In All Things God Works for Good
Romans 8:18 – 39
In All Things God Works for Good
What is good?
What is “good”?
One of my teachers in school once told our class how he was trying to instill a moral compass into his 2 year old son, and so was teaching him, every time he was faced with a choice, to ask, “Is it good?”
“Is it good?”
It’s a helpful question to ask, but I couldn’t help but wonder if a 2 year old boy’s definition of good, might differ somewhat from his parents’ definition!
“Is it good for me to have all the toys, and my sister to be sitting over there, with no toys crying?”
“Yeah, I can live with that! It is good!”
The journal Psychology Today recently published some research in which people were asked to define “good.”
Not surprisingly, they got a range of different responses;
Good is the experience of pleasure,
Good is the absence of negative experiences,
Good is growth opportunities for me,
Here in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, we find this extravagant promise from God, about “good”;, in all things God works for the good of those who love him. But I wonder if, while we long for the good promised here, perhaps this is a promise that we don’t quite believe.
Or we don’t quite believe it, all the time.
I think we’d be much more confident in a promise that says we know that in “most” things, God works for the good of those who love him
That is, generally speaking we know that God works for our good, and yet for many of us, we find it hard to say that in all things, God works for good.
This week we’ve seen horrific pictures emerging from Iraq, Christian children being beheaded,
Christians being made to recite prayers to Allah, before being executed, and cut in two.
Is God really working for good there, in those situations?
The promise is good in theory, but does God’s promise stand, in the murder and mayhem in Northern Iraq?
Many of us, I know, are asking, what good can possibly come from this?
So our task for today is to find out if we think this extravagant promise from God is true, and if it is, what does that mean for us?
Those of you who are here regularly will know that our regular pattern in our Sunday teaching is to work our way through books of the Bible.
In this series, examining the extravagant promises of God, we’re departing from that usual practice, and dipping into, really just individual sentences. And what we’ve discovered, is that understanding the context of the promise, is hugely important.
The Bible isn’t intended to be read primarily by us picking a verse, and deciding how it applies to our lives. Rather, as Christians we believe that the best interpretation of the Bible comes from the Bible itself, and so to understand a passage, we need to understand its context.
The good God has in store outweighs present sufferings
This extravagant promise, that in all things God works for good is in fact the conclusion of an argument that runs through this section, and it’s an argument in which Paul contends, that for Christian people, the good that God has in store for us, far outweighs our present sufferings.
See in verse 18, at the beginning of our section Paul says that our present sufferings are nothing compared to what’s in the future. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing, with the glory that will be revealed in us.
What does God have in store?
God’s glory, revealed in us.
See, it’s not just the one day we will see God’s glory, that is, his magnificence, the radiance of his character, his goodness.
It’s that God’s glory will be seen in us.
But there’s also a sense in which the language here says, God’s glory will be revealed for us.
Who he is,
His majesty and power, will be revealed for us, in our experience.
Glorious resurrection bodies, that don’t get sick and wear out,
Freedom from sin and temptation,
Transformed into the image of his Son,
We will be the beneficiaries.
God has something so great, in store for those who are his, that no matter what hardship, or hurt, comes our way, it will pale into insignificance.
Now, you might be thinking, “That’s easy for you to say, Clayton,
Your family are healthy,
You have a job,
Your relationships are in pretty good shape,
Easy for you to say that present sufferings are nothing, but it’s not quite so easy for me, you may say.
You might be thinking,
I struggle with,
I’m caring for sick fami illness ly members,
I mourn for lost loved ones,
Grieve over broken relationships,
I lie awake at night fearful for my children,
I wrestle with the public agony of infertility,
I stare at the employment ads, and find nothing,
Perhaps even, you say, “I face my own death, much sooner than I had hoped and expected.”
But remember, these aren’t my words,
These are the assessment, the worldview of the Apostle Paul, who, elsewhere in the New Testament, describes his hardships;,
5 times being whipped,
3 times beaten with rods,
Once pelted with stones and left for dead,
In fear of his life, because of his faith in Jesus.
