What you know can change your perspective on things. Let me give you some examples. Suppose you are walking along and a person jumps out at you; you find yourself surrounded by fire; or you are caught in a flood. Naturally, you will likely be terrified unless you know that you are at Universal Studios and these things are all part of the special effects.
You may face intense abdominal pain. The natural reaction is to be very concerned and perhaps even wonder if you are dying . . . unless you know that you are 9 ½ months pregnant and then you feel a rush of excitement and anticipation.
Maybe you receive a check in the mail for $10,000.00. Normally this would make you giddy with joy unless you know that it was sent to you by a loan company who will charge you exorbitant interest rates if you cash that check.
What we know changes our perspective. In our text this morning Paul tells us that “we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose”. It is one of the most comforting and perspective altering promises in the Word of God. This morning we ask three questions: How do we know this promise is true? What is it that we can claim is true? And how does this truth change our approach to living?
HOW WE KNOW THIS IS TRUE?
Paul declares that we “know” that God is working all things for the good. It’s a great sentiment. It is something we want to be true. However, how do we know that this promise is true? Let’s face it, as we look around, it often appears that nothing good is happening. There are wars, relationship problems, financial difficulties, devastating diseases, tragedies, and a host of people who are looking to make others their victims. So if we can’t know this promise is true by simply looking around, how do we conclude it is true at all?
The first reason we “know” it is true is because of God’s Word. The Bible tells us that God is in control of the world and what happens in it. Time and again we are told that God rules over all things. In 1 Samuel 2:6-9 Hannah, the mother os Samuel declares,
6 “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. 7 The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; upon them he has set the world. 9 He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.
In Daniel 2:20-22 the prophet Daniel says,
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.
In Proverbs 16:9 King Solomon writes, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” God can alter any situation and produce any effect He so desires. These passages do not tell us that God causes everything to happen. What they tell us is that God has authority over everything. He can use any circumstance in any way He chooses.
There are hundreds of these kinds of verses scattered throughout the Bible. They tell us that God is in control. In addition to these explicit statements we see this truth illustrated by many examples in the Bible.
Do you remember the great testimony of Joseph in Genesis? He was abused by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely charged with rape, and forgotten for years in the prison system. After he got out of prison and met his brothers for the first time in years they thought he would exact revenge. Yet, Joseph said,
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)
Think through the scriptures and the stories of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Tamar, David, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Jonah, Daniel, Job and so many more. All of these people discovered that in spite of difficult times, God was working for their good and His glory. Of course, the best example of this principle is Jesus. In spite of the bitter rejection, cruel beatings and tragic death, God was working through these things for our good.
The second thing the Bible tells us is that God loves us. In the verses that follow our text, Paul argues,
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
The argument is very simple: God has proved His love in giving us His Son. If God is in control (and He is) and since He has already invested heavily in us through Christ (thus proving His love), then we need to know God is not going to let anything ‘bad’ happen to us.
The final way we “know” is by personal experience. Our personal experience is always the most potent testimony we have. It may not be the most reliable testimony, but it is the most powerful testimony.
We do not have to look very far back in our lives to see a host of circumstances that just seemed to “work out”. We can recount times when we said, “I don’t think I can make it through this” but we found a seemingly supernatural strength helping us. We can see that the times our faith grew the most was when the times were most difficult. We can look back and see that our hearts were enlarged because of our own times of suffering.
We can “know” that God is working in and through our lives because of the promises of the Bible, the examples of the Bible, the evidence of God’s love, and our own personal experience.
WHAT IS IT WE SHOULD KNOW?
What the Promise Does Not Say. It is important that we read this promise carefully. We must not make it say more than it actually says. Paul does not tell us that all things ARE good. There are many things in life that are not good. The Bible never implies that war, disease, divorce, abuse, injustice, tragedy, inflation, immorality, abusive government regimes and so forth are good things. They are evil things. The Bible does not tell us that everything IS good.
Second, the command does not say that this “good” that God brings about is according to our definition of good. It is best to understand that God is working in all things for the ULTIMATE good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
To us, good is that which is easy, pleasant, and satisfying. If it were up to us we would never have to go through physical training, would never take a test, and would certainly never have to go through labor or surgery of any kind. We are shortsighted. We define “good” by what is most pleasant for the moment. God defines “good” as that which moves us in the direction of Christ-likeness and prepares us for Heaven.
Third, this promise does not say that we will always see or understand the good that God is doing. I don’t know if I will ever understand why God allows the death of children. I don’t know why natural disasters strike as they do. I will never understand the sudden upheaval that comes after a devastating and tragic accident. But, just because I don’t understand doesn’t mean these things are not being used for God’s purposes.
The Condition of the Promise. Notice that there is a condition to this promise. “God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.” In other words, this is a promise that applies only to the true believer; the one who has been transformed by God and is being “conformed to the image of His Son.” (v.29)
In other words we cannot tell everyone, “God always works things out for the good.” That’s not what the promise says! The promise says that God works all things for the good in the life of the believer.
