Today we come to one of the best known Scriptures in all of God’s Word. If you don’t know Romans 8:28 by heart then you have surely had the verse shared with you at some point in your life. The person who quoted it to you, or wrote it in a card, meant well. They meant to comfort you in the midst of your difficult time. It may or may not have brought you comfort. I’m not being cynical or questioning the truth of God’s Word, but I am simply pointing out that our emotional state also comes into play. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11 NIV) The New American Standard translation of the same verse says,
11 Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. (Proverbs 25:11 NAS)
Words that are spoken at the right time, in the right circumstances, have tremendous power for good, but words that are spoken at the wrong time can cause great harm. When a parent is following behind the casket of their young child at the funeral procession what they need are our comforting arms and not our spoken words. When a wife finds out that her husband has been unfaithful to her and she drives to her friend’s house for comfort, the most fitting response might be wrapping her in your arms and crying with her instead of reaching for your Bible. When a young person applies to the college of their dreams only to be rejected, Romans 8:28 may not be the solace they need at that time. We need to know the “times” of our friends suffering and pray for wisdom about what to say or do. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Romans 8:28.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)
Paul is not posing a hypothesis for us to consider. He says, “We know…” What is it that we know? Well, Paul says that there are five things that we know.
First of all, he says that we know that God works. From the opening chapter of Genesis we learn that God is at work. God was at work in the six days of creation. God is still at work in His creation. He is at work knitting babies together in their mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13) In Psalm 54:4 we read where David said, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” In John 5:17, Jesus said, “My Father is always at work until this day…” We could go on and on describing all of the ways that God works.
Secondly, God is at work for the good of His people. We would be misled if we were somehow convinced that “all things work together for good.” The experiences of our life are not the determining factor in the outcome for good, but it is God who works in all things for our good. Our experiences minus God will simply leave us in despair. This is true because some things that happen to us are not good. The devastation that was brought about when the planes flew into the World Trade Center was not good. The bombing of the Murrah Building here in our own city was not good. The tornado that swept across our city in 2013 was not good. The fires that swept through Australia and killed over 200 people were not good. Some of the things used by God for our good are not good in themselves. The Bible does not teach that sickness, suffering, persecution, grief, or death are good in and of themselves. James Montgomery Boice writes,
Hatred is not love. Death is not life. Grief is not joy. The world is filled with evil. But what the text teaches—and this is important—is that God uses these things (and others) to effect His own good ends for His people. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Vol. 2. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI. 1992. pg. 906)
When you study the lives of men and women in God’s Word you can easily see that if you remove God from their lives then many of their lives were tragic. Each of the disciples, minus John, died a martyr’s death. David is known as the greatest king in the history of Israel and yet have you ever really taken a look at David’s life? If you want to study a family in crisis then take a look at David’s family. David and Bathsheba’s newborn son died when he was just seven days old. David’s son, Amnon, raped his daughter, Tamar. David’s son, Absalom, tried to kill his own father. Another son, Adonijah, tried to undermine his father’s wishes and make himself king. Would you call these things “good?” Certainly not. Yet, God worked in all of these events in David’s life.
Or maybe we should consider Joseph. Joseph’s story is one of the longest and most beautiful stories described in the Bible. The story of Joseph’s life is full of the great suffering he endured. He was hated and rejected by his brothers. They sold him to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver, and then they sold him again to the Egyptians. He was an attendant in Potiphar’s household. He was a great worker and a good looking guy as well. How do I know? Well, Potiphar’s wife made the move on Joseph one day. Joseph resisted and Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him. Joseph was thrown in prison where he sat for 13 years. While in prison he was forgotten by those that he tried to help. When Joseph was finally released he found favor with Pharaoh and was put in charge, second in command. One day his brothers came to Egypt to get food because there was a famine in the land. When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers they were terrified. They should have been. They knew what they had done to their own brother. What was Joseph’s response? Take a look at Genesis 50:20.
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 NIV)
Joseph would not have categorized any of the lonely, difficult times of his life as good. It was only viewing his life through the eyes of faith that enabled Joseph to understand that God was at work for the good of His people. Don’t make the mistake and say that God brings only “good” things into the lives of His people. That is the misguided belief of the “health, wealth, and prosperity” folks.
