God Meant it for Good (Romans 8:28, 29; Genesis 50:15-21)
February 20, 2011 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Under Control: The Wonders and Workings of God's Reign
Passage: Romans 8:28–8:29
What do the following things have in common: a devastating hurricane, a not-so young woman's years of infertility, a bitter divorce, chronic health problems, a job loss, an unforgiving family member, the death of a loved one, a rebellious child, a crippling addiction, financial struggles, a lack of vocational advancement, a brutal assault, rejection and ridicule by one's peers.
I think it's clear what all those thing have in common. I think it's clear, not only from what we've been taught and what we've seen, but from what we've experienced.
This morning we are returning to and concluding a three-part series I’ve entitled, “Under Control”. For the past two weeks we have explored what the Bible teaches us about the “wonder and workings of God’s reign”. What does it mean that God is the King? How does His authority as King express itself in our world, in our lives?
Two weeks ago we talked about the mind-boggling, but comforting fact that God is accomplishing and will accomplish His will in all things. This boat we call the world, this boat we call life, is not rudderless! God is bringing all things to the destination He has chosen.
Last week we looked at how God’s authority as King is central to our rescue from the grip of sin and death. Our absolute need required the absolute rescue only God could accomplish. Therefore we can rest secure and step out confidently in light of God’s power and promises.
This morning we are going to return to and begin in the same passage we focused on last Sunday. So turn with me to Romans chapter 8.
II. Passage #1: “All Thing Work Together for Good” (Romans 8:28)
Look with me at verse 28. Paul writes:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
The Apostle Paul is not expressing here some kind of wishful thinking or a "pie in the sky" dream. He says, "And we KNOW...". Paul is reminder his readers of a precious and powerful fact: "all things work together for good".
Now let's look at three features of this truth in order to understand better what Paul is teaching us here.
First of all, we see here that God’s Promise in “All [things]” is Not for All.
Who is this promise for? It's “for those who love God”. Who are those who love God? Well, since Romans chapter 3 tell us that in and of ourselves, “no one seeks God”, and Romans chapter 5 tells us that in and of ourselves, we are “enemies” of God, then “those who love God” must be those for whom God has intervened.
“Those who love God” are God's people. They are those who have been transformed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This promise concerning “all things” has been given to them.
We cannot give those without Christ the assurance of this promise. But we can invite them to Christ, since He is the only one who can give them this assurance.
The second feature of this truth isGod’s Promise in “All [things]” is in Light of God’s Purpose.
Remember what we read at the end of verse 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.
What is the purpose Paul is writing about here? Well it's the same purpose we talked about last week. It's the purpose spelled out in verses 29 and 30. His purpose is to redeem, rescue, and refashion a people for Himself.
His purpose is that each would not only be foreknown before the creation of the world, not only would they be predestined according to His plan, not only would they be called and justified, but that they would be glorified, that they would eternally reflect the glory and greatness of God himself.
And that purpose is not something we simply hope will happen. No, that is something that will happen! And if those who belong to Jesus through faith, if they will be glorified according to the certainty of God's power and plan, then everything leading up to that eternal reality has to work together for good.
That's why we can't call everyone to this kind of assurance. We must call those without Jesus to Jesus, the One who gives this kind of assurance to all who come to him in faith.
The third thing learn in this verse is thatGod’s Promise in “All [things]” Includes the ‘Not So Good’.
This might be obvious, but it's important we emphasize what Paul means when he writes “all things”. Verses 17 and 18 of this same chapter tell us that if we belong to Christ through faith we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
So those who are called according to His purpose to glorify us are also called to suffer. When Paul says “all things” in verse 28, he means it. He means everything, good or bad, happy or sad, pleasureful or painful. All things!
III. Passage #2: “You Meant Evil Against Me, But…” (Genesis 50:15-21)
Now, this is not an easy concept for us to embrace. Even though we as human beings search for and long for meaning, in many cases, we would rather believe what the bumper stickers tell us: [here's the sanitized version] “stuff happens”.
But to say all things work for my good, isn't that going a little too far? Remember what Paul is saying. He isn't saying that everything that happens to us is “good”. He's saying “all things work together for good”. He's also not claiming we can easily see how “all things” work together for our good. Many times, we only see how the pain, the suffering, the sorrow, how all of that is working against our “good”, not for it.
But this is precisely the reason Paul is teaching them this truth. In the storms of life, we need to keep our eyes fixed on the lighthouse of God's promise, so that no matter which way the waves are tossing us, we can rest assured that God is bringing us to safety.
So we've talked about the fact that the universe...our world is “under control”. God is on His throne. We've talked about the fact that our absolute need for an absolute rescue is “under control”. God is on His throne. And what Paul is telling us here is that God is reigning, even over our suffering, even over our struggles, even over our pain, even over our sin. All of it is “under control”.
But what does this look like? What does Paul means when he writes that “all things work together for good”? Well, one of the best illustrations of this fact comes from the last fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis. These chapter describe the story of Joseph, who was one of the youngest sons of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham.
