God Meant It for Good (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:15-21)
I. Painfully Common
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: they are painfully common... in this thing we call human existence. But keep those hard and heavy realities in mind, if you would.
This morning, since we've been talking about suffering this entire month, I thought it might be good to wrap things up with a much larger, a much broader perspective on this topic. Let's do that by looking at two different passages this morning. The first is Romans 8. Let's turn there.
II. Passage #1: “All Thing Work Together for Good” (Romans 8:28)
With that theme of suffering in mind, 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 reminds his readers of a precious and powerful fact: "all things work together for good". Now let's look at three aspects of this truth in order to understand better what Paul is telling us.
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 with whom God has intervened, to give them a new heart.
“Those who love God” are God's people. They are those who belong to Christ, by grace, through faith. We cannot give those without Christ the assurance of this Romans 8:28 promise. But it's surely another reason to invite them to Christ... right?
The second aspect of this truth is God’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? It's the purpose spelled out in verses 29 and 30... 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.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
His purpose is to redeem, rescue, and refashion a people for Himself, in the image of Jesus his Son. It's a purpose that began before the creation of the world and well conclude at the end of the world, when our bodies are raised and glorified like and with Jesus. God will use “all things”, in the lives of his people, to accomplish that purpose.
The third thing we learn in this verse is that God’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 [connects to verse 30]. 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, 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! It includes all the suffering we've talked about this month: suffering in spite of our obedience to God, suffering because of our disobedience to God, and suffering because of our obedience to God. 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 IS NOT 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.
But we can fix our eyes 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.
But what does this look like in real life? 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 over 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, it is so easy to be ruled by fear, especially as we think about past sins and past suffering.
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”? Without that perspective, you will so often find yourself shackled by your past and 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, 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 at what he tells them:
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 that Joseph stirred up
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, an 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 worked all of them together for good.
Think about it: 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 are painfully common. But they are also, all of them, things that God can use for your good.
IV. If You Look Up “Good” in God’s Dictionary
I think we often define good according to our standards, according to our own 'mathematics'. “Good” is the addition and multiplication of many “good” things: financial security, peaceful relationships, romantic relationships, acceptance, comfort, situational happiness, success at work; and without any division between me and these “good” things. “Good” is also the subtraction of all those “not so good” things: pain, discomfort, grief, uncertainty, difficult circumstances, difficult people.
But If you look up the word “good” in God’s dictionary, you will find there, as a passage like Romans 8 reminds us, you will find there a picture of... Jesus.
Jesus is the ultimate “good” that God always, always, always has in mind for his children; that God is always, always, always at work to accomplish in the lives of those who trust Him.
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 trust that God is good enough, gracious enough, wise enough, and powerful enough to use all those hard and heavy realities to make me like Jesus? Do I see hints of that now? Does that reality of His sovereignty, in some way, Iighten this reality of my suffering?” Know that God wants to strengthen your faith in those very ways this morning.
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 to 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.
Brothers and sisters, let's be encouraged and encourage one another in this wonderfully huge and wonderfully humbling perspective. Friends, if you don't know God through faith in Christ, you can this morning. Think about it: you, by trusting Christ as your only hope, can know a God gracious enough and great enough to, amazingly, use your worst to accomplish His best; who can use the suffering of Jesus, the Redeemer, to redeem, even your suffering. Amen!