MEDICS KNOW THE VALUE of comforting patients in a crisis. They won’t say “You may not recover from this heart attack”, instead they’ll tell them everything’s going to be all right. They don’t know that everything will be all right, but it’s what the patient needs to hear.
By contrast, the Apostle Paul speaks of life and all its crises with absolute authority and confidence:
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Those Who Are Called
Paul was a man called by God, and well aware of the blessings brought about through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. These blessings are not for everyone: they are for those who ‘love God’. What does that mean? It means to be obedient to Him and to obey His commandments. As the wise man says, ‘In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths’ (Proverbs 3:6).
Throughout his life as a follower of Christ, Paul was no stranger to suffering. He endured persecutions, hardships and hunger. He accepted them because he loved God and through his conversion he had been called to God’s purpose, which is that all the earth will be filled with God’s glory (Habakkuk 2:14). Paul knew that however hard his life was, God was guiding him towards that ultimate reward.
Jesus does not tell us that our lives as his disciples will be easy, in fact it can be the opposite: ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).
Paul said as much to the congregations of believers to whom he spoke: ‘strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22).
So when Paul says that ‘all things work together for good’, he does not mean present wealth or comfort or good health— he means our ultimate good: ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Romans 8:18).
This is the context of the verse we’re considering: ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Romans 8:28–30). Those who belong to Christ were foreknown by God. He has had them in mind from the beginning. They are the ones He will justify, and ultimately glorify. Not only that: predestined, called, justified and glorified.
The Glory to be Revealed
These are words of King David at the end of his life: ‘Does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?’ (2 Samuel 23:5). David was not perfect —he committed a horrible sin (which is recorded in 2 Samuel 11). But he knew that God had forgiven him, and made with him an everlasting covenant. Despite his failings, all things worked together for good for David.
The prophet Habakkuk lamented the disaster which was to come on his nation through the impending Babylonian invasion. But he had words of encouragement for his people. Whatever happened, they should trust in God:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17–18).
In Hebrews we see the greatest example of the principle that all things work together for good—the Lord Jesus Christ:
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1–2).
The writer is exhorting his readers to prepare themselves as though for a race, to follow Christ. He lists only a few of the dreadful things which the Lord endured, before he was put to death. During his life he endured shame and agony: and he did it by faith in the promise of God, by which he saw the joy that was set before him. The prospect of the Kingdom of God, in which he will reign in glory over a world at peace on his ancestor David’s throne (Luke 1:32), sustained and encouraged him.
We may not be asked to give up our lives, but we do have the example of the Lord Jesus to follow; and if we do this faithfully, when he returns to establish his Father’s Kingdom he will invite us to share in his glory (Matthew 25:21). We will then fully understand how all things have worked together for good in our lives.