All Things Work Together (click to view/download originally published pdf file)
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,a whob have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
I had some trouble with this—the general timing of it, I mean. I’m not alone in that, of course. Everyone in this room understands that. Still, I wanted to point it out in connection with the text I chose.
It’s a simple text. At least, it’s simple enough so that I personally can turn to it when I don’t know where else to turn. Perhaps, like me, you were assigned to memorize it several times in your life. The first verse might roll right off your tongue, as it does mine. Yet, no matter how many times you consider it, what profound comfort we find in these familiars words from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome!
The first verse is translated in a lot of different ways in a lot of different Bibles. Some, like the NIV, which I just read, say basically that God works for good in all things. Others don’t mention that God is the one working for our good. They say simply that the things themselves work together for the good of those who love God. Then there are a few variations that make it more of a perspective thing. That is, they say that it looks like all things are working together when you love God.
The linguistic issues in the text really aren’t that difficult. What makes it hard to translate is more an issue of faith. That’s because this is more than simply seeing things with rose-colored glasses just because you’re so in love with God, and the passage also does not say that God works things for our good (though he is). It simply says that All Things Work Together for the benefit of those who love God. Now, is that so hard?
I guess it is when you consider what “all things” would entail evil things, too. I would think about evil things and awful things and inconvenient things, and I would want to say that I know God must be able to work it all out somehow, but I wouldn’t want to think that horrible things work directly for my benefit. I would think that God is the best there is at reacting and adjusting and turning evil on its ear wherever it pops up. I wouldn’t want to think of evil things as being a part of the way he runs the universe so much as something that he sees sort of “after the fact” and reacts to.
That’s the only trouble with translating this verse. The language itself isn’t hard at all. It’s quite clear. That’s why I needed it, in fact. Quite clearly this verse says that all things work together, good or bad, big or little. This is God’s universe and all things in it work for the benefit of his people. And that’s it. I guess you could say there’s some “adjustment work” involved, since God’s will involves leaving certain variables up to us. He wills that kind of “allowance,” and his intelligence and knowledge are so infinite that it isn’t a problem for him to figure out where and how much and…
Ach! There I go again. I do that all the time. I start trying to reach into places where my limited intelligence and knowledge can provide no help at all. And that’s where, once again, I need this simple passage: “And we know that, for those who love God, all things work for their benefit.” And I need the tag that God puts on that so that my sins against him, which he has forgiven, won’t prevent me from seeing that he has also graced me with a new heart through the gospel of Jesus Christ: “the benefit of those whom he has called according to his plan: that those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
And then, among all the things I can’t understand, I see the obvious things that God has made it easy for people like us to see: “And those he predestined, he also called,” which is to say that God’s eternal decision to save Pat is obvious in the fact that all things worked toward her baptism, toward her hearing of the gospel again and again. That is, all things worked toward her justification, her being declared not guilty again and again, both through Jesus’ saving work itself, as well as through the preaching of forgiveness and the many times she received the Lord’s body and blood for her forgiveness. And in doing this, this justifying work in Pat’s life, he also glorified her, made her his own through constant regeneration and, right now, in the high and beautiful glorification in heaven, so that now we look forward to the ultimate glorification of her body, along with ours, at the great resurrection to perfect, sinless, incorruptible life, which Malachi described in this prophecy that we read earlier.
You know, Pat Anschuetz was quite literally the last name I wanted to hear passing Dean Kobs’ lips when he told me that he was calling to report a death in the congregation on Friday. I mean it. It would be a speech the size of another sermon to explain why, but it’s true. And it’s the reason I needed this passage when I sat down to think about today’s message. Mike also told me when I went over to his house that the timing of this death would make many of the family members feel the same way.
I can’t explain the timing. But I know that the timing is just another thing, and I know all things work for the benefit of those God has called in accord with his good and saving purpose. I mean, who would have thought that all the horrible things that were happening to Jesus were working toward the benefit of anyone but those who hated his preaching? Yet those things did work for our benefit, didn’t they? Those things worked toward our forgiveness, our salvation, and ultimately our resurrection from the dead in glory—resurrection glory that even now our Lord is preparing for us!
Jesus just saved Pat. That’s what just happened. Personally, I can only see it in the simple things that I can understand: Jesus’ work of salvation described in Scripture, her baptism, the preaching of the gospel throughout her life and the faith that God gave her in the gospel. And I get this passage. And I offer it to you. No explanations, just a promise from God: All these things work together for our blessed reunion in the resurrection of all flesh, when “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall”—me, you, Pat, and all the people God has called. Amen.