Here was someone who knew the reality of present sufferings.
And yet, so convinced is Paul, about what God has in store for his people, that he can say I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
I consider, It’s the language of settled decision,
“I’ve weighed up the options,
I’ve examined the evidence, and this is where it points,
Our future glory outweighs our present sufferings.
And so astoundingly brilliant, is this future glory, that the entirety of creation is groaning in longing for it.
See the eager expectation in verse 19, longing for God’s people God to receive their glory, so that creation will be, liberated from its bondage to decay, and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God
The futility, and frustration, and unfit-for-purpose-ness of creation, that occurred when sin entered the world in Genesis 3, will be undone, and the entire created order will fulfil the ends for which it was brought into being.
No wonder Paul does this personification of creation, eagerly awaiting. The language suggests someone craning their neck to try and see something that’s just out of sight! One Bible version even uses the phrase “on tiptoe”
So in January next year, when Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under finishes in Mount Barker, that’s what people will be doing, won’t they?! Craning their necks, eager to see what’s coming.
All of creation waits, for the good that God has in store for us to be revealed.
Present sufferings are still real sufferings
And so Paul can say, we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
Reading through the New Testament, you notice that when Paul really wants to pull Christians into line for wrong theology, or wrong practices, he tends to say Don’t you know, such and such.
As if, “You ought to know, but you’re not acting like it.”
But when he wants to come alongside Christians who are a little battered and beaten,
When he wants to provide encouragement, and assurance, his language is slightly different.
That’s when he says, we know, or you know.
“You already know this,
You’ve already been convinced,
You’ve already believed,
You already have everything you need, to benefit from this”,
Which, is, his language here, isn’t it?
we know, that in all things, God works for the good
When we’re faced with adversity,
When we endure the present sufferings of a world out of step with its creator, and especially present for those who identify with Jesus,
When verses 18 to 27 are our experience, we don’t need to seek out some new teaching about God.
The message that we have already believed,
The message that Paul’s original readers had already believed, that’s the place to turn to find comfort amidst suffering.
I saw an advertisement this week, promising “the comfort of innovation”, I think it was an ad for air-conditioning, which was slightly ironic since I saw the ad on the coldest August day for 126 years!
“Enjoy the comfort of innovation,” they said.
But it’s not to innovation that Christian people turn for comfort.
Christian people, people who long for the glory that will be revealed, we enjoy the comfort of what we’ve already believed.
Because of what we already know and have believed about God, we know, that in all things, God works for the good
If you are a Christian, then the God whom you have believed in, acts like this.
Which means, doesn’t it, that if this promise seems too extravagant,
Too far beyond our reach,
Simply too good to be true,
Then our gospel is sub-standard.
This promise isn’t an optional add-on, for the Christian who has that extra degree of faith,
When I bought a bass guitar once I was offered the “extended warranty program”, “not essential” they said, but highly recommended.
That’s not this promise.
This promise is for every Christian. And if the gospel that we have believed, or which we live by excludes this promise, it’s time to expand our gospel, and take on the full gospel of God.
In all things God works for the good of his people
We know, that in all things God works for the good of his people
All things, is a fairly broad category! Paul is obviously thinking specifically of the present sufferings that he and other Christians are facing,
But we can’t limit it to that.
All things, means all things.
Even now, you sitting here listening to me! No matter what you think the outcome of these few minutes is likely to be, whether good or, something else! God is working in this, for your good, and for my good.
That is, everything that happens to us, is useful.
God is able to use everything, all things, for our good.
But as I say, there is a focus on present sufferings,
The passing of people we love,
The times we treat people badly, and when other people treat us badly.
These are bad things,
They are evil things,
These are the things that flow from a world broken by sin and groaning under its effects. God hates these things, and yet in them, God works for good.
in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
But God’s extravagant promise here, is that no matter what the harshest circumstance you might face, he will work in it for your good.
But it’s not just things will work out for good, on their own, as if Paul has some supremely optimistic view of history and human experience. During the 1997 British election, The Labour party used that song “Things can only get better” as their campaign theme song!
