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)
There are many passages of Scripture that I count as favorites like Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” and with it John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Both are foundational verses that identify who God is. Wrapped up in those words is the reason why we, as creatures, owe our allegiance to God as our Creator. Without Him, nothing that we enjoy, including life itself, would exist. Another favorite is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In light of His creative power that brought the universe into existence simply with His spoken word, it is incomprehensible to imagine that the all-powerful Creator could love His creation so much that He would condescend to the point of death on a cross to keep us from “perishing”! Then, as we trust Him, He promises to strengthen and to sustain us. “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:21). And Jesus invites, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Then there are the promises of eternal life like, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).
But perhaps my all-time favorite verse is the one above, 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.” This verse is often misunderstood because it is quoted out of context. The verse does not imply that everything will work out to our liking or that because we trust in God that nothing will ever go wrong in our lives – no loss of income, no loss of health, no broken relationships, etc. Quite to the contrary, the Bible teaches that we will face trouble and trials. In fact, Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul confirms this fact at the end of this chapter: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Romans 8:35-36). The list of trials and persecution given here are as certain as Christ’s love for His children. So, Romans 8:28 is not my favorite because it paints a rosy picture. Indeed, it goes beyond a bed of roses.
What does Romans 8:28 really say? First of all it says that we “see” or “perceive” – the Greek word eidō translated “know.” In other words, this is something that we can observe; it is not a matter of “blind faith.” This is a fact that we can experience. “All things” – the Greek word panta is all-inclusive. All things “work together” – the Greek word sunergeō means to “cooperate” – for “good” – Greek agathon meaning “benefit.” So all things – good or bad – cooperate to the benefit – and here is the qualifier – “to them that love God.” In the Greek syntax priority is given to the qualifier. A strict rendering of the Greek to English would read “And we perceive that to them that love God, all things cooperate to their benefit.” So this verse is not universally applicable to all people – only those that love God. “Love” is the Greek word agapaō which is an unconditional love, the kind of love that God expressed to the world in sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins (John 3:16). To further focus the qualification, all things cooperate together for the benefit of “those who are the called according to His purpose.”
What is “His purpose”? That is explained in the verse that follows: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29, emphasis mine). God determined, before time began that man would be made in His image (Genesis 1:26). That image was marred by sin, but God’s purpose has never changed. He has determined that His “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) will be “conformed to the image of his Son.” It should be of no surprise that Paul later exhorts, “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2, emphasis mine).
So what have we learned? Those that are called by God “according to His purpose,” and who love God unconditionally, will experience (will see/know) the blessings of God even in the face of abject adversity. These are they that can say, even in the worst of circumstances, “It’s all good!”