Let me begin by sharing an ancient Chinese story with you.
A farmer had one old horse that he used for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills. When the farmer's neighbors heard about it, they sympathized with the old man over his bad luck. "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" said the farmer.
A week later, the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills. This time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" said the farmer.
When the farmer's son attempted to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off and broke his leg. Everyone agreed that this was very bad luck, except the farmer. He replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?"
A couple weeks later, the army marched into the village and forced every able-bodied young man to go fight in a bloody war. When they saw that the farmer's son had a broken leg, they let him stay. Everyone was very happy at the farmer's good luck. "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?"
I have no idea whether the above story is true or not, but I do know that there is a good lesson in it for us. Sometimes it seems that things are going well, and at other times, things seem to be going poorly. However, the bottom line is that we really don't know! Things are not always as they appear to be, and the idea of good or bad luck is really nonsense biblically. We really don't know how things will work out in our lives--but God does! Circumstances that appear to be negative at first may turn out to be a great blessing for us. Circumstances that appear to be positive at first may turn out to be a curse for us. The problem for many is that they allow their perception of positive and negative circumstances to dictate their feelings and outlook on life. When things are going well, most folks are happy and think that God is with them. However, when things start going poorly, the temptation is to get discouraged and think that God has abandoned them.
It is unfortunate that many Christians allow themselves to be tossed about by their circumstances like this. We could all benefit from reflecting upon the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11 - "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content." Paul knew how to rejoice in any circumstances (cf. 4:4). He could be content when things were rough (he was in jail at the time of writing the epistle). He could be content when things were going smoothly also. One of the great things about being a member of God's family is that we do not need to worry, whatever our circumstances! In fact, we are commanded to not worry (Matt. 6:25ff)! No matter what happens in life, faithful disciples have the hope that God will take care of them. They will realize that things are not always as they appear in life, and that God is in control!
In essence, children of God must endeavor to always remember--and truly believe--Romans 8:28 - "And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." This is a promise of God that we can rely on when things seem to be going wrong. Let's break the verse down into phrases and analyze it.
"And we know..." - To know something is to be sure about it. There is no doubt whatsoever.
"...that all things..." - All means everything--from the tiniest detail to the big picture.
"...work together for good..." - Everything that happens, both seemingly negative and positive, is working together to produce ultimate good. A jigsaw puzzle looks like a disaster when the pieces are not positioned correctly, but it will be seen as a masterpiece once the pieces are all brought together properly. Our lives may seem like jigsaw puzzles from our perspective, but the Lord knows how the pieces will come together.
"...to those who love God..." - As with most of God's promises, there is a condition. The comfort of knowing that all things will work out for good is not for everyone. It is for those who have chosen to love God. But, how does one love God? Is it enough to merely verbalize feelings of affection and appreciation toward Him? "I love you God"--is that enough? What did Jesus say? John 14:15 - "If you love Me, keep my commandments." Those who love God will obey Him. The apostle John reiterated this point in I John 5:3 - "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome."
"...to those who are the called according to His purpose" - In all ages, God has called people to Him and many have chosen to accept that call. But, how does God call us today? II Thessalonians 2:14 teaches that we are called through the gospel! It is through God's good news that we are called or invited to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, repent of our sins, and be baptized into Christ. Those who genuinely love God and submit to Him in obedience are those who are called according to His purpose. This wonderful promise of Romans 8:28 is directed to those who have accepted the call of God. It is given to those who are Christians.
I want you to listen to the entire verse again. Think about each phrase as I put them back together - "And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
There are many examples we could consider to illustrate just how this promise works. The Chinese story is a good one. But, what about some Bible examples? You can look in about any book of the Bible and see the providence of God at work. You can see Him working all things together for good, in the ultimate sense, for those who love Him. Let us give attention to four examples from God's word at this time.