Turn with me to Genesis 50:15-21. Now this passage comes at the very end of the story of Joseph. A simple summary of the story might go like this: Joseph's brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. But through a series of events, Joseph became a great man in Egypt and helped lead that nation through a time of terrible famine. In doing so, Joseph was able to provide for his family as well, since they too were affected by this famine. So at this point, the whole family has moved from Canaan to Egypt, and in chapter 50, Jacob has just died.
A. The ‘Not So Good’ Without God’s Perspective (50:15-18)
Look at what we read in verses 15-18 of chapter 50:
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
So now that their father is dead, the brothers of Joseph feel like maybe Joseph was only kind to them for the sake of their father.
And because Joseph is now in a position of great power, they are afraid of what he might do to them because of what they did to him so many years before.
But this is a good example of how we perceive the “not so good” in our lives apart from God's perspective. When we fail to grasp God's purposes at work in our lives, we are ruled by our past and we are ruled by fear.
Is that where you are this morning? Can you see some of what God has been or is doing for “good” in your life through the “not so good”, how He is using it? If you cannot see that, then you will find yourself shackled by your past. You will find yourself plagued by fear.
B. The ‘Not So Good’ With God’s Perspective (50:19-21)
But look at the flip side of the coin. Listen to how Joseph responds here. Listen to how Joseph, a man guided by God's perspective, responds to his brothers. We've already seen in verse 17 how Joseph was weeping as his brothers spoke to him. But look what he says:
19 But Joseph said to them, “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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Now, I think it would be helpful for us to take a few minutes and think about the question I posed earlier, “How does God use all things, even our suffering for good?” This is what Joseph has affirmed in verse 20: ...you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good...
If we go back to the very beginning of the story of Joseph, listen to what God used to accomplish the “good” Joseph is referring to here, the fact that he saved the lives of his entire family, and the entire nation of Egypt. Here are some of the things God used:
Tattle-telling! Going back to the beginning of this story, in Genesis 37:2, we read that “Joseph brought a bad report of [his brothers] to their father.” Why does the writer include that little tidbit? Because God was going to later use the brotherly animosity stirred up by little Joseph the tattle-tale.
Favortism! In Genesis 37:3, we read the Jacob was playing favorites and gave Joseph a beautiful coat. This is important because the very next verse, 37:4, tells us “when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.”
Boasting! In Genesis 37:5-11 we see that Joseph is not only a tattle-tale, but he also lacks discretion and incites his brothers by telling them a dream about how he will rule over them.
Theft and Betrayal! In Genesis 37:23-28 Joseph's brothers take his special coat from him, and then sell him to a caravan of traders who take him to Egypt.
Deception! In 37:31, 32, Joseph's brothers deceive Jacob by dipping Joseph's coat in blood to make him believe Joseph was killed by a wild animal.
Human Trafficking! In 37:36, Joseph is sold as a slave to Potiphar, who is and official of Pharoah.
Sexual harrasment! In 39:6-12, Potiphar's wife is infuriated by Joseph's resistance to her sexual advances. Which leads to...
Deception! In 39:14-18, Potiphar's wife lies and accuses Joseph of being the sexual instigator. Which in turn leads to...
Injustice! In 39:20, Joseph is wrongly thrown in prison for his alleged crimes. But not just any prison, it is the royal prison, where the king's prisoners were kept.
Wrongdoing! In Genesis 40:1, the royal cupbearer and the royal baker sin against Pharoah, the rule of Egypt.
Wrath! In 40:2, Pharoah angrily throws his cupbearer and baker into prison, the same prison where Joseph is being held.
Forgetfulness! In 40:23, even though Joseph has rightly interpreted the cupbearer's dream and given him hope in light of his imminent release, even though he asked the cupbearer to plead Joseph's case before Pharoah, the cupbearer forgets all about Joseph once he is released and restored.
Famine! In 41:30, seven years before it takes place, Joseph rightly predicts the coming famine that God has revealed and is therefore able to make Egypt the one place in the region that is prepared for the crises. And because Egypt is prepared and well-supplied, in 42:1, we read that Jacob instructs his sons to go to Egypt to get grain, since they too are suffering in the midst of the same famine.
Did you hear what God used to save His people through Joseph? Tattle-telling, favoritism, boasting, theft, betrayal, deception, human trafficking, sexual harrasment, injustice, wrongdoing, wrath, forgetfulness, and famine.
God took all these 'not so good' things, along with all sorts of other apparent coincidences and instances of clear divine intervention, and work all of them together for good.
And so when Joseph's brothers come to him in fear, seeking his forgiveness, they come to a man who knows that God is on the throne. And by God's grace, Joseph has been able to see how God was at work in all his sufferings, not only for his good, but for the good of his entire family...for the good of an entire nation.
Joseph could have easily looked at it another way. He could have decided that finally God had given him the opportunity and ability to punish all those who had done him wrong. But that's not what he does. By God's grace, Joseph is able to see, and thus, Joseph is able to say, “God meant it for good”.
A devastating hurricane, a not-so young woman's years of infertility, a bitter divorce, chronic health problems, a job loss, an unforgiving family member, the death of a loved one...
