Text: Romans 8:28-30 Theme: Those who love God know that in all things God works for their good.
Christopher Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492. No one knew what lay ahead. From time immemorial the vast Atlantic Ocean had stretched endlessly west. No one had dared venture too far from the security of land.
To undertake this voyage Columbus and his men had to be brave and adventurous. But fear of the unknown was always lurking on the edge of their minds. What if the ocean stretched out so far, they ran out of food and water? What if they came to the edge of the world and fell off, as the ancients had feared? They simply didn’t know what lay ahead.
When weeks passed without sign of land, Columbus actually resorted to deception. He entered fewer miles in the ship’s log than they had actually traveled. Why? So his crew wouldn’t be as afraid about the distance back to Spain.
The unknown. There are many things we don’t know. When will our government shut-down end? How far will the Nashville Predators go in the NHL playoffs this year? When will Faith Church receive a new pastor? We don’t know.
But by God’s grace there are things we do know. Romans 8:28 offers a prime example: 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.
And we know. This is not a possibility: God might work for good. This is not a probability: God likely works for good. This is rock-solid certainty: we know.
In this grand declaration we find five great convictions. Five things to know. First, God works. Most of you are familiar with those big statues of Buddha. Buddha is pictured with his arms folded- massive and unmoving.
But our God is no Buddha. He is never idle; never passive. As Psalm 121 says, God neither slumbers nor sleeps. Jesus rules over all things + holds all things together: 24 hours/day; seven days/week. The Spirit is always at work within us to energize us and purify us and guide us. The three divine persons are tirelessly at work in the world. A second conviction. God works for the good. You know, elected officials are supposed to work for our good. But sometimes they don't. Sometimes what they think is for the good turns out to be rather bad. Sometimes out of ambition they work for their own good, not ours. In contrast God always works for nothing but the good.
As a pastor I often find my heart burdened with life’s misery: job pressures, the fallout of sexual immorality, broken relationships, health problems, death. In a world with so much gone bad, it’s a great comfort to know God is at work for good.
God works for the good. This is a time of significant transition for our church. Setting some visionary goals. Considering the Grace Village proposal. Calling a pastor. It’s important that we all lean into these challenges and work together. But best of all: so will God. God will be working for our good.
And here’s the greatest good: God sent Jesus to die on the cross to save us from our sins. Rather than suffer the penalty for our sins, Jesus pays the penalty in our place. That’s good. Rather than wallow in guilt and misery; we can be freed, purified. That’s good. Rather than face life alone, we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s good. If you have never received these good gifts of God by faith, I urge you to do so today!!
A third great conviction: in all things God works for the good. Notice, Paul doesn't say in some things, in most things, or in nice things. In all things God works for the good. In poverty or prosperity. In sickness and in health. In trouble or tranquility. This conviction is comprehensive.
Now, let’s be honest. Sometimes that’s hard to believe! Right? It doesn't seem to fit our experience! We don't always see God working for good.
The past few months Ruth and I have visited various Civil War battlefields in our area. Recent studies conclude that 750,000 soldiers were killed during the Civil War. Some died in combat, some due to disease, some due to malnutrition and accidents. Many times that number suffered injury, some requiring limbs to be amputated. Vast tracts of land were stripped bare; homes, barns and crops destroyed.
The suffering was mind-boggling! Think of all the wives who lost their husbands. Think of the all the parents who lost their sons. Think of lives devastated. Think of the animosity between north and south that lingered for generations. Where was God in all this? How does Romans 8:28 fit there?
This is an important question. Let me respond to it in two ways. First, God’s Word doesn't say everything is good. This is a crucial distinction. Some older translations read all things work together for good. This gives the impression that somehow everything ends up being good. If we just knew God’s big plan, we’d see that these bad things really are good for us.
But that is misleading. Not everything is good. Some things will never be good. Some things are just plain bad. Like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. Like cancer taking millions of lives. Like racism that demeans image bearers of God. Like horrible war that spawns fear and hatred and poverty and injury and death.
God’s Word doesn’t state that everything somehow ends up being good. The promise is in all things- even in bad things- God still works for the good. God is like a friend, who helps you even when things are awful. That’s one point.
But you may say: But I'm still troubled by bad situations where God seems absent. There are times I just don’t see him at work for the good. Thoughtful Christians have always struggled with God's seeming absence or inaction. Where was the God of love and peace during the Civil War?
Here we must recognize God's work can be subtle and carried out behind the scenes. Perhaps it was God’s hand that the horrors of war drove many to seek peace in the Savior. Perhaps it was God’s hand that slavery was finally abolished during the Civil War. Perhaps it was God’s hand that brought judgment on the horrible sin of slavery. Perhaps it was God’s hand that the United States have stuck together ever since.
God’s work can be subtle. And perhaps we may discern it only far down the road. You may not understand until years later how God was working for good- when you got in an accident, when you broke up with a boyfriend, when you got fired. You may never discern God's good work until the next life! We live by faith.
Joseph is a great example. His brothers were treacherous; they sold him into slavery. Imagine his fear and misery. But years later Joseph could say to his brothers: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. In all things God works for the good.
A fourth conviction: in all things God works for the goodof those who love him. Here we come to a condition. The promise of Romans 8:28 is not for everyone. This grand conviction is not for those who dismiss God. It’s for those who love him. So let me ask you this all important question: do you love God? Not do you acknowledge his existence. Do you love him- with all your mind + heart? A fifth and final conviction: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Here we learn that the sovereign Lord has called us for a purpose. We have a purpose.
God’s purpose is for us to be saved from sin. But his purpose for us is bigger than that. God doesn’t work for our good just so we can sit back + selfishly bask in our blessings. God works for our good, so we can work for good in the world. We have a dynamic identity: agents of God’s good purposes in the world.
What particular purposes has God called you to carry out? Boys and girls: your purpose right now may be to grow healthy and strong and to learn about God’s world and to develop skills to serve him all your life. Teens: your purpose may be to offer an appealing example of loyalty to Jesus + friends.
Mothers: your purpose may be a deep love and nurture of your kids- that makes it easy for them to relate to the deep love of God. Men, your purpose may be to model a life of obedience to Jesus and selfless service. At some point our purpose may be to look after an aging parent or a dying spouse. God works for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose.
As we enter a new year- 2019- there are many things we don’t know. We don’t know what job Jehvon Walker may get after his recent graduation. We don’t know if Nashville traffic can possibly get worse than it already is. We don’t know what new country music star will emerge. We don’t know what new pastor and people God will bring to our church fellowship.
But by the grace of God, we have this rock solid certainty: And we know thatin all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For this we say: thanks be to God!!