Title: Our Hope in Suffering
Text: Romans 8.28
Introduction: Joseph; all things seemed bad; actually, they didn’t just seem bad; they were bad; they were actually very bad; Consider:
- His brothers hated him. Most of them wanted him dead.
- They didn’t kill him, but they made his father think that he was dead.
- They sold him into slavery. Human trafficking.
- Purchased by Potiphar to serve in his household.
- Falsely accused of rape – or attempted rape.
- Thrown in prison and forgotten.
When Jacob had died, his brothers got scairt! They knew their deeds had been wrong. They feared for their lives. They said: rah-ro! Now that dad is gone, Joseph might want to repay us the evil we did to him. So they concocted a story – it might be true, but I’m not so sure it is. “Hey Joseph, Dad said that you should forgive us for the evil we did to you.”
But Joseph was very insightful and said: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Here’s an interesting understanding of God’s activity and our activity. I don’t fully understand it all, but I see it here very clearly: God is at work accomplishing his will, his purpose, his plan. And somehow, he does that through our actions in life.
God took all of the bad things that happened to Joseph – which were the result of this brothers’ evil toward him – and worked it for the Good. God had intention in their actions.
Joseph’s story is a great illustration of our text: And we know that, for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I love this verse (Romans 8.28). But I do worry that too many believers take a popular verse like this and apply it to their liking outside of its framed context. This is a real Danger for us. Not just for this verse, but for any verse, really… As we journey into this message and take a closer, deeper look at this verse, I want you to consider right now, that you’re seeing a caution sign. Caution: Don’t take this verse out of context. But maybe that isn’t strong enough. Maybe our sign should read Danger: Don’t take this verse of out of context.
Note: 2 parts – Sovereignty and the Free Will of Men & Context of Suffering
And speaking of context, the context for Romans 8 has not changed; the overall arching context of our passage is suffering. He hasn’t dwelt on suffering, but that is the context. The theme or the topic is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s activity in the life of a believer. Paul is writing about certain people and that really comes out in the next couple of verses. Note how many times it says: for those who or those whom. 6x’s! And just who are these those? It is those who love God, those who have been called according to his purpose. If you go back a verse, to 27, you see the Holy Spirit intercedes for these same people in accordance with God’s Will, in accordance with His purpose.
This presupposes a relationship. I would like to stop right there and save this discussion for next week. For now, I want you to know that there is a special relationship between God and his people. Now, even though we won’t discuss them until next week, we need to remember that “those” people are who this verse applies to.
Our verse is 8.28: 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
This morning I simply want to look at this short phrase (all things work together for good) and talk to you about what we know because of whom we know. We are God’s and with that knowledge of him, we experience confidence. It comes back to the old adage: It’s not what you know, but whom you know!
It says in v.28 And we know (perceive; not experiential); in the original language of Gk there are these two different words for what we translate ‘know’. Other languages differentiate between these two understandings of this word. English, not so much. One word is γινώσκω and it is experiential knowledge. The other word is οἶδα and it means to perceive something.
Ill.: let’s say a boy is watching his dad hammer in a nail. The dad misses the nail and hits his thumb. The dad now knows by experience that when you hammer in a nail and miss the nail and hit your thumb, it hurts. That’s the word γινώσκω. The son, who is watching, he’s never hit his thumb with a nail. But, he’s watching closely and he sees his father’s reaction. He hears his father cry out. He sees his father recoil; he grabs his thumb; he drops his hammer. The boy percieves his father’s pain. He knows (oida) that if you hit your thumb with a hammer it will hurt.
Paul writes: We know (we perceive) that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Because we know God, we can be confident that all things work together for good. But what if it doesn’t seem like it at the time? all things work together for good… Listen you can have confidence that just like Joseph, God is working his plan, just as he did for the people of Israel.
- πάντα: all things
- συνεργεῖ: work together
- εἰς ἀγαθόν: for good
How do you think we would live if we truly believed that God was sovereign? Some of you are getting scared! You’ve heard these verses and predestination, foreknowledge, election, and calling, those terms scare you. But don’t be. This is just a simple question: How would we live if we truly believed that God was in control of this world, even down to the bottom of our lives?
Would financial distress scare you? Would sickness, illness or even death scare you?
I read a story this week about some folks, some Moravian Christians, who were traveling on a ship sometime in the 1740s. They had gathered for worship on deck when a storm swirled up out of nowhere. The story goes that the storm wreaked havoc and many aboard the ship thought they would die. That is to say, many on board with the exception this small group of Christians who had gathered for worship. They just kept singing and worshipping. As the storm raged, they worshipped. One observer was amazed as he watched what he thought would be his last moments on earth, this band of believers singing without a care in the world.
