The Harmonious Operation Of God's Purpose And Work To Save His People From Their Sins.
Elder Buddy Abernathy
Fort Wayne, Indiana
United States Of America
FORT WAYNE PRIMITIVE BAPTIST CHURCH
From Interstate 69 in Fort Wayne, take exit #105 and go East for two miles to the end of Illinois Road. Turn left on West Jefferson Blvd. and go half a mile to the second light and turn right on Freeman Street. Go one and a half miles to the end of Freeman and turn left on Nuttman Avenue. Go 3/4 of a mile to the church on the left at 2006 Nuttman Avenue.
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Published in Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
JANUARY 18, 2005
WORKING TOGETHER FOR GOOD
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28)
What a wonderful truth! Things are working together to benefit God's people throughout the world.
In order to understand this verse and rejoice in the meaning of it, we must correctly interpret it. What are the things which are working together for our good? How are these things working together?
Someone unfamiliar with the Bible may immediately conclude that the "all things" under consideration here is "everything that happens". Also, the person who takes this position may conclude that to interpret it otherwise is to change the meaning of what it actually says. However, in consideration of how the expression is used elsewhere in the Bible, we must conclude that "all things" usually doesn't mean "everything without exception". Furthermore, "all things" is limited to what is under consideration in the context of the verse in which the expression is used. The application of the expression in Romans 8:28 can be understood by considering the limitations of how it is used elsewhere in the Bible and by studying the particular application in the context of the eighth chapter of Romans.
Let's consider how "all things" is used other places in the New Testament, particularly in the writings of Paul since he wrote the epistle to the Romans. "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak eateth herbs....For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence." (Rom. 14:2,20) If "all things" is interpreted to the extreme of meaning everything without exception, then Paul is saying that the mature Christian understands that everything is pure and good for human consumption. It is only the weak believer who excludes certain things from his diet. A regular diet of nails, rocks, and gasoline serves the same purpose as a diet of bread, fish, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. However, if eating nails, rocks, and gasoline offends the weak brother, you should leave it off. Obviously, to interpret "all things" to mean everything without exception is to force an absurd meaning upon the text. Clearly, Paul is teaching that all kinds of nutritious foods are good to eat. The food you eat is not what determines your spirituality. The vegetarian is not a better Christian than the person who eats “all things”. It is not a sin to eat meat or drink wine [in moderation, of course (Pro. 20:1)]. However, if eating meat or drinking wine offends one who is weak in understanding, we should be willing to leave it off, at least in his presence. (Rom. 14:21-22).
"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." (1 Cor. 10:23). The word "lawful" here means "allowable". Is Paul here advocating moral relativism? Is he saying, “There’s no definite right or wrong, it all depends on the situation and how others are affected by what you choose to do.“? Again we must look at the context to determine the application of "all things". The issue under consideration is Christians eating things which have been sacrificed to idols (v. 20-21). In reality, "all things" (i.e., all nutritious foods) are okay for the Christian to eat because "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." (v. 26). However, if "any of them that believe not" invite you to dine with them, be careful about how you conduct yourself in their presence. If they do not make any statement about the food being sacrificed to idols, go ahead and eat with them. Don't ask any questions about it (v. 27). However, if they say, "This is offered in sacrifice to idols", don't partake of it because it may give the person you're eating with the wrong view of Christianity (v. 28-29). It may make him think that you believe it is acceptable to worship other gods. The Bible teaches that we need to, "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time." (Col. 4:5). See also Pro. 11:30, 1 Cor. 9:22b, & 1 Cor. 14:22-25 . We need to conduct ourselves in such a way as to hold the interest of those who are potential converts to the faith. Notice Paul says in verses 28 & 29, "...if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake. ...Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other...". It doesn't bother your conscience to eat things sacrificed to idols because you know there is only one true God (1 Cor. 8:4,6). However, the one that "believeth not" may defile his "weak conscience" by doing so. He thinks you believe that eating meat (food) sacrificed to idols commends or brings you closer to God. He will attach a spiritual significance to eating food which has been "sacrificed to idols" (1 Cor. 8:7-13). He is "weak" (immature) in the faith.
Many other examples could be given which illustrate the limited application of "all things" in the Bible. Consider the danger of interpreting "all things" to mean "everything without exception" in the following verses.
"Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." (1 Cor. 10:32-33). If “all things” means “everything“, Paul is teaching unlimited compromise in the church in order to avoid offending people. He could rightly be called the guru of Pragmatism advocates.
Charity...beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Cor. 13:4,7). If “all things” means “everything”, Paul is teaching that true Christian love involves believing everything that is taught, even lies. Yet he taught the church at Thessalonica that believing lies is a consequence of God’s judgment (2 Thes. 2:11-12).
“Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” (Col. 3:20). While it is important for children to give complete honor and respect to their parents, who would dare advocate an unlimited application of this verse. Would God be “well pleased” for children to lie, steal, and murder as long as they did so in compliance with the instructions of their parents?
Let’s now turn our attention to the application of “all things” in Romans, chapter 8, so that we can make a correct interpretation of verse 28. Give particular attention to how the word “things” is used in the context.
28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
31 What shall we say then to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:28-39).
Whatever the “all things” are in verse 28, notice that these things are “working together for good to them that love God...”. The expression “work together” comes from a word which means, “to be a fellow-worker, i.e. co-operate” It is a derivative of a word which means, “a co-laborer - companion in labor, (fellow-) helper, etc.” (See Strong’s #4903 & #4904). According to Spiros Zodhiates, it means, “to work together for something, cooperate, contribute to an end or goal,...” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, p. 1341). The concept under consideration is not describing how opposing forces (good and evil) are overruled by the providence of God in order to produce an ultimately good result. To the contrary, it is identifying things which cooperate together in order to accomplish the same goal. The Bible does teach that God sovereignly overrules evil at His pleasure (See Gen. 50:20). However, that is not the lesson of Romans, chapter 8. The context here has reference to God’s everlasting covenant to save his people from their sins. It is describing all the things which work together to accomplish this purpose.
Notice how this is illustrated in verses 28-32. After stating, “... that all things work together for good...” in verse 28, he then proceeds to describe those things in verses 29 & 30. We often refer to what’s in these verses as the “Doctrines Of Grace”. Each component in God’s covenant of grace works together with all the other components to ultimately save God’s people from the very presence of sin. He foreknew a people (loved them with an everlasting love) and predestinated them to be conformed to the image of his Son (determined their final destiny before the world began). He calls (quickens) each one of them during their life in this world (John 5:25, Eph. 2:1). Jesus justified them through his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 5:9 & 4:25). Ultimately, they will all be glorified in their resurrected bodies in heaven at the Lord’s second coming (1 Cor. 15:49-57 & 1 Thes. 4:13-17). The same ones that were foreknown will ultimately be glorified because God predestinated, called, and justified them. Indeed it will be good in heaven because all these things are working together for our benefit. He then says in verse 31, “What shall we then say to these things?...” The only logical response in light of all these things which are working together for our good is, “...If God be for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31b). Finally, in verse 32, he says, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Because of everything that is working together for our good, we are going to receive all the things that heaven has in store for us. No wonder Paul said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world...” (Eph. 1:3-4a). Furthermore, we are described in Romans 8:17 as being, “joint-heirs with Christ”. This is the good news of the gospel, "...how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (v. 32).
In the last section of the chapter, Paul addresses all the things that would threaten to separate us from the love of Christ, if it were possible (v. 35-39). He names seven different things in verse 35 and then says in verse 37, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Paul then names ten different things in verses 38 & 39. Notice that two of the items mentioned in this list are “things present” and “things to come”. The tenth item in the list is “any other creature”. No matter what you may think of to mention, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ because the "all things" of verses 29 & 30 are working together for our good.
The eighth chapter of Romans has two different categories of “things”. The things working together for our good (v. 28-32) and the things that, if it were possible, would work against us (v. 35-39). Notice that some of verse 35 and all of verse 36 are referring directly to suffering for righteousness sake. No wonder Jesus said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mat. 10:28). Also, in the sermon on the mount, He said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Mat. 5:11-12).
There are numerous examples in the scriptures of God’s providence overruling evil to bring about good in the lives of His children. The three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace is a great example (Dan. 3). The heathen king meant to destroy them. God was not in any way the cause of his wicked acts nor was the king’s evil necessary in order to bring good in their lives. God could have allowed them to be killed and they would have been instantly delivered to paradise (2 Cor. 5:8). However, God, doing that which pleased Him, delivered them from death. God’s eternal purpose to conform them to the image of his Son is irrelevant to their experience in the furnace. In other words, the trying of their faith, was not a part of their eternal salvation. The “all things” of Rom. 8:28-32 was working together for their good regardless of whether or not they even had this experience in the furnace. God is for us (Rom. 8:31). Satan (the devil), our adversary, is against us (1 Pet. 5:8). He will do all he can to oppose us, whether it be through persecution from without or temptation from within. His actions are in no way “working together” or “cooperating” with the eternal purpose of God to conform His people to the image of Jesus in glory. The eighth chapter of Romans describes the harmonious operation of God’s purpose and work to save His people from their sins. It describes this operation in the context of our life in this world where many different things work against us. None of these things "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39).
PASTOR ELDER BUDDY ABERNATHY
FORT WAYNE PRIMITIVE BAPTIST CHURCH
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA 46818