All Things for Good

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 26 Aug 2011

The epistle of Paul to the Romans is, perhaps, the most important book in the Bible. It contains the grandest, most comprehensive, most profound, most systematic exposition of the Gospel of Christ in the entire Bible.

In this book, the great apostle deals with the doctrines of sin, law, judgement, faith, works, grace, God’s covenant with man, justification, sanctification, glorification, election, reprobation, the work of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Christian hope, the nature and life of the church, the place of the Jews and non-Jews in the purposes of God, the reasonable service of Christians towards God and fellow believers, the duties of Christian citizens, the principles of personal godliness and morality, etc, etc.

This book is like a mountain peak rising up in the midst of all the Scriptures. Standing on this peak, the whole landscape of the Bible and even of natural theology is open to view. From here you can see the progress of the drama of redemption, and you can see the relationship between each part of the Scriptures. And further more, you can have a glimpse of where you stand in the huge tapestry that makes up God’s glorious plan for this present world.

The study of Romans is vitally essential for the spiritual health and understanding of every Christian.

But as we continue in our study of the Great and Precious Promises of God, we have time to look at only one verse. And although there are many, many statements of promise in this epistle, there is none so well-known and comforting as Romans 8:28—

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Let us study this promise briefly under three heads.

  • First, we must consider what the nature of the promise is.
  • Secondly, we must consider who the beneficiaries of the promise are.
  • Thirdly, we must consider the basis for this promise.

First, let us consider what is …

1.The Nature of the Promise

First, notice that Paul says ‘all things.’ ‘All things work together for good,’ not ‘some things work together for good.’ What is this “all things”? ‘All things’ is ‘everything,’ not ‘some things.’

None of us need to be reminded that the blessings, promotion and encouragement that we receive work together for our good.

But let us understand that Paul is not only talking about these. He is also speaking about the discouragements that you are facing, your disappointments, the disheartening events that happened in your life; the quarrel you had this morning, the accidents, the failures, the illnesses, even your fall into temptation!

All things must include even the sin of man.

Now, of course, these things are not good in themselves. We must not pretend that they are good. Yes, Paul teaches us to give thanks in everything (1 Th 5:18). But that does not mean that we should thank God when we fall into sin; nor does it necessarily mean that we should immediately thank God when we meet with an accident.

No, no; we must not make the mistake of thinking that every thing is good in itself. Arsenic and Mercury may be useful ingredients in some medicines. But by themselves they are poisonous.

Thus we must never call evil good. We must never think that even bad things are good in themselves. That is the philosophy of pantheism, not Christianity. Those who try to minimise their sins by saying that their sins work together for good for them are playing into the hands of the devil.

No, no; what Paul is teaching us is that every thing and every event in our life is cooperating together like a massive orchestra to do good to us. The word ‘together’ is very important. Paul does not say: “All things work for good.…” Rather, he says: “All things work together for good…” So at any moment in our life—whether we are facing disappointments or hardship, we can cling on to the assurance that all things are working together for our good.

And note that Paul does not say “all things will work together for good,” but rather “all things work together for good.” The word ‘work’ is in the Greek present tense, which is equivalent to our present continuous tense. So Paul is saying: “all things are working together for good.”

We do not have to wait for a future day for this promise to be fulfilled. It is being fulfilled. Paul is not saying: Today many things are working evil in us, but one day every thing will turn out good. He is not saying, our journey has many ups and downs, but ultimately we will reach the top. No, he is saying: we are always going up. Even when it appears that we are going downhill, we are really going up, all things considered.

But does this promise apply to everyone? Let’s take a closer look at who are…

2. The Beneficiaries of the Promise

As I mentioned, this promise is very well-known. But unfortunately, it is often misquoted and misused. Many remember Paul as saying: “all things work together for good [fullstop].” So whenever anyone,—whoever he may be,—is in any kind of trouble they would try to comfort him by saying “all things will work together for good.” So when a nation is troubled with high crime rate or economic collapse, the government may try to encourage the people by saying, “All things will work together for good.”

