All Things Work Together
Romans – A Gospel Shaped Life All Things Work Together Romans 8:28-29 Pastor Pat Damiani October 7, 2018 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. I’m going to begin this morning with a quick poll. What do you think is the most popular verse in the Bible? [Wait for answers] There was a time when it would have been really hard to prove which of those answers was right. But thanks to platforms like Bible Gateway and the YouVersion App, we actually have some empirical data that we can use to answer that question. For the last several years, the most popular verse on Bible Gateway has, not surprisingly, been John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV) The next four most popular verses seem to shift order from year to year, but they are all consistently in the top 5: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV) I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13 ESV) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 ESV) …and one of the verses we’re going to study today – Romans 8:28. We’ll read that in a moment. On the YouVersion App, the most popular verse worldwide last year was Joshua 1:9: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 ESV) But in the United States, the most popular was Romans 8:28. So that means that most of us in this room are probably familiar with that verse. In fact, I know that many of you could probably quote it word for word. But even though it is one of the most well-known Bible verses, I would suggest to you this morning that it is also one of the most misquoted, misunderstood and misapplied verses in the entire Bible. And unfortunately I say that based on my own personal experience. There have been times, especially as an immature Christian, where, with the best intentions I applied that verse in a way that was completely inappropriate. So this morning, what I hope to be able to do is to help all of us develop an understanding of that well-known verse that will allow us to apply it appropriately in our lives and in the lives of others. One of the main reasons that Romans 8:28 is misapplied is the same reason a lot of verses are misapplied – it is taken out of context. It needs to be read in the context of all of Romans 8, but particularly along with verse 29. So will you read those 2 verses out loud together with me: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 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. (Romans 8:28–29 ESV) I think that one of the reasons that verse 28 tends to be misused is because as a human I have a natural tendency to think this verse is all about me and what is good for me according to me. But what I hope that you’ll see this morning is that this passage is a whole lot more about God than it is about me. And therefore, this is the big idea that we all need to take away from this passage today: God’s purpose is bigger than my problems Perhaps one of the reasons that we tend to approach this passage from our own perspective rather than from God’s perspective is because of the way this verse gets translated in various English translations. We’ve already read verse 28 in the ESV, so let’s compare it to a couple of other popular translations: KJV: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. The wording here is actually very similar to the ESV, although there is a significant difference in the order of the words, which we’ll talk about in a moment. NASB: 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. NIV: 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. There is an important and significant difference between these two translations and both the ESV and KJV. In these translations God is explicitly said to be either causing all things to work together for good or working for the good. These differences in translations are due to both some minor differences in the underlying manuscripts and also due to the way the translators have decided to treat certain grammar. As we talked about a few months ago when we discussed why we can rely on the Bible, we don’t have Paul’s original letter. We only have copies and in some of those copies there are some minor differences that don’t in any way affect any doctrine that we find in the Bible. That is certainly the case here. So regardless of how verse 28 is translated ff we read it in context, especially given what we see in verses 29-30, there is little doubt here that it is God who is causing all things to work together for good – I will eventually define what the term “good” means the way Paul uses it here. Next week Steve is going to explain in more detail about how it is God who foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies His children and what that means. But for now, it is sufficient to point out that God is sovereign and in control and He is the one who is working out His purposes and plans in the midst of our difficulties and suffering It is not like the “all things” that Paul writes about here are just getting together on their own and figuring out a way to create good. Nor is life just a matter of fate or chance or karma, and God just shows up after a tragedy to make everything work out right. From beginning to end, he is using everything in our lives - the easy and the difficult, the pleasure and the pain, the happiness and the hurt – to accomplish His purpose for us. God’s purpose is bigger than my problems When we consider verse 28 in the context of all of chapter 8, that is the clear idea that we find there. God promises us that no matter how difficult or painful or long lasting those problems might be, God will bring good out of that because He has a bigger purpose that He is carrying out and He is using even our problems in that process. THREE IMPORTANT TRUTHS ABOUT THIS PROMISE 1) This promise is certain In Greek this sentence actually begins with the verb “we know”. In Greek, there are two main words that can be translated “to know”. The one that Paul uses here means to know inwardly. It describes knowledge that cannot be derived merely by experience or observation. By using that particular word here, Paul is emphasizing the idea that this truth may not be evident just by observing this world, but it is nonetheless 100% true and completely reliable and certain. This is in direct contrast to what we saw last week in verse 26 where Paul used this same word when he wrote that “we do not know what to pray for”. So what he is reminding us here is that in the midst of our suffering, we may not know what to pray