"You make all things work together for my good."
I noticed the quote above floating through my newsfeed. I think the intent of the author is to give a word of encouragement to people who may be going through a difficult bit of life. And not just a word of encouragement, but a word of encouragement that has its origin in the Bible.
The quote above seems to be meant for encouragement, and derived from the Bible, but to what end? The quote would imply that "you" or God, makes things work together for the good of "me." Stated another way we could say, "God wants things to work together for my benefit."
But is that really true, according to the Bible? Is that true when we read the stories of various believers in God through history? Since the quote is derived from a New Testament verse I'm going to qualify "believers in God" more specifically as "believers in God as made known in the person of Jesus." To use the definition of a believer given by Paul in Romans 10:9, believers would affirm this:
"if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Now let's take a look at the verse that lies behind the quote. It is Romans 8:28, also written by Paul, and saying this:
"And we know that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Here are the things I believe we should take note of. The first is that Paul says that things work together "for good." I think that "good" truly means "good" but it doesn't necessarily mean that they work together "for my good." Could these things that I am involved in work together for the good of someone else? Or maybe I need to take a deeper look at what the meaning of "good" for me truly is?
Secondly, Paul writes this phrase, "for those who are called according to his purposes." I think that this phrase implies two things. One is that Paul's words apply specifically to believers, as defined by Romans 10:9, and more importantly, that the end result for which these things work is directly related to "his purpose" or stated more clearly, "God's purpose."
So here is another way we could express Paul's thoughts in Romans 8:28, with my clarifications in brackets:
"And we [who believe in Christ Jesus] know that all things [be they good or bad, easy or hard] work together for [God's] good, for those who are called according to his [God's] purpose."
Reading Romans 8:28 in that way takes the focus off of ourselves, and whatever we may think of as a good outcome for us, and places the focus on God, so that things in our lives, be they good or not, work out according to His purposes.
With that understanding let's turn again to Paul, this time from 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, where he writes of suffering for the Gospel with these words:
"Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."
As we read of Paul's experience we see something that is quite a bit different from that suggested by the opening quote, and I would say that it is something much richer and more meaningful, for Paul was willing to suffer for the sake of something much greater, which was the glory of God. Paul endured his suffering so that people could better see how sweet, merciful and glorious his Savior was.
If you want to read a non-biblical account of suffering, to the point of death, for the good of the God of the Gospel you can read of Guido de Bres or Jan Hus, two of many people who staked their very lives on the goodness of God.
So I'll wrap this up with the words of Paul again, this time from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18,
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.