“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” (Romans 8:28).
For those who love God in Jesus Christ, this promise is one of the most precious and amazing promises in all of God’s Word. Just 13 simple words in Greek; 25 words in English, only two of which are more than one syllable, yet the teaching encompasses God’s plan of the ages and eternal election, God’s omniscience and omnipotence, God’s love, God’s redeemed people, and the earthly lives of every soul on earth. It is a companion to the teaching of Romans 5:3-5.
Consider the certainty of the promise (“we know”). The reason we “know” these things is because God has revealed them to us. Without the Bible we don’t know anything for sure about God and life, which reminds us that the Bible is worth more than the whole world and understanding the Bible is the most valuable pursuit in life. God wants His people to know these things. He wants us to have a know-so salvation and a know-so relationship with Him.
Consider the recipients of the promise (“to them that love God, who are the called according to his purpose”). The promise of Romans 8:28 is not for all people. It is presumptuous for someone to try to claim this promise if they don’t fit the description of those for whom the promise was given. The promise of Romans 8:28 is for the adopted sons of God. This is the context beginning in Ro. 8:14. The promise of Romans 8:28 is for “them that love God.” Note how that the passage describes the redeemed. It doesn’t say “to them that know God,” though that would be true, because salvation is to know God (“this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God,” Joh. 17:3). Rather, the Scripture says “to them that love God.” Loving God is the fruit and evidence of salvation. Man was made to love God with all his being (De. 6:5). This is what God wants and what He seeks. Adam’s posterity are at enmity with God, and the goal of salvation is to bring man back into a relationship of love for the Creator. Christ took very seriously the fact that the church at Ephesus had left its first love (Re. 2:4-5). The promise of Romans 8:28 does not apply to those who “love God” by their own definition, but by the Bible’s definition, which means they obey God’s Word. Jesus emphasized this: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (Joh. 14:21), and, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (Joh. 14:23). The apostle John also emphasized that love for God evidences in keeping his commandments. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 Jo. 5:3), and, “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments” (2 Jo. 1:8). “Love” in Romans 8:28 is a present active participle, indicating continuous action. They love God as a way of life, not in a once in a while mystical elation. They are lovers of God. That is who they are, because they have been born into God’s family by His Spirit in them they cry Abba, Father. The promise of Romans 8:28 is for those who are “the called according to His purpose.” The call of God to sinners is through the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Th. 2:14). It is God’s purpose that all who hear and believe be saved (Joh. 6:40; 1 Ti. 2:3-4; 2 Pe. 3:10). It is God’s purpose “to redeem us from all iniquity, and purity unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). Sinners aren’t called for their purpose, but for God’s purpose. They aren’t called to have a “ticket to heaven” while they continue to live as they please in this present world; they are called to live for God. When I respond to the gospel by repentance and saving faith, I enter into the purpose of God. I am purchased and adopted and become a part of His great business. I am to give myself 100% to do His will. “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Co. 6:20). It is God’s purpose that the redeemed will be conformed to the image of His Son (Ro. 8:29). So we know that all situations and trials are for the purpose of molding and shaping the believer into this image. We see in Romans 8:28 that there are people who love God, that it is possible to love God through His free redemption. Loving God is a response to God’s love (“we love him, because he first loved us,” 1 Jo. 4:19).
Consider the meaning of the promise. It means exactly what is says: all things work together for good to them that love God. He has planned their lives; He is in control of their lives; He is watching over their lives; He is using their lives for His purposes. The verse does not say that all things are good in themselves; it says that they work together for good. Evil things and evil times are not good in themselves, but they work together for good under God’s hand. We see this clearly in the lives of the saints who are recorded in Scripture (e.g., Job, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses). Consider Jacob’s situation in Genesis 42. He thought that Joseph had been killed about 25 years before and still grieved for him. There was a terrible famine. His sons had gone to Egypt to get food, and the ruler of Egypt had treated them roughly and kept Simeon and demanded that Benjamin be brought to him. Joseph’s response was “all these things are against me” (Ge. 42:36), because he did not have his eyes on the God who had promised to be with him and to bless him. “Joseph was gone; Reuben was disgraced; Judah was dishonored; Simeon and Levi had broken his heart; Dinah was defiled; Simeon even now was in prison; beloved Rachel was dead; famine threatened the family. Then came the demand from Egypt that young Benjamin must appear there before its awesome governor before any further supplies would be released. Old Jacob wept, ‘Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me’ (Ge. 42:36). How wrong he was! ‘These things’ and many more were secretly working to his own good, as the end of the story proved” (John Phillips).