for, but we can know with 100% confidence that God is working for good. And that out to be tremendously encouraging to us. 2) This promise is only for those who love God This is not a universal promise for everyone. Paul is not claiming here that life is going to work out for everyone regardless of their relationship with God. It is only a promise for those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. It’s interesting here that Paul doesn’t say “those who believe in God”, but rather “those who love God”. That is a phrase that Paul uses only three other times in his letters – all in 1 Corinthians. We don’t have time to look at those passages, but it is clear that Paul consistently uses that phrase to describe all Christians, not just some special class of Christian that loves God more than other Christians do. In fact, you can’t really believe in God unless you love Him and you can’t really love God unless you believe in Him. It's also important to note here that the word order in the original Greek emphasizes this idea and the ESV translation does the best job of making that clear. Right after the verb “we know” Paul emphasizes that this promise is only for “those who love God”. 3) This promise is not limited in scope Do you know what the phrase “all things” means in the underlying Greek? Yes, it literally means “all things”. • Does that include the good things God entrusts to us – our families, our jobs, our material possessions, our talents and abilities? All things. • Does that include our problems and difficulties? Does it include losing a job, or getting cancer or the death of a loved one? All things. • Does that include hurricanes and tsunamis, earthquakes, tornados and other natural disasters? All things. • Does that include war and pestilence and starvation? All things. • Does it include the minor frustrations of everyday life – car problems, traffic, long lines, problems at work, or an argument with our spouse? All things. • Does it include my sins? Please listen to me carefully here. Don’t go tell someone that Pastor Pat said it’s OK to sin because God will use that for good. As we see throughout the Bible sin always has horrible consequences that are far more far reaching that we could ever imagine. But when I sin if I repent and submit to God’s loving discipline, God can even use my sin for good. LET’S DEFINE “GOOD” I keep promising you that we’ll get around to defining the term “good” the way that Paul uses it here and it’s time to do that. I think most of the misunderstanding and misapplication of this verse occurs because of the failure to properly understand what Paul means when he uses the word “good”. Our natural tendency is to define “good” from a self-centered and often materialistic perspective. So we tend to think that “good” is a synonym for “comfortable”, or “pleasant” or “happy” or “healthy” or “wealthy”. But as we’re going to see, Paul does not use the word that way The word itself is a common word that means “beneficial”, “profitable” or “useful”. But the question we must ask is “Beneficial, profitable or useful for whom?” Unfortunately, the NIV translation, which is very good in many places, does us a big disservice. Let’s look at verse 28 from that translation again: 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. According to that translation, God is working in all things for the good of Christians – in other words, for our good. And let’s be honest, we like that don’t we? In our self-centered flesh, we want to believe that God is causing all things to work together for our good. Now that is certainly a byproduct of what God is doing. We do benefit personally from God working all things for good. But He has a much larger purpose in mind than just what is good for you or me. And that is reflected in the other translations we’ve looked at this morning that all just say that “all things work together for good”. Paul does not implicitly indicate for whose good, but when we look at this verse in context, it is clear that it is for the good of God accomplishing His purposes. This verse is immediately preceded by the idea that the Holy Spirit is praying for us according to the will of God. In verse 28, we see that this good is for those who have been called “according to His purpose”. And then in verse 29, Paul describes for us what that purpose is. So “good” whatever it is, is primarily about God’s purposes and only secondarily about us. So the key here is verse 29, where Paul describes the two-fold purpose that God is accomplishing when He works all things together for good. God’s two-fold purpose: 1. To make us more like Jesus The verb “conformed” means to create a likeness inside and out. It is a thorough change, not merely a superficial outward resemblance. And as we’ve seen in the last few weeks, that includes one day having a physical resurrection body like Jesus. In the meantime, it involves us changing internally so that our character becomes more and more like Jesus and because Jesus is more concerned with our character than our comfort and more concerned with our holiness than our happiness, He often brings difficult things into our lives for that purpose. 2. To create a large family We also see here that the Father desires that Jesus become the “firstborn among many brothers”. Right now the resurrected Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. And God’s desire is that as many as possible follow in His footsteps. So God often allows difficulties into our lives so that we can demonstrate the difference that Jesus makes in our lives in the way we handle those trials. When others observe the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, we bring the kingdom of God near to others and make the gospel more attractive. And in turn, more people become part of God’s family. So the “good” in this verse is primarily about God’s two-fold purpose of making us more like Jesus and increasing the size of His family. In that process, we obviously benefit personally, too. It is beneficial for us to become more like Jesus so that we’re better prepared for the amazing future that God has in store for us. But the “good” here is not all about us. HOW THE PROCESS WORKS So how does this process work? The fact is that we don’t always know exactly how God is working, but we get an important clue with the verb “work together”. In Greek that is just one word from which we get our English word synergy, which is the working together of various elements to produce something that is greater, better, and