As the storm subsided, these worshippers finished their time together. The young man who was observing them couldn’t help but stop and ask some who passed by him: Weren’t you scared? Weren’t you terrified during the storm? They calmly answered him: No. He pressed them: What about the women and the children? Weren’t they afraid? One of them stepped forward and said: No, our women and children are not afraid to die.
That astonished the Englishman and it stayed with him for days. He would later identify that moment as one crucial step in his becoming a Christian. By the way, the Englishman? John Wesley.
I often wonder at how my theology has affected my witness and how my witness has affected other non-believers observing my life and my struggle.
You see, I ask this question about God’s Sovereignty, but not as a preacher. I ask this question out of my personal experience. Most of you know my brother’s wife passed away from her struggle with cancer. But did you know that my biological mother passed away on Thursday? As I reflect on my life, I’ve got a bunch of questions that flood my mind. But not about God! And I don’t doubt or worry about what God has done and is doing.
Now, how is it that Christians can behave in a manner that doesn’t fit with their suffering? How is it that believers respond to suffering, death and what appears to be chaos in this world with total confidence? Like the Moravian believers on the ship? It is because … look at v 28… it is because we know that for those who love God … he works all things together for good.
We know… contrast this with what we saw in v 26; 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. We may not know what to pray, but what we do know is that God is at work, working all things together for good.
Let’s take a moment and look at these word pairs:
- πάντα: all things
- συνεργεῖ: work together
- εἰς ἀγαθόν: for good
Even when we don’t know a lot about what is going on in this life, we still know that God is working all things together for good…
These two words in English, all and things, are really one word in the Gk. ‘Things’ is added to complete a thought expressed in the Greek, but not really communicated in English. The idea is that God is taking the totality of your life and doing something special with it. Let that sink in for a moment.
Ill.: The idea is that God is taking the totality of your life and doing something special with it. Have you ever thought about that? The good, the bad, the ugly… all things. Those mistakes you made? God is using them, too. Those poor choices you’ve made – let’s just call it what it is: sin. When you sinned against God and rebelled against his desires and commands – well, God is using those situations and circumstances for his glory and he’s working it out for the good.
Do you see those 2nd set of words: working together…
These two words in English, working and together, are also one word in the Gk. This Gk word is the word from which we get our English word: synergy. Syn (συν): with; and εργός: work.
Ill.: As you guys know, this past week I was in Arizona to be with my brother who lost his wife. My job was to be there for him. So, I did my best to be available when I was needed. During this time, two people made theological statements. Their intentions were to encourage the family. These remarks were in passing and I don’t think they meant any harm. But these two people, really nice people made statements about God that just are not true.
I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t my place and I know these people had good intentions. But this is what crossed my mind: Sound, healthy doctrine is important. I can’t tell you why bad things happen to good people and what God’s purposes are in all matters. I don’t know why some people get cancer and die and other people get cancer and live. I don’t why a tornado hits a neighborhood and one house is demolished and the other house is untouched. I don’t know why two people make the same bad decision and experience two different outcomes. But I do know that God is at work in your life. And I know enough to tell you not to tally up your points halfway through the game of life. All things not just some things, all things work together for good.
This is what we know as Christians: God is working all things together… for good…
All things: the good and the bad, the expected and the unexpected, the suffering and the rejoicing, in laughter and in pain – those experiences; God is working all things together for good.
When I was on sabbatical, I read a few leadership biographies and autobiographies. One man I enjoyed reading about was Harry Truman. What I didn’t know about him was his sense of humor. He tells the story of a man who was hit on the head and the people took him for dead. This tells you how old the story is! He was picked up by the undertaker and taken to the funeral home. He woke up in the middle of the night and sat up in his coffin. He looked around and said, “Good night! What’s going on? If I’m alive then why am I in a coffin. And if I’m dead, why do I have to go to the bathroom so bad!”
Don’t judge what God is doing in your life in just one moment of your life. Because if you try, the totality of it all will not make sense.
Friday I got a call that my biological mother passed away. I knew this day would one day come. I mentioned it to Lisa when we talked through some decisions I had to make years ago. Let me explain.
I was abandoned by my mother at a young age. I don’t know the whole story because I was just a baby. There are six of us kids who share the same mom and I think they would all agree with me that her decisions and the decisions of our fathers really messed us up.