Theologian R.C. Sproul makes the point in a dramatic way. He declares that for the Christian there is no such thing as ‘tragedy’ because ultimately any painful time will become a blessing from God. On the contrary, for the non-believer even every “blessing” is actually a tragedy in disguise. This is because when a non-Christian is blessed they do not thank God. The blessing only serves to make them feel more self-sufficient, which in turn moves them even further from the gracious gift of eternal life through Christ. This is the greatest tragedy of all.
What God Does Promises Us. He promises that in the life of the believer He will work everything (note the word “all”) together for the good. The word for “works for the good” is the word from which we get our English term synergism; this is the idea of various elements working together to perform an effect great than, and often completely different from, the sum of each element acting separately. In other words, in the physical world the right combination of otherwise harmful chemicals can produce substances that are extremely beneficial. For example, ordinary table salt is composed of two poisons, sodium and chlorine.
Think of a cake or any other food item. On their own many of the ingredients are distasteful and seem to be useless. However when these things are combined together in the proper amounts they produce something that is a delightful taste sensation.
This is the promise: God will taken the broken pieces of your life, like broken pieces of colored glass, and combine them together into something beautiful like a breath-taking stained glass window.
In his book, How To Be Born Again, Billy Graham writes: “There is a well-known story of some men in Scotland who had spent the day fishing. That evening they were having tea in a little inn. One of the fishermen, in a characteristic gesture to describe the size of the fish that got away, slung out his hands just as the little waitress was getting ready to set the cup of tea at his place. The hand and the teacup collided, dashing the tea against the whitewashed walls. Immediately an ugly brown stain began to spread over the wall. The man who did it was very embarrassed and apologized profusely, but one of the other guests jumped up and said, “Never mind.” Pulling a pen from his pocket, he began to sketch around the ugly brown stain. Soon there emerged a picture of a magnificent royal stag with his antlers spread. That artist was Sir Edwin Landseer, England’s foremost painter of animals. He had taken the ugly stain and turned it into a valuable piece of art.
HOW DOES THIS KNOWLEDGE CHANGE THE WAY WE LIVE?
It Means suffering is not futile. There are times when we feel that God is out to get us. Wave after wave of difficulty seems to wash over us. This promise reminds us that even though we may be in the furnace of life’s difficulties, God is using that furnace to refine us and purify us. Even though we may feel the blows of the hammer of difficult times, God is fashioning us into something beautiful and precious.
For a believer, this promise means
- those difficult years leading to divorce were not wasted (it’s possible God was teaching you lessons about love and compassion you could have learned no other way)
- those hard days when others rejected you in school were not without some benefit (God may have been creating within you a compassionate heart or helping you to become a person who was not concerned with the approval of men.)
- those months when you were jobless was God’s time of building another dimension of God’s character into you. (He may have been teaching you to trust or giving you time to do some other needed things in your life)
- that tragic death to someone you love was not a waste. (God has brought those who belong to Him into Heaven and this heartache may be used by God to fashion in you an appetite for Heaven and help you get beyond the trappings of this world).
- That long period of disease and treatment is not wasted time. (It may be that God has used you during that time to touch the lives of others who are suffering; perhaps He has helped you to trust Him more or to appreciate things you often took for granted.
- Even if our candidate is not elected or our proposal doesn’t pass, God will use that situation for our good and His glory. (He may use these things to get us to stop depending on political clout and to depend on Him; He may use these things to wake up His people. He may use these things to accomplish something we didn’t even realize needed to be done.
Recently I saw an episode of the TV show Joan of Arcadia. The premise of the show is that Joan, each week is given an assignment by God (who appears in various human forms). In this episode Joan was given the assignment to befriend one of the distant and unruly students at the school. She even agreed to go to the dance with him. He was surprised that someone would notice him. At the dance the young man was confronted by the administration for bringing alcohol to the dance. The young man “flipped out” and went to a spot where he had stashed a gun. No one was hurt but the young man was arrested.
Joan encounters God and asks why God asked her to do something that was a waste of time. God said, “Joan, it wasn’t a waste of time. Because of what you did (and he started to point to various students), that athlete is here today, that art student is here today, that future valedictorian is here today, that vice-principal is here today.” God was using Joan to save the lives of many others.
Sometimes, God uses the painful times of our lives to impact the lives of those around us. Frankly, I don’t know what God is doing in your life. But if you are a child of God, you have His promise: suffering is not for nothing.
It Means that the best antidote to the times of suffering is trust. Let’s be honest, there is nothing that is quite so annoying as facing a time of crisis and having someone walk up to you and say, “Well, you just have to trust God.” In times like these we need someone to put their arms around us, pray for us, and ache with us. We really don’t want platitudes; even if they are good theology.
The truth of the matter is that in the difficult, confusing, and painful times we are called to trust God. At these times we must rely on solid theology rather than our experience or feelings. We must hold to His promises and rely on His character. I’ve said it before, a simple theological construct is this.
God is in Control
God Loves Me
He Never Makes a Mistake
I encourage you to memorize Romans 8:28. It is a verse you will recall again and again. You will need it for your bad days, your times of frustration, the times when you are confused, and even in the times of devastation. When it comes down to it, faith is pretty simple: you either trust God, or you don’t.
God’s promise to us is that He will work with even the bad, evil, and painful circumstances in our lives and He will weave into something that is beautiful and that will help us grow in our relationship with Him. If you hold on to His promise, this knowledge will change your perspective on life.