1. JOSEPH (cf. Gen. 37 - 45)
Joseph was envied and hated by his brothers. When the opportunity arose, they sold him as a slave. He ended up in the house of Pharaoh's officer and was given much responsibility. He was later falsely accused by the officer's wife and consequently thrown into prison. He soon won the favor of the jailer and was given responsibilities. Thirteen years after being sold as a slave, he was released from prison after being able to interpret a troublesome dream of the Pharaoh. Pharaoh elevated him to a position of authority just under himself and expected Joseph to prepare the nation for the coming years of famine. During the famine Joseph was able to save his entire family and reunite with them. Joseph's recognition that all things worked together for good can be seen in Genesis 50:19,20 - "Joseph said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring it about as it is this day to save many people alive.'"Joseph was hit hard with difficult circumstances time after time, but he didn't give up. He kept his faith in God, and the Lord made circumstances work out for the best for him (not to mention the countless people he helped). It took many years for the big picture to be seen in Joseph's life, but God was working all the while. "And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
2. MOSES (cf. Exo. 1 - 13)
Moses was born in Egypt during a time when the Hebrew baby boys were to be killed (as a means of population control imposed by Pharaoh). Moses was kept alive by his mother for three months. She then hid him among the reeds in the river in a basket. Moses was found by Pharaoh's daughter who had compassion on him. He was adopted as her son, reared, and educated in Pharaoh's house. As an adult, Moses tried to help an Israelite brother who was being beaten by an Egyptian. He ended up killing the Egyptian and fleeing into the wilderness for forty years. Interestingly, Moses, as an eighty-year-old man was selected by God as the one to deliver His people. Moses went back into Egypt and saved the Israelite nation by leading them out of bondage and into freedom. Clearly, there were ups and downs to Moses' life, but God was working all the while. "And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
3. PHILIPPIAN JAILER (cf. Acts 16:16-39)
Paul and Silas healed a slave girl from an evil spirit that possessed her. This angered certain men who had them beaten and thrown into prison. While they were locked up, Paul and Silas sang hymns and prayed! The Lord sent a great earthquake and caused all the prison doors to open and the chains to be undone. The jailer, thinking the prisoners had escaped, prepared to take his own life. Paul and Silas prevented him from harming himself and were able to teach him about Jesus. He and his family became Christians. Once again, the events all worked together for good, even though there was some pain involved for Paul and Silas. They suffered for doing right, but God was working all the while. "And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
4. JESUS (cf. Matt. - John)
Jesus of Nazareth entered this world via a miraculous virgin birth. He grew up and began His ministry at about the age of thirty. He taught and preached for over three years and was then killed in a horrible fashion. He endured the shame of a crown of thorns and much ridicule. He suffered the pain of a brutal scourging. He carried his own cross and was nailed to it. What a horrible death! He didn't deserve it. What good could possibly come from this situation? The most good imaginable! Jesus died for us; He died for all the world! He bore the sins of the world upon Himself as He suffered mightily. The plan of salvation become a reality through Jesus' actions as a suffering servant. We can be saved through his bloodshed. His death is a sad story, but at the same time it is good news for us! God was working in Jesus' life to accomplish ultimate good. "And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
Friends, there are times when we are tempted to wonder: "How can the suffering and heartache that I'm enduring ever be helpful to me? How could my present circumstances ever work out for good?" We cannot see the end from the beginning; we cannot even begin to fathom the way the Lord is working providentially in our lives for our ultimate good. Let us be content in knowing that He is working for His faithful ones and the trials of life that often cause hardship and disappointment are what make us stronger as Christians. If we remain true to the Lord when problems come our way and avoid despair, our trials will become stepping stones toward spiritual maturity. However, if we lose sight of God and fail to trust Him, those same trials will become stumbling blocks to us.
In ultimate terms, if we love God and obey Him, we will be glorified with Him in heaven someday. We will have problems in this life. We will suffer like every other human being does at times. But, we have hope! We know that everything is pointing toward that home in heaven. That is truly how everything works for our good. Even if we die for our faith, like many did in the first century, it still works for our good, because we will go on to eternal life!
Romans 8:28 is a great promise of God to His faithful ones, and we've seen it illustrated in several ways. Do you believe in His promises or merely give them lip service? It is possible that you've had difficult experiences in your life that you don't understand. You might be in a challenging situation currently that has tempted you to wonder about how God could be working things together for your good. Perhaps we'll never understand why certain circumstances unfold in our lives as they do, but it's great to know that we don't need to understand! We can trust God and know that if we love Him and are living in faithful obedience to Him, then all things will work together for our good! Don't worry, but be content and be faithful. God does not break His promises.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.