I was talking to a friend of mine following the tornado. She said, “I talked to some of the folks in our church who live in the area that was hit by the tornado and they were spared. I know that there are other Christians who live in the same area who were not spared. I use to believe that if you were a Christian then God would protect you from storms. I use to believe that if someone was sick and you prayed for them that God would heal them. When I had someone I had prayed for die it almost shipwrecked my faith.”
I think my friend is not uncommon. Many of us believe that if we belong to God and believe in God that we will be spared from the trials and tribulations that others face in life. My friend told me, “There are verses in the Bible that would lead you to believe those ideas.” I wonder if my friend was talking about Matthew 18:19?
19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:19 NIV)
If you were to take this verse in isolation of the rest of God’s Word then it would be only natural to take the verse at face value. All you need to do is find one other person, agree together, and God is at your service. Or maybe my friend was talking about John 14:14. Jesus said,
14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:14 NIV)
The tragedy is that so many people take isolated verses of Scripture and build their whole belief system around them instead of understanding verses like these in the context of the rest of the Bible.
Let’s move on. Remember we are looking at five things that Paul says, “We know.” The third is, God works for our good in all things. We don’t really have too much of a problem believing that “God works” or that “God works for good,” but to say that God is at work in all things, even the most horrible experiences of life, for our good, is so hard for some of us to believe. I don’t disagree with you. If I were to give you a piece of paper this morning and ask you to write down the worst experience of your life, you would have no problem identifying it would you? As you look back on that time, can you see where God was at work? I’m not asking you to see the experience as “good,” but I am asking if you can see God at work in that horrible experience?
I also need to add that sometimes we have trouble not only with what has happened to us, but what has failed to happen to others who we think deserve the worst. There are people who live like there is no God. They will cheat, steal, lie, and step on others to get what they want, when they want it. Why does it seem like some of these folks waltz through life without a care? There are others who do great harm to those around them and they seem to never get caught. How do they keep getting off scott-free? Does that ever trouble you? It sure troubled Asaph. If Asaph were here this morning he would say, “Amen!” In Psalm 73, he wrote about his experiences. See if this rings a bell.
1 A psalm of Asaph. Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. 7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. 8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. 9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. 10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. 11 They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” 12 This is what the wicked are like– always carefree, they increase in wealth. 13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. 15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. 16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. (Psalm 73:1-17 NIV)
It was only when Asaph “entered the sanctuary of God” that he understood that the wicked weren’t getting away with anything. Oh, my friends, we need to enter the sanctuary of God, literally and symbolically. Literally, we need to gather with other believers, worship God together, sing His praises, and humble ourselves before His Word so we don’t lose perspective. Symbolically, we need to “enter the sanctuary of God” by drawing near to Him each and every minute of each and every day. Whether it is Sunday morning or Thursday afternoon—we need God’s perspective on our heartaches and trials and on the “all things” in which He is working for our good. Let’s move on.
Fourthly, God works in all things for the good of those who love the Lord. This statement is exclusive in nature. Paul does not say that God works in all things for the good of all people. He says that God works in all things for the good of those who love the Lord. Romans 8:28 is a promise for the people of God, for those who love the Lord.
Nathan Johnson was a high school kid who loved the Lord with incredible passion. In August of 2005, Nathan wrote in his journal.
Today through His mighty power and glorious grace, God has brought me back to Him. He has enlightened the eyes of my heart to His will in which He has with no doubt called me…. His will for me is to radically impact my school for Him. (Nathan Johnson)
Nathan was a star on his high school football team, Beech High School, in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Nathan viewed his ability to kick a football through the uprights as a gift given to him by God. In his journal, Nathan had written, “God has given me the gift of kicking so that I can start by winning my teammates on the football team to Christ.” And that is just what Nathan did. He led his teammates to Christ with an even greater passion than he kicked field goals.
As a sophomore, Nathan kicked a 45 yard field goal to beat cross-town rival Hendersonville High School. Many of the adults believed that Nathan would be a NCAA Division I kicker once he graduated, but all of that changed on the morning of July 28, 2006. Nathan was driving to an early morning football practice when his Jeep Cherokee drifted across the center line and hit a cement truck almost head on. Nathan was airlifted to Vanderbilt University Hospital, but he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. What a tragedy. Hopes vanished. Passion stilled. Dreams left unrealized. The night before he died Nathan told his friend Tyler Foltz,
There are so many people that I have yet to reach…so many people I have yet to have an impact on, to influence: the Beech football team, my high school, the Davison football team, Davison high school, Hendersonville.
