All Things Work Together for Good

Romans 8. 28 forms part of a section which leads up to the challenge “If God be for us, who can be against us?”, v. 31. Paul knew that it would be essential for the Roman Christians to appreciate something of the blessed-ness and privileges which formed part of their portion in Christ if they were ever to serve the Lord with cheerful-ness and freedom of spirit, and so to pass victoriously through the many difficulties and troubles that con-fronted them. He drew their attention therefore to the glorious prospect in store for the saints, vv. 21 -25, to the indwelling Spirit and His mysterious intercession, vv. 26-27, and to the working of divine providence, v. 28. Whether, therefore, we look forward, inward, or outward, the only conclu-sion that we can fairly reach is that God is “for us”. Consequently we need fear no lack, v. 32; no charge, v. 33; no condemnation, v. 34; and no separation from His love, vv. 35-39.

There are things which we do not know. For instance, we often do not know what to pray for as we should, v. 26; frequently we know neither what is best for us nor what are God’s plans for us. Very often we find that we do not know why certain things are allowed to happen; the circum-stances of life may seem like a jumbled jig-saw. God does not see fit to explain all His ways to us. The apostle tells us, however, of one thing which we do “know”; namely, that “all things work together for good to them that love God”, v. 28.

In the context the “all things” mentioned embrace afflictions (such as are detailed in verse 35) and ad-verse circumstances. These may be unpleasant, and even frightening, when viewed in themselves, but, within the control of God and as over-ruled by Him, they are useful and good. God causes “all things” to co-operate and contribute mutually to the good of those who love Him.

Paul is not claiming here that God works all things for His own glory, or that He uses my troubles and afflictions to profit others. Of course, He does both of these things – and Paul knew it. The apostle’s earlier history as an arch-enemy of the church had been marvellously turned by the Lord into an opportunity of His displaying the extent of His longsuffering as a pattern (a sketch) of those that should afterward believe on Him to life eternal, 1 Tim. 1. 12-16; Acts 22. 4; 26. 10-11. Many sinners have realized that they could be saved because the “chief” (the first, the greatest) of sinners has been saved. Again, Paul’s continually frustrated plans to visit Thessalonica turned out for good, 1 Thess. 2. 17-18. He knew that “the tempter’ was active at Thessalonica, 3. 5, and that Satan had engineered his absence from the church there. As a result, the apostle had occasion to write 1 Thessalonians, from which a large number of genera-tions of Christians have derived un-told profit. Satan certainly over-reached himself! However, Paul’s point in Romans 8. 28 is not that God can overrule events in our lives for the benefit of others, but that He so manages the affairs of our lives that they all contribute to our own good.

The Epistle to the Romans was written shortly after Paul’s second Epistle to the Corinthians, and, quite likely, soon after his Epistle to the Galatians. In writing both of these Epistles, Paul had occasion to recall events of many years before. The experiences which he recalled were anything but pleasant at the time, and yet, as he looked back on them, he could trace God’s hand at work.

The Visit which Required a Speedy Departure. Paul visited Jerusalem about three years after his conversion. He went to see the apostles, and Peter in particular, Gal. 1. 18, but encountered a little difficulty when he attempted to join {lit. glue, cement) himself to the disciples, Acts 9. 26. Paul had spent the three years since his conversion in Damascus and Arabia, vv. 20-25; Gal. 1.17, and the saints at Jerusalem still knew him only as a persecutor and an enemy. In consequence, they “were all afraid of him’, Acts 9. 26. Thanks, however, to the intervention and commendation of Barnabas the church received Paul. The apostle’s time at Jerusalem was spent in evangelism as well as in conference with Peter and James. His dispute with the Grecians (the Hellenists, Greek speaking Jews) soon landed him in hot water, v. 29. For his own safety (cf. v. 25 and 17. 14) the breth-ren “sent him forth” to Tarsus via Caesarea, v. 30. There may well have been a measure of reluctance on Paul’s part to leave. Certainly it must have been a great disappointment to the apostle to curtail his activities at Jerusalem, and to terminate his con-ference with Peter after only a fort-night. When Paul wrote Galatians 1, he was looking back on the events of Acts 9. His present problem was to establish beyond dispute that his apostleship was entirely independent of Jerusalem. In demonstrating that he was an apostle “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father”, 1. 1, he was able to point out that the Jerusalem apostles recog-nized his independent apostleship, 2. 1-10, and that he was so far from being an appointee of Peter that on one occasion he had actually rebuked Peter publicly, 2. 11-21. But he was also able to claim that for the first seventeen years of his ministry he had visited Jerusalem only once, and then for no more than fifteen days, 1.18. The fact that the Lord had per-mitted Paul to see Peter and James for little more than a fortnight formed an invaluable part of his argument. Paul could now see that what had been a great disappointment to him at the time had indeed worked for his good.

The Visions which Required a Spiritual Counter-balance. Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning his “thorn in the flesh”, and the reason for it, 2 Cor. 12. 7-10. He had been compelled to mention the subject of visions and revelations, vv. 1-6. It seems that one of the nasty things said about Paul at Corinth was that he never had any ecstasies or visions. The Corinthians, who had somewhat lost their heads over such things, would have regarded this as very important. The apostle felt compelled therefore to refer to an experience he had over fourteen years before when he had been “caught up” {lit. snatched away) into Paradise. Following this experience he had been inflicted with a “thorn in the flesh”, which he had reason to attribute to the malignity of Satan. The “thorn” was evidently physical, painful, and humiliating, and above all else Paul had seen it as interfering with his service for the Lord. He had therefore prayed about it three times, asking the Lord specifi-cally “that it might depart”, v. 8. The Lord had granted Paul two things, v. 9. First, He gave him grace. That is, the Lord dealt with the problem, although not in the way Paul had proposed. Paul had asked, in effect, that the Lord would remove the burden off his back, but the Lord undertook instead to strengthen the back which bore the burden. Second, He gave Paul an explanation. Note the word “for’ in verse 9. The Lord told Paul why He refused to remove the “thorn”. Paul had been concerned with his future usefulness for the Lord. The Lord taught him that his “thorn”, his weakness, was essential if he was to remain a vessel “meet for the master’s use”, 2 Tim. 2. 21. The danger was that on account of the abundant revelations he had received, the apostle would become lifted as high in conceit and pride as ever he had been in his vision! The “thorn” would therefore serve to keep him humble. As Paul looked back over fourteen years of later apostolic ministry he realized that the Lord’s way was best.

After dictating his letter to Rome (see 16. 22), Paul was to pass through many more experiences which would confirm the truth of his assertion that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (compare, for example, Acts 21. 26-33 with Phil. 1. 12-18). Yet already the Lord had furnished him with ample evidence of it. This assurance which Paul was able to give, backed up by his own ex-perience, must have meant much to the Roman believers when, some six years later, they faced the full brunt of Nero’s persecution. May we, too, share the apostle’s confidence that “all things” come within the range of God’s control.


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