All Things For Good
The Out-Working 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 40d 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).

[This is our fourth and final instalment of our study on this well-loved promise of God. We have seen how the promise is that all things, regardless of whether great or small, are working together under the sovereign providence of God for His elect. What remains for us is to consider something of how this promise works out in the life of God’s people. —JJL]

4. The Out-Working of 
the Promise

How do all the sad and troublesome things in our life work together for our good? Well, one way of looking at it is that ultimately, in eternity, everything will be resolved as we will see how all the pain and suffering, and even sin combine to lead us to our final destiny in heaven. So all things will work together for our good in that sense.

But as we noted, Paul does not say: All things will work together for our good, but all things are working together for our good. If this is the case, then, we should be able to see to some degree how this is so even today. We will not be able to see it fully. But I believe we can see it to a degree.

How is this so? How do all things work together for good to the godly? Thomas Watson in his excellent book entitled “All Things for Good” has two chapters devoted to this question.

·     His first chapter is sub-titled: “The best things work for good to the Godly.” In it he tells us: (1) God’s attributes; (2) His promises; (3) His mercies; (4) The graces of the Spirit; (4) The angels of God; (5) The Communion of Saints; (6) The Intercession of Christ; (7) The prayers of saints—all these work together for the good of the godly.

·     But his second chapter is entitled: “The worst things work for good to the Godly.” Here he shows us how the evils of (1) affliction, (2) temptation, (3) desertion and (4) sin—all work together for the good of the godly.

Now, I trust that none of us have any problem conceiving of how the best things work together for good to saints. But how do the worst things work together for our good?

a.   Consider how God uses afflictions for our good. Is it not true that afflictions though painful when they last are in God’s hand good for our soul? Job understood this truth when he says: “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

But how? In many ways! For example, they humble us and remind us of our smallness and frailty. King Manasseh was carried into captivity. What a sorrowful thing to happen. He had to exchange his golden crown for rusty chains. But look! “When he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (2 Chr 33:11-12). Did not his afflictions do him good?

Afflictions, whether they come by way of accidents, illness, failures or disappointments have a way of humbling us the way that books and sermons cannot. Most of us can agree with the Scriptural assessment that we are weak and helpless. Most of us can say amen when we hear a preacher say: “We can do nothing apart from Christ.” But how many of us have assimilated this truth. How many of us are living lives that are dependant upon God. Are not many of us living as if we are in control of everything in our life? This is why we tempted to be proud and complacent.

This was even true of the apostle Paul, for he tells us that the thorn in the flesh was given him precisely so that he might not be “exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations” (2Cor 12:7).

This is why afflictions are important and work together for our good. They humble us and make us like Christ our Lord. “God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively upon us” says Watson.

Another way by which afflictions work together for our good is by arresting and awaking us lest we fail to be watchful. What did the terrorist attacks over the last two decades do? They woke up the world to the dangers that confront them. Suddenly security in all the airports was tightened. It is the same way for us in our spiritual life too.

When things are just drifting along, we are most easily surprised. Is it not true that when we are cruising along in a car on a straight road that we are most likely to fall asleep and meet with an accident. So it is in our Christian life. It is when everything are well, we tend to take things for granted and to lower our guard. Our adversary the devil is prowling about waiting to devour whom he may. But he does not pounce all the time. He knows better than that. He waits for us to become complacent. Then he pounces.

Thus, one of the most important purposes of trials is to prick us awake us and keep us alert against the wiles of the devil. Thus the frustrating interruptions in our lives very often do much good, all things considered.

But what about sin? Now, sin in itself is always damnable. But Paul says all things work together for good for the godly. All things must include acts of sin. But how sin work together for the good of the saints?

Well in the first place, the sins of others serve to warn us of our own propensity to sin. They are mirrors to see our own heart. We are all see the mote in our brother’s eyes very clearly, but we are blind to the beam in our own eyes. The sins of others work together for good for us for they make us see how easily we can fall into the same sin so that we may avoid them.

The psalmist says: “they have made void thy law… Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold” (Ps 119:126-127).

But what about our own sin? Now, you must remember that sin by itself is never good. It maims the soul. It displeases God. It is contemptible and hateful. We must never think lightly of sin, and no one can justify sin by saying that good will come out of it. Anyone who does so must be in the bond of iniquity and can derive no comfort from Romans 8:28. For the promise in Romans 8:28 is for those who love the Lord, and therefore keep His commandments.

But having said that since all things work together for the good of them that love God, and sin is included in all things, there must be a sense in which sin can in some sense work together for the godly who fall into them.

How?

