her by saying, “Listen, I made a vow to you on our wedding day – 7, 10, 20 30 years ago – that I would love you no matter what. You should know that!
She says, “You don’t understand . . . I need to know you mean it.” And if she knew some Greek – which is so clearly expressive – she could make herself perfectly understood and save a lot of frustration by simply saying, “I need to ginosko you love me.”
I need a little reassurance . . . I need to know by means of experience!
Wives . . . say that word with me – ginosko. Say it again - ginosko. This is gonna revolutionize your marriage. Forget all the marriage seminars – just learn how to say ginosko.
Sometime this week, when you want personal reassurance by means of experience that he loves you, go up to him and say, “I’d like a little ginosko.”
Say that with me – “I’d like a little ginosko.” Now, look at your husband and practice it – “I’d like a little ginosko!”
You husbands can start showing her your love by taking her out to lunch today? Amen? And let her pick the restaurant? Amen?
This isn’t a moment for a double burger at Remington Grill – this is shrimp at Red Lobster!
There is another Greek cognate for knowledge or knowing – which is oida. This is not knowledge gained by personal experience; this is knowledge gained by propositional truth.
You don’t experience 2 +2 = 4. You just learn it! Lord willing.
When you take a test this week in school they are going to test your oida – how well you memorized what the teacher said in class. How well you remembered the propositional truth of that math formula or history lesson.
And that’s the word Paul uses in Romans 8:28. He isn’t saying, “We know God is in control because we personally experienced something – because we see evidence of it.”
You see, Paul is elevating our perspective in the very first 3 words of this promise. He is saying, in effect, “We know God is in control because He said He is. And we have been listening to the Teacher.”
And there are times in your lives when that’s all you’ll have – God said so!
Whether you feel it or not . . . whether you see evidence of it or not . . . you know it’s true because God said it’s true.
And it is impossible for God to lie!
That’s the Certainty of God’s Purpose.
Secondly, I want you to notice
The Controller of God’s Purpose
“For we know that God causes . . .”
In other words, we not only believe, but we believe that God is behind what we believe.
God is the cause and controller of His divine purposes.
And that’s great news . . . because if the purposes of God depended on you and me, we’d bankrupt heaven’s gold and create chaos in the universe within the first 24 hours.
If the purposes of God depended on our cleverness, or perceptiveness, or diligence, or strength, or wisdom, or desire or anything at all, the purposes of God would look like our list New Year’s resolutions . . . which are already beginning to fall apart.
The believer’s confidence in God’s purpose is directly related to the cause of God’s purpose being none other than God.
Third, Paul refers to:
The Comprehensiveness of God’s Purpose
“For we know that God causes all things . . .”
I looked this up in several Greek texts and discovered something amazing. Do you know what the word “all” means in the Greek language? Write this down . . . it means, “all.”
You could render it, “God causes everything ultimately to fulfill His purpose . . .”
All things is utterly, totally, absolutely, entirely comprehensive.
Paul is not saying that God prevents His children from experiencing things that can harm them. He is rather attesting to the fact that the Lord talks all that He allows to happen to His children, even the worst things, and turns those things into [pieces of his purpose].
John MacArthur, Romans, (Moody Press, 1991), p. 473
Listen dear friends, even when God seems to be doing nothing, He is doing everything!
Our temporary handicap is that we are earth bound – we can’t from the startling heights of heaven . . . but we can believe it by faith.
All . . . means all.
Fourth, would you notice,
The Continuity of God’s Purpose
Paul write, “For we know that God causes all things to work together . . .”
Sunergeo – this word gives us our English word, “synergism.”
Webster defined synergism, as the combined action of two or more things which have a greater total effect than the sum of their individual effects.
New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, (Lexicon Publications, Danbury, 1995), p. 1003
What a powerful word.
Any one thing in your life may not seem to work anything out.
Perhaps only later you realize how that one thing, brought about another thing, which consequently affected a different thing, resulting in the final thing – being worked out.
But remember, whether you realize it or see it or understand it or not, which is not what Paul is saying. Paul is simply saying this is exactly what God is doing.
I read recently of a pastor who returned to his pulpit a few weeks after his son committed suicide. With great emotion he read his text . . . which happened to be Romans 8:28.