Consider the extent of the promise (“all things”). The context is the trouble that we experience in this fallen world (Ro. 8:22-23), but the promise encompasses absolutely everything that happens to those who love God. “It covers the good and the bad, the bright and the dark, the sweet and the bitter, the easy and the hard, the happy and the sad. It may be depended upon in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness, in the calm and in the storm, in life and in death” (H.L. Willmington). Consider Job. “All things” for him meant the violent death of his children, the sudden loss of all of his wealth, the unexpected onslaught of a terrible disease, the failure of his wife’s faith, the misunderstanding and lack of compassion of his best friends, and the mocking of society at large. “All things” truly means all things! Job teaches the saint to trust God in the direst of circumstances. On the other hand, all things did not work for good for the Sabeans and Chaldeans who killed Job’s family, and we can be sure that they were rewarded for their evil deeds. Consider Joseph. All things meant the hatred and rejection of his brothers, being sold into captivity for 13 years (compare Ge. 37:2 and 40:46), being slandered by a wicked woman (Ge. 39:7-20), being imprisoned and bound in irons (Ps. 105:17-18). But all things did not work for good for the Ishmaelites and for Potiphar’s wife. Consider Hannah. All things included her barenness, the plural marriage, and the mocking of the other wife (1 Sa. 1-3). Consider Naomi. All things included the loss of her husband and sons in Moab (Ruth 1-2). Consider David. All things included being chased by Saul for years, being lied about by his wife, and his possessions stolen and wives kidnapped by the Amalekites. But all things did not work for good for Saul and Michal and the Amalekites. Consider Mephibosheth. All things included his crippling in childhood (2 Sa. 4:4). Consider the “little maid” of 2 Ki. 5:2-3. All things involved being taken as a slave to Syria. Since all things work together for good for those who love God, there is no bad for them! “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29:11).
Consider what the promise teaches us about God. First, the promise of Ro. 8:28 shows the greatness of God’s power and wisdom. He is able to work all things together like a gigantic chess board, because He is in control of all things. Compare Ps. 75:5-7; Isa. 40:22-23; Jer. 27:5-7; Da. 2:20-21. Second, the promise of Ro. 8:28 shows the greatness of God’s compassion and tender mercies. We must not forget that this great promise is for sinners--redeemed sinners, but sinners nonetheless. Indeed, as Peter says, the child of God can cast his care upon God “for he careth for you” (1 Pe. 5:7). Third, the promise of Ro. 8:28 teaches us that God is near and not far away. He is intimately involved in the affairs of men.
Consider the practicality of the promise. Romans 8:28 enables the redeemed to be encouraged in difficult and puzzling situations, such as those mentioned previously. I think of two young, promising preachers in Nepal who died of cancer. I think of a missionary family that perished in a plane crash after only two years of labor. Romans 8:28 helps us obey authority. Since God tells me to obey (Ro. 13:1-3; Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:18; Heb. 17:17), I can obey while trusting that He is in control. By this great knowledge, I can “be subject ... not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward” (1 Pe. 2:18). The believing wife who loves God can submit even to a husband who does not obey God’s Word, because her eyes are upon God and she knows that God is in control of her situation. Romans 8:28 helps us not to become angry and bitter and discouraged by life’s trials. The child of God has his eyes upon God in every trial so that he is not overwhelmed. Consider the untimely death of a son or daughter. The believing father and mother sorrow at such an event, but not like the world. Romans 8:28 helps us not to be offended by those who sin against us. Consider Joseph. He could have held a grudge against his brothers and taken revenge on them, but he did not do so because he understood that his life was in God’s hands. “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Ge. 45:5).
Consider the eternal scope of the promise (Ro. 8:29-30). The word “for” ties Romans 8:28 together with Romans 8:29-30. All things work together for good to them that love God because they are the objects of eternal election. They are foreknown, predestinated, and called (Ro. 8:29-30); they are the elect (Ro. 8:33). They are elect according to God’s foreknowledge (“whom he did foreknow,” compare 1 Pe. 1:2). God has had them in mind forever. They are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world (Ac. 15:18). All events in human history are under the sovereign control of a God who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” and the redeemed are “predestined according to the purpose” of this God (Eph. 1:11). The eternal plan that God is working out in history is “that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10). So everything that happens in the life of the redeemed is encompassed within this great eternal program. The better we understand this, the more effectually we can live our lives for His glory and do His will and face every trial with confidence. The believer can know that he is in God’s hands (Joh. 10:27-29) and his times are in God’s hands (Ps. 31:15) and all times are in God’s hand, because He is the Creator of the times (“he changeth the times and the seasons,” Da. 2:21). Jesus said the Father has put the times in his own power (Ac. 1:7). God’s redeemed are not mere cogs in a giant wheel. They are not merely caught up in, and carried along by, a flood of events over which they have no control. They are in the hands of the One who “sitteth upon the flood” and is “king forever” (Ps. 29:11).
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