It’s not just that things will get better.
This isn’t a promise that things will work out in the end,
That things will get better,
That the only way is up,
It, sounds like I’m listing Top 40 pop songs, doesn’t it, because that’s the only hope that countless millions in our world cling to, that somehow, things, will get better.
There’s a famous line in the move The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where Sonny, the young and optimistic hotel manager says, “Everything will be all right in the end.
If it’s not all right, then it's not yet the end.”
It’s that hope and nothing more, that many of our friends and family cling to,
But that hope, is nothing compared to this extravagant promise from God. That God himself, works for the good.
Do you see the difference?
If you’re a Christian person, which, I imagine most of us either are, or are interested in becoming,
If you’ve believed in the good news of Jesus’ death in your place,
The good news of a God who pours out his grace on you, his undeserved kindness, despite your rebellion against him.
If you’re a Christian, God doesn’t just promise you that things will be good in the end.
God promises you, today, that he is working, for your good.
So what is the “good” for which God works?
So I guess the pressing question, is “What is the good?
What is it that we’re hanging out for?
God doesn’t call sin and suffering good
Firstly, Paul isn’t saying, that all things are good.
I’ve known people who have reacted against these words, “Are you telling me,” they ask, “that my mother’s cancer is good?
That my broken marriage is good?
That my inability to conceive a child is good?”
To which we could add, the atrocities being committed today this moment, this instant, in Iraq. Some of you saw the picture I posted online from Anglican News, fathers and sons, hugging each other, as they’re loaded into trucks, driven away to their execution.
Nothing good about that.
And God doesn’t call that good.
But so committed is God to his people, that he will work for their good, even in those situations, in which, well we don’t know what to do sometimes, do we?
That’s what verses 26 and 27 tell us about the role of God’s Spirit in our prayers. Sometimes things are so bad, so much the opposite of good, that not only do we not know what to do, we don’t even know how to pray.
I think it was Bishop Festo Kivengere from Uganda, who, having fled the country when Idi Amin murdered the Archbishop of Uganda, He was in London once, and was asked, “What shall we pray for Uganda, in the face of such terrible, terrible atrocities?”
He said, “Pray, ‘God, Uganda’”
There will be times when things are so bad,
When the groaning of our world under the weight of sin is so great, that we don’t even know what to pray.
God, is not calling everything that you face, good.
But he promises that in all things, he is working for your good.
Think of Joseph, in the book of Genesis. Most of us will be familiar with the events of his life. At the end of that story, after Joseph’s brothers have treated him appallingly,
Sold him into slavery,
He’s been falsely accused,
They told their father Joseph was dead.
And then when their father dies, they panic, and so they send a message to Joseph, saying “Before he died, Dad said you have to forgive us and be nice to us”, which I’m not convinced their father did actually say, but it’s worth a shot!
But how does Joseph respond? Genesis 50 verse 20, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
It was evil, but God in his sovereignty and power, used it for good, for his own purposes.
And of course, the death of Jesus, by which God achieves our forgiveness and liberation from sin.
In Acts chapter 2, the Apostle Peter stands up before the crowds in Jerusalem, and he talks about Jesus, This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge;, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
Even in that, supreme act of wickedness, God is working for good.
Please don’t hear in these words, your suffering being called good.
It may be the result of terrible wickedness, but God works in that for good.
God doesn’t make sin good
It’s also probably good to note also, that God isn’t promising to turn bad things into good things.
Is it wrong for you to cheat on your tax return?
To sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend?,
To lie to the boss?
To lie to your spouse?
Is it wrong for you to entertain lustful thoughts?,
To be greedy for money?
To trust in your bank balance for your security?
To indulge in the idolatry of career, or status, or family, or ministry?
Yes, each and every one of those things is wrong, the Bible is clear, and that’s just a list off the top of my head.
To say that in all things God works for the good of those who love him doesn’t mean, as some people say, and as you may have heard people say, that God turns those things into good.
That because you’re a Christian,
Then no matter what you do,
No matter how disobedient,
That that behaviour somehow becomes OK.
