One of the most inaccurately quoted scriptures in the Bible is found in the eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It’s misrepresented on bumper stickers; it’s crocheted into wall hangings. Worst of all, it’s mumbled as an empty condolence to those who are suffering. I cringe anytime I hear someone claim that “all things work together for good.” Look around; it’s simply not true. Many painful things happen in this life and without God, none of them “work for good.”
What does the verse say?
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NASB).
Breaking that down, “we know,” or we have faith that God can take the very worst that Satan works in this world and use those events to create good, “for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” If our hearts are given over to God and His intentions, there is nothing in our lives that God cannot use to further His Kingdom. This hope is why Paul can go on to say in the same chapter,
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32 NASB).
Giving God Permission to Work
Do all things actually work together for good? ... only when we love God and yield to His purposes. Click To Tweet
It’s an exercise of faith; I think of it as permission. If we allow, God uses the pain, loss, and stress in our lives to shape the character of Christ in us. By nature, that’s the last thing our carnal nature desires. Just as the Israelites ate manna in the wilderness, our flesh wants God to take away every problem and answer every want. Notwithstanding our nature, the combination of our needs and God’s supply is the principal means by which we are taught to rely on God.
David, the shepherd boy, walked in sparse terrain compared to what we might imagine as a pasture. Today, if you were to travel south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem where he watched his father’s sheep, you would see tufts of grass scattered across rocky hillsides. On a daily basis, David had a life and death need for God’s provision. Though God walked with him in every dry place, David saw and rejoiced in the Creator’s presence in the green pastures and by the still waters. As a very young man, he understood that scarcity and provision were opportunities to trust in God.
Some who suffer difficulties embitter themselves against God. Others push back, like Balaam beating the donkey that tried to protect him from the angel of the Lord, (Number 22). The Bible refers to this outlook as “stiff-necked.” The term implies an inability to turn one’s head and get a new perspective, resulting in a blindness to the wider field of view.
When Paul made his defense to King Agrippa in Acts 26, he recounts how the risen Christ met him on the Damascus road. Paul was on his way to persecute Christians when he encountered a brilliant light.
“And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ ” (Acts 26:14 NASB).
A “goad” is a sharpened stick used to prod cattle. Turning to kick against a goad is a defiant and painful response to an instruction. There are times when troubles are meant to provoke an individual to submit to God. Jesus was saying he had previously prodded Paul without receiving the correct response. Until this moment, Paul had withheld permission for Christ to direct his life.
There is a beautiful spiritual irony in the fact that as Paul was telling King Agrippa of his former resistance to the Lord, he gladly stood in bonds, knowing he would eventually die for the faith. As Paul concluded his testimony, King Agrippa was challenged.
“Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.’ And Paul said, I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.’ ” (Acts 26:28-29 NASB).
Paul had come full circle to the point that he knew… he really knew, that it was God who divinely influenced every event in his life because he knew Jesus and was called according to divine purposes. As Paul yielded to allow Christ to work in a seemingly dark place, no power in heaven or earth could restrain God’s good.
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