All Things For Good 
The Nature of the Promise

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 40a of 83

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” (Romans 8:28).

Over the last three tranches of studies on this chapter, we have been considering one groan after another.

We saw how creation groans to be freed from the bondage of corruption and vanity; how the children of God groan in hope of the manifestation of their adoption; and how the Comforter groans with the children of God by making sympathetic intercession for them.

Why do we groan? Why do Creation and the Holy Spirit groan in sympathy with us? Is it not because our present life is one of imperfection, suffering and sin?

Because of all the imperfections, we struggle with our Christian life, and we groan in our prayers. So often we do not know what to pray because we do not know what is best for us. And so often we grieve because of the circumstances around us.

So we often get discouraged. As the children of God we need not be discouraged, but we often are. The apostle Paul is not unaware of our discouragements. This whole chapter is written under inspiration of the Spirit to encourage us!

This whole chapter is comforting. But if I am to select one verse that I can unequivocally affirm to be the most comforting, I would choose none other than verse 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.

If you have not memorise any verse to comfort yourself in tribulation, you must memorise this verse. This verse is, as Martin Lloyld-Jones puts it, “is one of the most remarkable statements that even the apostle Paul has made.”

Someone has likened the whole Scripture to be a feast for the soul. If so, the book of Romans must be one of the most delicious and nutritious dish. And Romans 8:28, is surely the most exquisitely delectable topping on this dish.

It is a verse that is very well-known to most of us, and I dare say has been a comfort to every true believer down the ages.

This verse, of course, does not stand in isolation.[i] It will be an instructive exercise to work out its connection with its preceding and succeeding verses. But Romans 8:28 is so rich in itself that it behoves us spend some time to study it by itself.

This verse contains a glorious promise. Let’s study it under four 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.

·        Fourthly, we must consider something of how this promise works in real life.

1. The Nature of 
the Promise

Notice first of all 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.” The great commentator Calvin quite surprisingly suggests that Paul is not referring to all things, but only to trials and tribulation that will befall us. But Paul does not seem to give any limitation.

He speaks of all things. The blessings that you have received; your job, your recent promotion, your good health, your wealth, your friends, the conversation you had with someone, your relationship with the church, the time of prayer you had this morning, etc.

But not only these; for he is also speaking about the discouragements that you are facing, your disappointments, the disheartening event that happened in your life; the quarrel that tore your heart last night, 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 medicine. But by themselves they are poisonous.

Likewise we must never call evil good. We must never think that even bad things are good in themselves. That is the philosophy of pantheism. But sadly, there are also those who profess to be Christian, but have made this mistake. So they become stoics or worst they torture themselves by whipping themselves or by giving up all their possessions so that they live a life of suffering. This is very wrong. It is a perverted notion very unlike what Paul is teaching here or anywhere else in the Scripture.

Similarly, there are those who try to mollify their conscience by saying that their sins are not so bad because all things work together for good for them! Well, this is sophistry at its worst.

No, no; what Paul is teaching us is that every thing and every event in our live is cooperating together like a massive orchestra to do good to us. 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.

Indeed, 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 even now. Paul is not saying: Today many things are working evil in us, but one day everything will turn out well. He is not saying, our journey has many ups and downs, but ultimately we will reach the top. No, no; he is saying: we are always going up. Even when it appears that we are going downhill, we are really going uphill, all things considered.

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

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim

[i] Paul has just spoken about how we often do not know what is good for us when we pray. He encourages us by telling us that the Holy Spirit is making intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. And He assures us that God will hear the intercession of the Spirit. Now, he is seeking to give us a further assurance of God’s concern and love for us. He would assure us that God would not allow anything that is ultimately bad to happen to his saints.

This is how Romans 8:28 is connected to the previous verse. But Romans 8:28 is also connected to the subsequent verses. For in the subsequent verses, Paul would go into detail to buttress the doctrine that all things will work together for good to those who are called according to God’s purpose.