“AND WE KNOW...”
1. “What do you know?” is a question that can be taken in several different ways.
a. It may be a light-hearted greeting that just adds a little enjoyment to life.
b. Or, it may be an exercise in philosophy that plunges you into a discussion of how or whether we can know anything.
c. Or, it may be a probe into what the ultimate realities of your life are, in which case it becomes a spiritual question about meaning and hope.
2. Since that’s how we mean it, we are thinking about the most precious thing that can be known about life in this world.
a. It’s what Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
b. On this text “believers of every age and place have stayed their minds.” (Stott)
c. We treasure it because, in a world where life sometimes appears to be a random mess, we need so badly the knowledge it expresses.
3. The problem is that there is nothing more difficult to know than what this verse says.
a. One reason is obvious: it would take great faith to be certain of it.
b. Another reason is not quite so obvious, but just as important: what our passage says is easily misunderstood and misapplied, and when it is, it hurts.
c. Yet, the apostle writes, “And we know...,” like it is the common knowledge of God’s children. So just what is it that we know?
1. A clear view of the verse
a. Romans 8:28 is part of a line of thought; it does not stand in isolation from its context.
i. Before this, the passage has been saying that the sufferings that make us groan now are not worth comparing with the glory children of God will be heir to, and discussing the way the Spirit helps us in our weakness while we wait in hope.
ii. Our verse then leads into a grand overview of the eternal purpose of God, from those whom he foreknew to those whom he glorified, as if his rule over history is so certain that his purpose is already completed.
iii. After that, there is the series of wonderful questions designed to emphasize that God is for us and has given his Son to justify us, and that there is no power great enough to undo what he has done or to separate us from his love. Our verse is part of the line of thought that leads to the conclusion that it is right to hope in what God does, even if it involves suffering.
b. Romans 8:28 involves difficulty in both text and translation.
i. This is noticeable in the way the various versions handle it, and in the explanatory footnotes that almost all of them include.
ii. Scholars say that grammatically the “all things” can be either the subject or the object of the verb “work together,” resulting either in “all things work together for good” or “he works all things together for good.” (Bruce)
iii. And, some of the early manuscripts have “God” twice in the text, so that it reads “to those who love God, God works all things with them for good” (cf. ASV f.n.). Either way, our verse is more about his activity in behalf of his family than about why things happen or how they turn out.
2. Some thoughts we can weed out
a. It does not say that everything automatically tends to turn out for the best for everybody.
i. Romans 8:28 is not a general statement of superficial optimism.
ii. Paul isn’t describing how life works for people in general, and he isn’t saying that all things are good. This verse isn’t the place for “everything-happens-for-a-reason” fate, or for “everything-is-OK” comfort.
iii. It was God’s will to grant human beings the ability to make choices, and wrong choices have brought evil and all its consequences into human experience: we now face things that were never his will, including pain, disease, disappointment, heartbreak, and hate.
iv. We all now live in a world where “time and chance happen to the all,” regardless of how good, or smart, or powerful we are (Eccl. 9:11).
v. One writer observed that “verse 28 is not some Pollyanna unwillingness to admit evil even when it slaps us in the face. It is the confession that because we are in God’s hands, the kind of God who sent his own Son for us..., all things will finally resolve into good. Apart from confidence in such a God, heaven knows we would have no reason for optimism about human fate.” (Achtemier, 143-144)
b. It does not say that God causes whatever happens because he knows it will be for our ultimate good. (May, “Magnolia Messenger,” Oct/Nov 06)
i. Romans 8:28 is not meant to indicate that God plans suffering and tragedies because they are somehow good.
ii. Cecil May described something heard after the death of a godly elder, who was also a loving father, grandfather and husband, killed by a drunken driver: “Well, it was just God’s will. We don’t understand it but God has his reasons.”
iii. Paul is saying that God is going to be able to redeem his creation from that kind of thing, and that we are right to wait in hope until he does, but he isn’t saying that everything that happens until then is God’s doing.
iv. In his providence, God may use troubles that come, and even overrule them, to train his people or to bring judgment upon the wicked.
v. Some calamities, however, just happen because of the way the world has been “subjected to futility” (v. 20).
3. What we know
a. God works in the lives of his children.
i. He is present with us in all the events of life, he strengthens us through those events, and he uses them to transform us into the image of Christ.
ii. If things work together for our good, it is because he “makes” or “causes” them do so (NRSV f.n., NASB). “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (NIV), or “....works together with those who love him to bring about what is good” (NIV f.n.).
iii. The God who has given his Son can be trusted to graciously give us all things (v. 32).
b. God is at work for the good of his people.
i. Not for what we find easiest or for most enjoyable at the moment.
ii. He defines “good” with the long view: will it conform us to the image of his son (v. 29)? Will it make us partakers of his holiness (Heb. 12:10)?
iii. He loves us enough to care about our ultimate well-being more than about our temporary preferences.
c. God works all things together for our good.
i. “All things” has to include the sufferings of verse 17 and the groanings of verse 23. It would seem to take in anything that might happen to us.
ii. “Together” is important: it means that even when events occur which have no good about them, God mingles it together into a pattern for good.
iii. You can see why patience, and humility, and submission, and faith are so necessary (Rom. 5:3-5).
d. All things work together for good to those who love God.
i. Paul often mentions God’s love for us, but he doesn’t use this phrase much, and it’s significant that he does here.
ii. The point is that it couldn’t be any other way: his working with us calls for our trust and loyal devotion (1 Jn. 5:3; Mk. 12:30).
iii. It will make all the difference in the world if God is seen and known as a loving and wise heavenly Father!
e. Those who love God are the same as those who are called according to his purpose.
i. His amazing purpose is displayed through the five actions which are set forth in verses 29 and 30: he foreknew, foreordained, called, justified, and glorified a people, all in order to conform them to the image of his risen son.
ii. The people who love him are those who, having been made aware of his purpose, realize something of how much they have been loved first (1 Jn. 4:19).
iii. They have heard him call through the gospel (2 Thes. 2:14), they have responded to him with obedient trust, and they are walking with him.
1. Paul wrote Romans 8:28 as a man who was doing that. He could write, both with the witness of Scripture and with the voice of experience, “And we know...”.
2. R. C. Bell observed, “Verily, Christianity proposes to manage and to integrate all the circumstances and experiences of our checkered lives for our spiritual good. Do you believe it?” (Studies in Romans, 96)
3. What do you know?