Nathan had no idea how God would use his death. Nearly 300 people accepted Christ in the aftermath of Nathan’s death, including more than 30 who accepted Christ at Nathan’s funeral on July 31, 2006. Another 16 kids came to Christ two nights following the funeral at the Wednesday night youth gathering at Nathan’s church. Nathan’s teammates, following his death, put his football tee, a football signed by his teammates, and a jersey in his locker and sealed it with Plexiglas.
The program for the Friday night games was redesigned following Nathan’s death. Inside the front cover was a picture of Nathan in his uniform with a message dedicating the season to him. At the top of the page of every program was this message, “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) At the bottom of the page was another message, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
The final page in the program had another picture of Nathan in his uniform with the quote from his journal about impacting his school for Christ. At the bottom of the page was a quote from Nathan’s tombstone: “Dude, Heaven is sweet. See you there…” Nathan’s coach said that in terms of living for Christ he had never seen a kid who was an example like Nathan was. Nathan’s dad, Chris Johnson, said, “We’re comforted by the fact that even in his death, God is at work. He really did want to be a part of starting a revolution, and our prayer is that that revolution will continue on.” Was Nathan’s mom and dad overjoyed that their son had died? Of course not. Did they believe that his death was good? Absolutely not. It was tragic. What they did believe was that in the midst of their tragedy, God is God, and it is a good thing He is because He alone can work in the tragedies of life to bring good from them. This insight only comes to those who love the Lord.
For those who love the Lord there is an assurance that permeates our hearts—God is at work in our lives, in our struggles, in our tears, in our joyous times, and even in our deaths.
Last of all, those who love God are also described as those who have been called according to His purpose. The last thing that Paul “knows” and that we must know is what the Bible refers to as those who are “called.” The Greek word, “??????” (kletos) means, “called, invited, or divinely selected and appointed.” It really describes two kinds of “calling” that are found in God’s Word. First of all there is the general invitation or calling. This kind of calling is represented in Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
This is a general invitation to all people. It is like the “call” or “invitation” that I give at the end of each of our studies on Sunday morning. If you have been around BCC for any time then you know the last thing that happens at the end our study is the invitation—I ask folks if they would like to accept Jesus into their heart as Lord and Savior of their life. And what do we see take place? Most people do not respond to the invitation. That saddens me. Herman, Ryan, Tre and I get together every Sunday morning and before one of you arrives we pray for someone to have their eyes opened and to come to know Jesus as Lord of their life. Even though it saddens me it doesn’t surprise me because of a story Jesus told. Turn with me to Luke 14:16-21.
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ (Luke 14:16-21 NIV)
Jesus told the story to illustrate to us the reasons why people do not come, why they don’t accept the invitation. They are busy, they have things to do, or they just aren’t ready. The invitation goes out, but we just don’t have the time.
There is a second “call,” what Bible teachers throughout the years have called the “effectual call.” Jesus also spoke of this kind of calling. In John 6:44, Jesus said,
44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44 NIV)
This is the kind of call we see when we take a long look at Saul’s life. You know him as Paul, but before the Lord changed his name and gave him a new mission, he was Saul. Saul was arch enemy number one of the followers of Jesus. He was on a mission to get rid of as many Christians as possible. He was present when Stephen was stoned to death. In Acts 8:1-3 we read,
1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (Act 8:1-3 NIV)
Saul was on his way to Damascus when he was confronted by Jesus and his life was forever changed. To make a long story short, Saul was chosen to carry the message of the Gospel. God used a godly man named Ananias to intervene in Saul’s situation and pray for his sight to be restored. Ananias was scared. He knew about Saul. In Acts 9:15-16 we read.
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Act 9:15-16 NIV)
Saul was not only invited, but he was chosen. This is the second understanding of “call.” It is not only an invitation, but the invitation is accompanied by the enabling to choose the One who has chosen you.
The wheels may be turning in someone’s head this morning. You are wondering, “Has God chosen me?” That is a great question. Let me ask you, “Will you choose to surrender your life to Jesus this very morning? Will you turn from your wills and your ways and trust in Christ alone?” That is the one of the greatest signs that God has chosen you my friend. You can’t muster up the faith to believe on your own. Give me your hand as you give Jesus your heart and let’s celebrate the unfolding of the purposes of God in your life.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 25, 2014