Now, I’m an external processor and I’m not trying to process this in front of you. The pulpit isn’t a place to do that. And, I don’t want to go into all of the gory details that have created this man of dysfunction that you’ve come to know and love. But I want you to know a little, so what I say will make sense.
As a young man, my biological mother blamed me for her messed up life – like it was my fault she did this and did that. As with all of her children, each of us was made to feel like we somehow were the cause of her failures. I abandoned that line of thinking and made the conscious decision to not put myself in harm’s way ever again. So, I’ve not spoken to my mom in decades. That was my decision. And she made it easy because she never called me. The last time we spoke, I called her. She wrote me two letters in my life. Once when I 18 years old and once when I was 50. I saw her at my grandmother’s funeral, which was about that same time (the 1990s).
So I get this phone call Friday morning that she has died and I look at this wake of destruction in the life of so many people. I’ve heard that she was going to church regularly these past few years. I’m glad. I can’t say this morning that she was or wasn’t a believer because I don’t know. I’ll probably hear some good stories in the days and weeks to come.
I’m reminded of a funeral I did for a woman in my church in Worland. It was probably my first funeral there. Rowena was in her 90’s. I’d know her for a very short period of time, but I what I knew of her was that she loved the Lord. She prayed for me regularly. She was reading her Bible and studying her Sunday School Lesson when she died. At the funeral, I told of my experience with her and stories other church members shared. I told people how much Rowena loved me, loved the church and how much I was going to miss her.
But after the service, her daughter approached me and told me that she didn’t know that woman. The woman she knew was not a believer and had left a wake of destruction in her life.
As I reflect on that, I remember now hearing stories about my Nana from her younger years. She, too, had made many poor decisions and hurt many people. I imagine some of my dysfunction can be traced back to her decisions. But that isn’t the woman I knew. The woman I knew read the Bible with me every night I was with her. She would rise early and make me a hot breakfast – always, a hot breakfast. Cold Cereal was for Saturday mornings and late night snacks. After she fixed breakfast, she would enjoy a cup of coffee and read her Bible. That’s the woman I remember.
So what I say to you today isn’t just some mantra I repeat that gets me through the tough times. It isn’t just some cliché I throw out with no feeling. This statement is a fact of my life. All things work together for good, for those who love God, who’ve been called according to his purpose.
Let me offer some take-a-ways:
- All things: Consider Joseph’s life, what a mess! Some might consider that he brought some of his struggles upon himself! He shouldn’t have been so arrogant toward his brothers or his parents. Bad things happened, and no matter who is responsible for those struggles, those experiences all work together for good.
Some of you might be thinking that I just don’t know all of the bad stuff in your life. I don’t have to! We hide that stuff well, don’t we? Our dysfunction? Our Sin? Our rebellion?
- Some kid might say to you, ‘Dad, you got mom pregnant and then married her.’ Who are you to lecture me?
- Or Mom, you were living with dad and you weren’t even married.’ You have no right to…
- Or, ‘I remember when you stole that stuff.’
- You used to smoke. Or cuss, or… .fill in the blank.
- Your life hasn’t always been a model example of what a Christian is.
Listen, that’s what Grace is for. Tell those who know you best: Yes, Yes, and Yes. I did do that. I was that man. I was that woman. But it isn’t the gory stuff I want you to focus, but rather the grace of God that forgave this pitiful, wretched person.
You may not see it. You may not even be able to comprehend it. But God is working all things!
- Working together: Unless you’re dead this morning, your story is still being written. And if you’re dead, please let one of the ushers know. They might just think you’re sleeping through my sermon. Listen, your story is still being written. Don’t write it off! Let God do his work in and through you.
If you’ve messed up, own up to it. Confess it. Let it be an example of God’s incredible, amazing Grace! And then, trust that God is going to use, not just that experience, but the totality of your life to work all things for the good. This moment might be a struggle, but it will pass. Trust that this is one chapter of God’s book about you for his glory.
- For good: even when it seems it is so bad. There will be tears. There will be pain. There will be sorrow. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Whatever you’re going through, hang in there. And then we come to these last words…
- For those: Who are the ‘those’ in this passage? Well, it is a topic I’d like to visit next week. But in short, it is those who love the Lord. Those whose lives have been committed to him.
- If you’ve never done that, I want to give you the chance.
- Maybe you just need prayer.
- Maybe you feel the Lord’s calling on your life.
- Maybe you’re interested in joining the church. We have a new member’s class scheduled for the 17th of May.