God is not a cosmic alchemist.
He does not change lead into gold,
Sin into good.
This isn’t permission for us to disobey, because God will magically turn it into good!
God’s promise is not to count your choices as good, but in all of your choices, to work for your good.
Which leaves us with the realisation, that the good for which God works, is not necessarily what we think is good.
It’s not necessarily the good that we long for,
Do you know the story of Pollyanna? It’s over a hundred years old now, but it’s the story of a young girl who always looks for the good in every situation.
It started one Christmas, when, as poor child, she was receiving a toy from a charity. She was hoping for a doll, but the only thing left was a pair of crutches.
Her father pointed out, actually she had reason to be happy, because she didn’t need the crutches!
There’s even a psychological tendency named after her, called the Polyanna Principle!
The Apostle Paul isn’t teaching us, that hidden in every situation, is something intrinsically good, that we just have to identify.
No, God’s good, the good that God is working for you, now, is much, much greater, thatn simply whatever glimmer of hope we can see in a dark situation.
This is an extravagant promise for Christian people
But notice also, that this isn’t a universal promise from God.
This is a promise that God works in all things, for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
This is an extravagant promise of God to Christian people.
And you might have noticed how we’re described in 2 different ways, 2 sides of the same coin.
A Christian is someone who loves God.
And a Christian is someone who has been called according to God’s purpose.
It’s like we’re looking at the same group of people from the human perspective, and from God’s perspective.
Of course, to say that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, isn’t to say, those who love him enough.
The point of this promise isn’t to make us love God more, so that he will work for our good.
And it also doesn’t mean, that people who aren’t Christians don’t get anything good from God’s hand.
The Bible is clear that every good gift, whether people recognise it or not, comes from God.
But the other side of this coin, reminds us why this particular promise, is only for Christian people, only can be, for Christian people, those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
See, God has something in mind for his people,
Something in store,
God has a purpose.
And here we find what the purpose is, what exactly the good is, that God is working towards for us,
It’s to make us like his Son, Jesus.
God’s “good” is for us to become like Jesus
in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
What good does God want for you?
He wants you to be like Jesus.
conformed to the image of his Son
And all things, are useful to God, to that end;
To teach us about himself,
To teach us about ourselves,
To remind us what is good,
To draw us closer to him,
To teach us how to serve others,
To show us what it means to have no other gods before him,
To learn how to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength,
To seek first his kingdom,
To know that the highest good of the gospel is to have God himself.
We may not know, in any particular situation, exactly how God is over-ruling to make us more like Jesus, we may not know this side of eternity.
Although there are occasions, aren’t there, when we can see how God has used our sufferings to make us more like Jesus.
Here Paul pictures different aspects of God’s work in us, as he reconciles us who were his enemies.
He foreknew us, that is, he chose us before we did anything to get his attention,
He predestined us, God is the author of our salvation, from start to finish.
But God didn’t predestine us to a comfortable life,
He predestined us to be made like Jesus,
predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son
That is God’s goal for you.
In every situation of life, God is working towards that end,
And this is how we know, that in every circumstance of life, in every present suffering, God is working for our good,
Because that’s the end point.
For us to be like Jesus.
How could God possibly, not be working for our good, if he has already predestined us to that end?
And if you cast your eyes down to verse 30, where Paul continues adding the links in this chain of salvation, And those he predestined, he also called;,
those he called, he also justified;,
those he justified, he also glorified,
But what did verse 18 say? God’s glory will be, revealed in us, for us.
Glory is something that awaits God’s people after our resurrection from the dead.
And yet here in verse 30, Paul speaks about our glorification, in the same way as these other aspects of salvation that are already ours!
How can Paul speak about our future glorification as if it’s something that we already have?
It’s because Paul is so certain that each and every one of God’s people will be glorified, he writes as if it has already taken place.
God has willed it,
He has predestined it.
It is, as good as done.
That’s what God’s Word is like.
When he says something, he does it!