·  In the first place sin makes us realise our damnable state and make us flee Christ. Because we fall into sin, our eyes are open to our need for a physician, even Christ. Sin makes us flee to Christ. Sin makes us treasure Him.

·  In the second place, sin humbles us.  We are by nature very proud. Sin when it is exposed has a way of humbling us so that we cease to be so judgemental and critical of others. Therefore, while sin is shameful and hateful, it can have the effect of helping a church of Christ to grow together in love. If every member of the church  acknowledges himself or herself to be a sinner saved by grace who is capable of falling into sin at any time, then we shall become more charitable towards one another, and will be more moved to pray for one another.

·  In the third place, sin makes us yearn for glory. The apostle Paul because he was afflicted by the deeds of the flesh cries out: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24). Sin makes us groan for heaven.

It is clear, is it not, that all things work together for them that love God? Even afflictions, temptation and sin can work together with the pleasant things of this life for good to those who love God.

Dear reader, I don’t know what struggles and discouragements you are experiencing even now. You may feel like you are in a furnace. You may feel like you are climbing a mountain and your legs are too tired to take you up another step. You may feel like a rat that has been cornered and have no way of escape.

Whatever is your feeling and experience, I know one thing: If you love the Lord, all things,—including those things that you rather not have,—are working together for your good.

The things that happen in our lives are like the gears in a clock. If you open up a clock, you will see that gears all running in different directions. Some are going clockwise, others are going anticlockwise. Everything looks so confusing.

Perhaps you may even think in your heart: This is mad. The watchmaker must be mad. How could these confusing movements produce anything good? But this is very wrong thinking for all the actions and counter-actions are working towards one end—namely that the time would be accurately shown. When you look into the clock of life, beloved, do not accuse the great Watchmaker for being mad. Praise Him and thank Him rather that all things are working together for your good.

Likewise, everything that happens in our life is like the ingredients of powerful medicine. A wise pharmacist is making the medicine. In this medicine are some things, sweet, nutritious and good. But there are also some things poisonous by themselves or bitter to the taste. Yet when it is concocted, in the right proportion, it is a powerful medicine which gives us reasons to rejoice.

Conclusion

What shall we do with this truth?

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 a loved one has been afflicted by a terrible illness whether in the body or in the mind?

·  Are you suffering because you have broken out with a beloved friend?

·  Are you grieved because a desire in your heart has not been met despite many hours of prayers?

Beloved, do not be discourage. Remember that all things work together for the good of them that love him. 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.

On September 11, 2001, a young man was on his way to work. He had put on a pair of new shoes that morning. He took various means to get to work. But before he got there he had developed a blister on his heel. How irritating! He stopped at a drugstore to buy a plaster. He was going to be late for work. How frustrating! But he never made it to work. He is alive today because of the blister and because of being late. He worked at the World Trade Centre.

Beloved, I don’t know if this man was a believer. But his story illustrates what is happening every moment in the life of every believer. Every irritation, every inconvenience, every problem in your life is working together for your good in the hand of Christ your Lord. Let us learn 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 obey the Lord and leave everything in His hand. We don’t know tomorrow, 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 acts of obedience. Romans 8:28 applies only to those who love the Lord and keep his commandments.

Is there something you know you should do?

·        Are you considering to leave your job because it is affecting your walk with the Lord?

·        Have you been wanting to talk to someone about Christ?

·        Have you been wanting to do something about your children’s education?

Whatever good, you may be thinking of doing, dear reader, may I encourage you to do? Do what is right! Do not worry about the consequence. It is in God hand. Has He not promise: “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?

But finally, may I have a word with you if you are still outside Christ. You realise, don’t you, that the promise in this verse is a privilege of believers. We know that all things work together for us because we first know Christ or rather are known of Him!

If you do not know Christ, this promise is not for you. You can have no assurance that all things are working together for your good. In fact, the only thing you can be certain about is that if you remain an unbeliever, you will have to face the great wrath of God one day. And on that day, everything that you consider to be good in this life will be taken from you. And all that will remain for you is weeping, gnashing, pain, and sorrow for all eternity.

Oh friend, will you not seek to know the Lord while there is yet time? Will you not seek Him in prayer? Will you not spend much time to read the Bible and to listen to sermon? Will you not repent of your sinful ways and seek His grace to live for Him. If you do so, you may by the grace of God discover Christ and begin to believe Him and love Him. And then only can you have any assurance that all things will work together for your good.

But if you fail to do so, Oh, how you will wish in the day when Christ Jesus and the sons and daughters of God are revealed to the world, that you had watched less TV and read the Bible more. And how you will wish that you own nothing but Christ, and known nothing but Him,—whom to know is life everlasting. Amen.

—JJ Lim