...a rebellious child, a crippling addiction, financial struggles, a lack of vocational advancement, a brutal assault, rejection and ridicule by one's peers.
What do all of these things have in common? Yes, they're all ways in which we suffer; they're all part of the bitterness of life. But they are also...all of them...things that God can use for our good. He can take it all: the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the pleasureful and the painful, and work them together for our good.
If you were to make a list of the “not so good” in your life, past or present, think about what that list would include. Now...as you think about that list…as you think about the hurts and sorrows and burdens and anger and worries and scars and fears and regrets associated with that list, ask yourself, “Do I believe that God has worked, is working, and will work all of those things together for my good? Do I have that assurance because of Jesus?”
IV. If You Look Up “Good” in God’s Dictionary
But what Paul mean, what does God mean, by this word “good”? The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” So this opponent of Christianity also believed that all things worked together for his good. But he defined “good” as self-reliance, as rugged individualism, as the strength to simply survive.
Like Nietzsche, I think we often define good according to our standards, according to our mathematics. “Good” is the addition and multiplication of many “good” things: financial security, peaceful relationships, romantic relationships, acceptance, comfort, situational happiness, success at work. “Good” is also the subtraction of all those “not so good” things: pain, discomfort, grief, uncertainty, difficult circumstances, difficult people.
But we need to flip back to Romans 8 and consider what Paul tells us about defining the “good” he was speaking of in Romans 8:28. Let’s look at that verse again, and this time, include verse 29:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
If we belong to Jesus through faith, then our good is defined by God’s purpose. And God’s purpose, His ultimate aim, His goal in everything that happens to us is to “conform us to the image of His Son”…His goal is to make us like Jesus. We talked about this last time. God wants to make us more and more like Jesus. And the completion of that process is called, in verse 30, “glorification”.
For those who love God, all things are working together to make us more like Christ: through the tension to make us patient, through the chaos to make us humble, through the loss to make us giving, through the suffering to get our eyes off ourselves and onto others, through all of our struggles and all of our sin to form in us that heart that cries out, “not my will, but your will be done”.
If you look up the word “good” in God’s dictionary, you will find there a picture of Jesus.
Doesn’t James confirm this when he writes: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Paul makes the same point earlier in Romans: ..we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)
In light of God’s kingship, in light of God’s throne, in light of the wonder and workings of his reign, how are we to now face life? How are we now to face the ‘not so good’? We must see all things through the lens of what God has done, is doing, and will do for us through Jesus Christ.
That doesn’t mean we will always be able to figure out the details, the specifics of how this worked with this, which worked with that, to grow my faith. Sometimes we can see that. But it means, in so many situations, we simply trust God to work it all out in light of everything he’s already done.
The story of Joseph is only one story in the Bible that describes how God divinely orchestrated human suffering and sin in order to bring salvation. The greatest story that illustrates that theme is the story of Jesus himself. Hated, envied, resented, betrayed, and rejected, God used the suffering and death of Jesus to bring about, not simply rescue from a famine, but rescue from sin and death…a rescue that will last forever.
Horatio Spafford, who was born in 1828, was a successful lawyer in Chicago. He was deeply devoted to God, to God’s word, and to God’s work in the city through men like D. L. Moody.
In 1871, the great Chicago fire devastated most of Spafford’s holdings which were in lakeshore real estate that was now burned up. Two years after this in 1873, Spafford sent his family to England for a time of rest and to help with ministry work that was taking place there. But Spafford had to stay behind in Chicago to deal with business.
On November 22, 1873, the boat carrying his four daughters and wife was struck by another ship and sank, killing 226 passengers, including all of Spafford’s daughters.
After this tragedy, in 1876, the Spafford’s had another child, a boy. They would also go on to have two more daughters, but at age four, their son was stricken with scarlet fever and eventually died.
Of all the accounts of suffering and personal loss that exist out there, why am I sharing this story with you this morning? I’ve chosen this story because of the words that Horatio Spafford would write only days after his daughters had died, words written on another ship crossing the Atlantic. As he sailed over that watery grave, as he sailed to be reunited with his wife. Spafford wrote these words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
When it comes to the ‘not so good’. You and I have four or five options in terms of explaining it all: 1) the universe is simply an accident and there is no meaning…to anything; so “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” 2) there might be some reason or purpose in all this, but who really knows, 3) there is a good God, but he really has no control over what happens; he can just tell us to “hang in there”, 4) there is a God, but he’s cruel and sadistic, and enjoys watching us suffer...or…
5) there is a good and all-powerful God, a God who is reigning, and he has seen fit to create a world in which sin and death exist because of humanity’s rebelliousness. But He has also seen fit to rescue a people for Himself. And in that rescue, God has purposed to use everything in their lives to fashion them, to shape them, to chip away at them like an artist with a block of marble, to make them more like Himself, more like their Savior.
I pray that assurance is yours. If it isn’t, it can be. Reach out to him in faith this morning.
More in Under Control: The Wonders and Workings of God's Reign
February 13, 2011The King's Ransom (Romans 8:28-30)
February 6, 2011He's Got the Whole World in His Hands (Daniel 4:34-37)