often completely different than the sum of the individual parts. Paul does not say here that all things are good. The difficult and evil things that happen to us are not good in themselves. But God puts them together in a way that creates something good. It is kind of like baking a cake from scratch. Most of the individual raw ingredients hardly taste “good” if we were to eat them by themselves. Who here wants to eat a couple cups of flour or some raw eggs or a teaspoon of baking powder? But in the hands of a skilled baker, those individual ingredients are combined in a way that something very good results. That is what God is doing in our lives. Right now you might be experiencing some of those bad tasting individual ingredients in your life. But you can be assured – as Paul says, you can know – that a skillful, experienced God is combing that with other elements in your life and the lives of others to accomplish His purposes and prepare you to spend eternity with Him. With the brief time we have left, let’s quickly look at some practical applications. HOW TO LET GOD WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD IN MY LIFE 1. Don’t call bad things “good” Most of us have probably heard someone say something like this. Maybe we’ve even said it ourselves: • “It’s really a good thing that you lost your job, because it just means that God wants to give you a better one.” • “You really shouldn’t be upset that your fiancée broke off the engagement. That’s really a good thing because it means God must have an even better life partner for you.” • “It’s a good thing that the stock market crashed and the value of your retirement account just got cut in half because that will make you rely upon God more.” And then after the person says something like that they’ll add. “After all Romans 8:28 promises that all things are good…” But Paul never says here that these things are good. So we need to be clear that the bad things that happen to us are not good in and of themselves. We shouldn’t call them good or pretend that they are good. We need to acknowledge that they are evil and difficult and painful. 2. Don’t try to explain the unexplainable Sometimes in our zeal to protect God, we try to explain why bad things happen to supposedly good people. While we’ve seen some reasons for that here in Romans 8 and we have a general understanding that bad things happen because we live in world that has been corrupted by sin, we need to be really careful about trying to figure out what God is doing in each individual situation. While God does sometimes give us a glimpse into what He is doing, far more often we have no idea how God is working our suffering and trials into His overall plan. And we need to be OK with that and just trust that God is doing what is necessary to make me more like Jesus and to bring more people into His family. 3. Do have a long-term perspective This is the message that we’ve already seen several times in this chapter, particularly in verse 18 where Paul reminds us that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to our future glory. Knowing that God is working in my life to prepare me to receive an inheritance that is far beyond anything that I can dream or imagine is the key to being able to persevere and even have joy in the midst of my trials. 4. Do seek God’s development rather than His deliverance in my trials It is not always wrong to pray for God to remove us from a painful situation, but in most cases that is probably not what we should pray first. Since we know that God often uses our suffering to make us more like Jesus, my first prayer ought to be that God would use the difficult circumstances in my life to accomplish that purpose. And we also ought to be praying that God would use my trials and the way that I handle them as a witness to others who have not yet put their faith in Jesus. As we close this morning, everyone here needs to do one of two things. First, there are some of you here this morning who need to… 1. Surrender and be saved. The promise of Romans 8:28 is exclusively for those who answer the call of God and accept Christ as Savior and Lord. As we saw earlier there is no limit to “all things” but there is a limit with regard to those whom the “all things” applies. Only those who love God and are called according to His purpose can count on that promise. So if you’ve never put your faith in Jesus alone, if you want the promise to apply to you, you need to do that today. For those who have already made that decision… 2. Thank God that He is working in you to make you more like Jesus. Sometimes we have a natural tendency to assume that the trials in our lives are God’s punishment for something that we’ve done wrong. And in some cases, it could very well be that God is using those trials to livingly discipline us. But far more often, when trials come they are just part of God’s much larger plan to make me more like Jesus and enable me to become a more effective witness for Him and the gospel. So as we pray in just a moment would you take a few moments to just thank God for that. God’s purpose is bigger than my problems Can you imagine how different our lives would be if we just understood that fact and lived our lives based on it? Can you imagine how Jesus could use us for His glory if we were consistently focused more on letting Him develop our character than we are on our comfort? Can you imagine the impact on the kingdom of God if we were constantly focused more on our holiness than our happiness? I know right now that many of you here this morning are going through some very painful situations in your life, but the good news is that if you are a disciple of Jesus, you can face those trials knowing without a doubt that God is working in your life to accomplish His purposes and that those purposes are so much bigger than your problems. [Prayer] Discussion Questions for Bible Roundtable 1. Who are “those who love God” in verse 28? Why do you think Paul uses the term “love” rather than “believe”, “trust”, or “follow”? 2. What are some ways that you have seen Romans 8:28 misused (or even misused it yourself)? How do we avoid doing that? 3. How does Paul’s definition of “good” in this passage differ from the way we naturally tend to define it? 4. Why do you think we have a desire to explain the unexplainable? What are some of the dangers of doing that? 5. Why can verse 28 only apply to those who have put their faith in Jesus? Why don’t all things work together for good for unbelievers? .