“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,”-Romans 8:28
These words of the Holy Spirit through Paul can be equal parts comforting, perplexing, misapplied, and as Peter would say, “hard to understand,”-II Peter 3:16. To grasp the meaning, we must start with what the word of God is not telling us. The Bible does not contain the promise, “God will only allow good things to happen to his children.” In fact, the opposite is true, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”-II Timothy 3:12. This passage is telling us God has larger concerns in the world than individual comfort. And that is a good thing!
This verse highlights the great conflict of the ages between death, “the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”-Ephesians 6:12, and life, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”-Romans 6:23. This is the battle Jesus has already won, will win, and God has made certain by directing the history of the world to forward this one goal, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ as Lord.”-Philippians 2:10-11.
The key to understanding the passage is the phrase, “for those who love God.” If I truly love God, my prayer will be for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). God’s desire for this world it to see the kingdom of his Son grow. In that way, God is glorified (Philippians 2:14) and the maximum number of people become obedient believers (I Timothy 2:4; II Peter 3:9).
Toward this end, God has raised and felled many an earthly kingdom. The Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, and Romans all fulfilled the purpose of God in ways that seemed terrible to the people of Israel (II Kings 25:1-21; Isaiah 7:18-19) and at other times glorious (Ezra 1:1-4; Nehemiah 2:1-6). Listen carefully! All things were working out for good. Why? Because all those events, even the ones that led to the death and captivity of individual Israelites, were part of bringing Jesus and salvation in his name into the world.
Joseph and Paul both understood this concept; “Sometimes evil must come to me for good to spread to the many.” Joseph was envied and scorned by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, accused of rape, thrown in jail, forgotten, lied to and lied about to his father. How was Joseph not bitter? His heart was sewn to the will of God. What Satan meant for death, God used for life. Joseph told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”-Genesis 45:7-8.
On a smaller scale, something bad for Paul, in his personal life, turned out to be good for him and all Christians. Paul was, “caught up to the third heaven…caught up into paradise.”-II Corinthians 1:2-3. God understood, Paul could become overly impressed with himself over this gift. An arrogant man is no use to a Christ who washes feet (John 13:14-17). So, God allowed Paul to be physically afflicted, “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”-II Corinthians 12:7. The Lord did not answer Paul’s prayer to remove this pain, but things were working out for good in two ways. 1) The apostle remained humble and experienced the grace of God to strengthen the Christian in a time of weakness. 2) We now have an example of the truth, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”-II Corinthians 12:10.
In all things, let us pray for God’s will to be done in this world, “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”-Daniel 4:32. Never forget, evil and death are at work in this world and will deliver a sting. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”-I Peter 5:8. But God gives grace to those who, “Resist him, firm in your faith,”-I Peter 5:9.
All things work together for good because we have the firstfruits of eternal life and a salvation no one can take from us. What can man do to me?!?! I am a son of God. I am going to heaven to live with my Jesus for eternity! “’O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”-I Corinthians 15:55-57. It’s all good. Praise God!
[Editor’s note: This article was written as a companion to a couple of videos posted to my YouTube page. What appears above is the article as it was published in the bulletin (August 29, 2021). What is written below was added for the sake of those who watched the videos (links below article.)-JS]
There is no doubt, bad things may happen to a Christian as part of God’s larger plans for the church. Persecution brings about the spreading of the gospel. My experience of tragedy makes me more fully equipped to minister to someone else as they endure trauma. But just as Romans 8:28 is not telling us God will only bless his children; neither is it saying, “All bad things that happen to me are part of God’s will for nations and the church.” Satan is alive as well.
One thought we must all maintain is that death is direct result of sin and sin came into this world at the hands of Satan (Genesis 3:13; John 8:44). We must never blame God for sin and death, nor their consequences. Bad things happen to us because we live in a world run by the devil, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”-Ephesians 6:12.
We live in a world that will melt with fervent heat and be rolled up like a garment. As long as we are in this world, we will undergo hardships and it is God’s will to allow this world to run its course. Our Lord will strengthen us to overcome hardships but never promises to hide us from them. Romans 5:12 is true today, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” We praise God because Romans 5:21 proclaims freedom to the captive, “as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen and Praise God!
Video #1: https://youtu.be/N7Zm8VD06Lk
Video #2: https://youtu.be/n_zy0V6PhVE