In fact we could just about take all these extravagant promises of God that we’re looking at, and write them down in the past tense, so confident we can be, in their fulfilment.
So when God promises, to work in all things for our good, how confident do you reckon we can be, that he will?
So confident, we can talk about it as a done deal.
We can talk about it, as if it’s already happened.
See friends, we can know that this extravagant promise of God is true,
Not because we can see the good in every situation,
Not because we can always point to our lives and recognise “that, there, that’s how this trial is making more like Jesus”,
No, we can be sure this extravagant promise from God is true, because if you’re a Christian, if you love God, then God has drawn you into relationship with himself, and simultaneously, is drawing you more and more into the likeness of his Son, Jesus, and he speaks here in his Word about you, as if you already glorified with Jesus.
Since that is what God has called you to,
Since that is God’s purpose,
That is God’s destination for you,
Since that is how God speaks about you,
No suffering, will get in the way.
No hardship, will stop you becoming like Jesus,
Nothing will stop you from sharing in his glory.
This time tomorrow,
Whether you’re at home,
Gazing longingly at your dearly beloved,
Whatever it is, I’m convinced, that this promise speaks into your situation.
This time tomorrow, If you’re a Christian, remember that God is on your side, he is in your corner, he is working in all things for your good.
It’s not out of the realms of possibility, that by this time tomorrow, the wheels might have fallen off your day, or your week, or your life!
This time tomorrow, you have much more to cling to, than “it will be alright in the end”
God, works, for your good.
This time tomorrow, will you hear this promise, and, if necessary, enlarge your picture of good?
So often, we think that God should work off our definition of “good.”
Our definition of good, which in so many ways is a product of a late 20th, early 21st century,
South Australian concept of good!
Do you think there’s a chance that your picture of good might have missed something!
Do you need to enlarge your picture of good in order to see more clearly, how your present sufferings, are part of God’s work in changing you, form what you are by nature, to what he wants you to be, conformed to the image of his Son.
Do you need to enlarge your picture of good?
This time tomorrow will you need to enlarge your picture of God?
When perhaps you’re all too aware, of a world that is groaning, and you think that the promise of a God who works all things for good, is an extravagant promise made, to someone else,
The Christian who loves God more.
We know, in all things God works for the good.
This isn’t an optional extra, the extended warranty plan, this is, Christian brother or sister, the God whom you have believed in,
It is his promise to you.
Which also means, that if you’re not a Christian, then this time tomorrow, or maybe even this time, today, will you enlarge your picture of God, to see God as the God who has room for you, in his family,
Who calls you,
Who longs to work in all things for your good, and to make you like his Son, that one day you might share in your glory?
This time tomorrow, will you, will each one of us, will we reduce our picture of our sufferings.
Not in any way to minimise their reality,
Or the hurt they cause,
Or the wickedness and sin that might lie behind them.
But will we reduce the picture of our sufferings, so that we see them as not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us, and so we see them as completely overruled, by our sovereign God.
And this time tomorrow, when you’re confronted yet again . with images of the genocide being perpetrated before our eyes in Iraq, will you pray for Christian brothers and sisters there, and ask that amidst the horror of their situation, that they will become more and more like Jesus,
That even in the face of death, they might long, for this good, to be conformed to the image of their Saviour and King, Jesus Christ.
Just last week, I happened to come across an article by Joni Eareckson Tada. Some of you will know of her, a quadriplegic since she broke her neck diving into the ocean as a 17 year old.
On the 30th of July this year, she wrote .
“Today, 47 years ago, I took a reckless dive into shallow water –
It was a fateful dive which completely altered my life.
At first, when doctors told me I would be a quadriplegic, I sank into a deep depression. Thankfully, Christian friends were praying and, eventually, I began to take a closer look at the Bible to see what God had to say about my plight.”
Listen to this bit, “I learned that the God of the Bible is sometimes sovereign. He does not occupy the throne one day and vacate it the next.
He is supremely in charge, (often for purposes we cannot understand the side of eternity).”
The God of the Bible, is not sometimes sovereign.
we know, that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.