Then he looked at his congregation and said, “I cannot make my son’s death fit into this passage. It is impossible for me to see how anything good can come out of it. Yet I realize I only see in part. I only know in part. It’s like the miracle of the shipyard. Almost every part of our great ships are made of steel. If you were to take any single part of that vessel – be it a steel plate from the hull or steel from its rudder – and throw it into the ocean, it will sink. Steel doesn’t float! But, when the shipbuilder is finished, when the last plate has been riveted in place, that massive steel ship floats!
He then concluded by saying, “Taken by itself, my son’s suicide is senseless. Throw it into the sea of Romans 8;28 and it will sink. But when the Divine Shipbuilder has finally finished, even this tragedy will build together God’s unsinkable purpose.
Adapted from Richard Exley, “Decent Exposure,” Leadership (Fall 1992), p. 118
What incredible faith . . . in the continuity of the purposes of God.
Fifth, there is:
The Context of God’s Purpose
“All things work together for . . . what? . . . for good!”
Paul did not say, “All things were good.” He said, “All things work together for good.”
You mean even evil and sin and false accusations and injustice and failure and broken relationships and cruelty and betrayal and pain and suffering and hatred and jealousy and abandonment – you mean even that?
Everything I just listed to you was part of the last few hours in the life of Jesus Christ.
And it all worked into God’s plan for your good and His glory.
Are any of those things in your life?
God is currently managing their movement for your good.
God is presently weaving them together for your good. Why? So that, as verse 29 tells us, we can become just like Jesus Christ.
Paul says, in effect, that “God will intertwine and merge and fuse and blend and mingle and combine everything for your ultimate good, so that you begin to reflect your Savior, Jesus Christ.”
You know what? I’m gonna step out on a limb, but I think that a phrase most often repeated in heaven will be, “Well, what do you know!”
What do you know . . . would you have ever guessed that?!
Wow! Can you believe it?!
That missed appointment – that introduction – that teacher – that tragedy – that accident – that neighbor – that program – that hospital visit – that accident.
They are the hills and valleys of Divine Art!
“Well, what do you know . . . God in His overall plan for my life, used everything for my good . . . and for His glory.”
Now I need to warn all of you who are listening . . . there is one condition to experiencing the glory of God’s purpose.
The Condition to God’s Purpose
Paul writes, “For 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.”
Does this mean if I don’t consistently love the Lord – if I fall slack in my affection, if I don’t follow Him faithfully, then I’ll miss it – God will stop His consistent, comprehensive work on my behalf?
The titles, “Those who love God” and “those called according to His purpose,” are two of the many titles or descriptions the New Testament Christian.
One author said “those who love God” is written from our perspective, while “those called according to His purpose,” is written from God’s perspective.”
In other words, the condition to being the recipient of God’s divine purpose is simply becoming one of His children.
How do you become a child of God?
John’s Gospel wrote, “As many as receive Him (Jesus Christ) to them God gives the right to become the children of God – even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12)
There is salvation in no one else – Acts 4:12 records – for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.
The world has not received the promise of Romans 8:28. One of the great tragedies of the unbeliever is that he will never see how God made it all work together for good.
Only the believer, who has become a member of that body who loves the Son of God can experience the full measure of God’s providence, which ultimately will lead to heaven.
Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers, “We are His workmanship.” (Ephesians 2:10) His poema. His poem. You are literally God’s work of art!
You may not see it now. So often the hills and valleys don’t make sense on earth – the way they twist and turn – suddenly stopping or turning back – but you will see it!
We know we will see it . . . one day!
That is the promise of Romans 8:28.
Bow . . .
Let me ask you some questions for you to answer quietly in your heart:
In light of what we’ve learned,
1) Do you know Christ personally . . . have you ever received Him into your heart – are you ready to place your faith in His work on the cross for you?
2) For those of you who received Him, and have become the children of God, are you willing, even when he doesn’t provide the most favorable experiences, to obey Him?
3) Are you willing, even when His timetable isn’t even close to matching yours, to trust Him?
4) Are you willing, even when He doesn’t explain Himself, to keep worshiping Him with your lips . . . and with your life?
Are you willing to say, in the way you’ll live tomorrow morning, God is God . . . and I am His surrendered child.