But this is a gross mistake. Paul is not a politician trying to sound optimistic. And neither is it true that all things work together for good for everyone. Those who believe that all things work together for good for everyone are simply holding on to a dream that does not tally with reality. They are lulling themselves to sleep with a false optimism that does not stand the test of truth or the facts of life.

The truth is: The apostle Paul does not say: “All things work for good to everyone.” He says: “all things work together for good to them that love God.” In fact, in the Greek, the qualification is emphatic.

The Greek literally reads:

And we know that unto those who love God, all things are working together for good, to those who according to plan were called.

What Paul is saying is very clear. Not everyone can claim that all things will work together for good for them. This promise is only for those who love God. It is the privilege of those who love God, even the living and true God.

The world, according to the Word of God, comprises ultimately two kinds of people: those who love God and those who do not.

Note that it is not: Those who profess to love God and those who do not. There is a great multitude of people who today claim to love God when they have no right to the claim.

They claim to love God because they have some emotional feelings about God. But they disbelieve God’s Word, or they live worldly and lawless lives without regard to God’s law. Whereas the Lord says: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). And the apostle John says: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1Jn 5:3).

Who are those who love the Lord? They are the disciples of Christ. They are His sheep who hear His voice and follow him (Jn 10:27). They are those who would keep his commandments. They are His elect.

These are those who have been “called according to [God’s] purpose.” They have been called by the Word of God and the Spirit of God to follow Christ.

They are in Paul’s words to the Corinthians,…

“them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, [and] called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2)

Or in the words of Peter, …

“… a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that [they] should shew forth the praises of him who hath called [them] out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

They are, in other words, elect and true believers.

But what is…

3. The Basis of the Promise

How can this promise that all things will work together for the good of God’s children be true? On what basis does God make this promise?

Let me put it this way: If you are watching an old-fashioned movie, you can be quite sure that everything will end well. Though there are many plots and counter-plots in which the hero will very nearly be killed, yet everything will end well for the hero in the end. You can be quite sure that everything will turn out well because all the events in the drama were scripted and the play was directed by someone.

But Paul is speaking about our lives in the world when he says: “All things will work together for good” for us. How can he be so sure? How can he be so sure that the seemingly random events in the world will work together for our good? What is the basis for his claim?

In the first place, we must realize all things do not work in and of themselves. There are no random events in the world.

The universe does not run in automatic mode. Rather, God is acting everywhere and in everything in the universe. In fact, the entire universe has been placed in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been appointed the administrator of all things. The apostle to the Hebrew reminds us that He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, upholding the entire universe by the Word of His power.

This doctrine is stamped in the very word that indicates who the beneficiaries of the promise are. The beneficiaries of the promise are those “who are the called according to his purpose”. The word rendered ‘purpose’ literally means ‘a setting forth.’ It speaks of a plan that has been put forward.

What is this plan that Paul has in mind? It is God’s eternal plan for the salvation of his elect. Paul elaborates on this plan in the following verse in which he outlines what we may call the golden chain of salvation!

Thus when Paul speaks of those who are the called according to his purpose, he is implying that God has from eternity chosen them as objects of his love and blessing.

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that the elect have been “predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph 1:11).

This, then, is the basis of the promise that all things work together for good to them that love God. God can promise His children that all things will work together for their good because He is working all things after the counsel of His will. That is to say He has predestined everything that comes to past in our lives. And He is bringing to pass all things according to His decree.

Indeed, the Bible teaches us that all things that happen in the universe happen because God is sovereignly bringing them to pass according to His eternal plan.  This plan, we must remember, comprehends and determines all things and events of every kind that come to pass —whether great or small, whether good or evil, whether expected or unexpected.

“My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” declare the Lord through Isaiah (Isa 46:9–10). Solomon declares that even such outcomes as appear to depend on chance, such as the casting of the lot or a die, are under the control of God (Prov 16:33). Even the hairs of our head are numbered. They do not drop by chance, but by the power of God, the Lord Jesus reminds us (Mt 10:29-30).

But what about our Lord’s own death? He is the Son of God. Surely the fact that he was betrayed and killed indicated that God had lost control. No, no, even His death and the manner of his death was foreordained and brought about by His power, as Peter indicates in Acts 2:23. The fact is: although Judas betrayed the Lord, and the Jews clamoured for His death, nothing fell outside God’s determinate counsel. It was part of God’s plan!

I believe it is clear. The doctrine that God is in sovereign control over the universe is indisputable.

What is Paul’s basis for the promise that all things work together for good to them that love God? The basis is that God is sovereign. All things that happen in the world, happen according to God’s plan.

And since God’s plan for his children is that good may be shown them, then all things will work together for their good. When you look at an old-fashioned movie, you know that the show will end well because the movie is scripted and directed to lead to that end.

Well, something like that is true in our lives. There are, of course, many differences. But note three very important ones:

First, God is the director. No part of what happens in our lives is outside His control. Human directors make mistakes, but God makes no mistake.

Secondly, in the case of a movie, the actors are following the instructions of the directors closely. In the drama of our life and redemption, we are responsible to make choices. This is why God can hold us accountable for our actions. In a mysterious way all our actions that result from our choices are in accordance to God’s plan. But they are our choices, and therefore we are responsible for them. So if we do something contrary to God’s word, we sin against God.

Thirdly, although our lives are in the hand of God, it is not rigid as in the case of the acts of the movie actors. We can petition our great Director. Yes, even our prayers are ordained by God. But God has determined that He would answer our prayer. So we must never say that everything is fated. So we must never, so to speak, be resigned to fate. No, we must pray. But God answers our prayer in such a way that all things will work together for the good of all who love Him and are called according to his purpose.

Dearly beloved brethren, do you believe these things that God has revealed about Himself? If you don’t, you have no basis to believe that all things will work together for your good at all.

But if you do, you can exclaim with the apostle Paul: “We know!” Not “we feel.” Nor “we wish.” Nor “we hope.” But “We know that all things work together for good to them who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose.”

Thank God for this great privilege and assurance that He has given us as His children.


What shall we do with this promise?

Firstly, shall we not find comfort and encouragement in the Lord despite all the difficulties in our lives, and despite all the things we do not understand about our lives? Are you struggling at work or struggling to look for a job? Are you weeping in your heart because of a painful situation in your family? Are you grieved because a desire in your heart has not been met despite many hours of prayers?

Beloved brethren and youths, do not be discouraged. Remember that all things work together for good to them that love God. Learn to thank the Lord for His providence in your life. Learn to thank Him and submit to Him in all circumstances—For He knows best what is good for you. Learn to commit the big things in your life to the Lord!

But learn also to commit the little things in your life to the Lord. Learn not to be irritated by little things and inconveniences in your life.

Remember that every irritation, every inconvenience, every problem in your life is working together for your good in the hand of Christ your Lord. Learn therefore to give thanks in everything (1Th 5:18) rather than murmur and complain and be discouraged about anything.

Secondly, in the light of Roman 8:28, may I encourage you to live on bravely for the Lord? Many of us are very crippled in our decision-making. We worry a lot about the consequences of our decisions. We know what is right for us to do, but we are afraid of the consequences and so we hold back obedience to the Lord.

But this need not be the case. If we believe that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord, then we must bravely seek to do God’s will and leave everything in His hand. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds tomorrow.

Of course, I am not saying that we should therefore simply do what we like whether it is sinful or not. No, no; I am of course referring to decisions which we know are consistent with God’s will as far as we can tell from God’s Word.

Therefore brethren, be familiar with God’s Word. Live within the bounds of obedience out of love for God. Make decisions within the bounds of His reveal will, and then do not worry about the consequence. It is in God hand. Has He not promised: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”? (Mt 6:33). And has he not further assured you: that all things work together for the good of his children who love and obey him? Amen.