A friend once said to me during the course of a conversation, “Oh well, all things work together!” Nothing could be further from the truth, for that is but one part of an entire promise in God’s Word. My friend misquoted this verse by stating only part of it. We miss the value of God’s truth when we select bits and pieces that seem to fit our situation. Nothing “works itself out” in a Christian’s life automatically. Keep all parts of this verse in context. Do not attempt to bind God to promises He never made. It’s not true that “all things work together.” It is not true that “all things work together for good.” It is true that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Everything “working together” is contingent upon being currently in tune with God’s plan. It is biblical and logical to find things continuing to work together for good as long as I continue to love, serve and obey God. Only then can I be molded and shaped so He can use me for His purpose.
Beginning in verse 28, Paul starts to summarize God’s dealings with humans through His Holy Spirit. Since this is the pivotal verse in this chapter, let’s examine the dynamics of it in detail.
“And we know”
Paul begins with the conjunction word “and” to link this verse with his previous thoughts concerning God’s Spirit working in tandem with His will.
Paul includes himself with all the other saints.
The Greek word for “know” is “eido, a term used thirty times in his epistles as an expression of the wonderful common knowledge of the saints. It always indicates Christian knowledge, never secular knowledge. The term means “knowledge with a certainty; free from doubt.” The Apostle John used this same term a great deal in his epistles (i.e, I John 5:19). “Know” indicates an absolute, growing knowledge of God as I continue to know Him better. This knowledge has a calming effect on our spirits, for our knowledge of God is both a conviction and a consolation.
“We know.” But how? Through His Holy Spirit (8:14). Only God knows the true depth of our continuing desire to know Him more intimately. The closer we draw to God, the more we experience the truth of this verse. The more estranged we become from God, the less assurance we have that anything is working. The eternal security folks like to think that “all things work together” automatically once they have accepted Christ. But Paul’s use of the term “we know” indicates a continuing, personal knowledge of His work on our behalf. If all things just worked out automatically in the Christian life, without thought or effort, we would have little to praise God for. This verse can be taken out of context when a Christian does not accept that the concept of continual obedience is blended all throughout this chapter. All of God’s promises are conditional and contingent upon continuing our daily communication with Him. His Spirit will constantly give us insight into God’s dealings with us as our relationship with Him grows deeper.
While it is true that no outside force or external pressure can thwart God’s plan for your life, you must decide if you will allow Him to fulfill His plan.
“All things” is the Greek term panta, meaning “every single part of the whole.” This refers to everything in your Christian life. This includes all your joys, sorrows, persecutions, victories, sickness, things bright and things dark, things sweet and things bitter, happy things and sad things, times of adversity and times of prosperity. Concerning what the Lord is trying to teach you, a sickness can be better than a sermon.
What may seem contrary to His plan for your life can be turned into something to help you to cooperate with His will. There is optimism expressed in this verse, but it is not blind optimism, but one based on His Word and faith in Him. “All things” does not mean just some things. It means no limits and no exceptions. No qualifiers and no boundaries. This all-inclusive phrase expresses the limitlessness of His involvement in your “fender-benders,” spouse-selection, church membership, job choice, etc.
You will discover that God can indeed bring good out of evil as you serve Him throughout your lifetime. “All things are for your sakes” (II Corinthians 4:15). Everything that happens to a Christian fits into the plan that He has established for you. God may have to rewrite the script of your life depending on your obedience, but the concept of all things working together for your good is clearly seen in this single verse.
The term here is sunergeo. We get the English term “synergism” from it. Synergism is “the working together of various elements to produce an effect greater and different from the sum of elements acting separately.” This means that all of the events of your live are somehow connected, although you cannot always understand how. To illustrate this, consider that table salt is comprised of two poisons, sodium and chloride. But combined and working together, they are beneficial. God may put you in the hospital with pneumonia to save you from a fatal car wreck. Though you were unaware of it, “all things” were working together for good for you because you “love God and are called according to His purpose.” Never take for granted the precious leading and comfort of His Holy Spirit, for “all things” just don’t work out all by themselves. God is the subject of the term “work together.” Things only work out for you because God is working things out for you.
“All things work together”
God has fixed intentions. His will must come to pass. But there is a problem: the human will. He guides our lives and orchestrates our circumstances in order that we will turn to Him for guidance and wisdom. How often do we do this? Instead of praying, many will say, “Somehow, everything is going to work out.” But blind fatalism is not what God has in mind in Romans 8:28. “All things” can prove advantageous to believers only if they take advantage of them and seek to see God’s design in them. Even harsh circumstances can be used for His glory. What may seem like stumbling blocks become stepping stones. Paul’s thoughts here are in the present tense, “All things are constantly working” in tandem; hand-in-glove. All things are continuously working together for the dedicated Christians. Because He loves us, He carries us through all the successive, progressive steps in our spiritual life.
Our Divine Designer knows how to make all things fit and work for good in our lives. It is the knowledge of the architect that makes a building safe, not someone’s unfounded fears. A Divine plan springs from the Divine Mind.
Let’s look at a few Biblical examples:
The Forty Years in the Desert
How could forty years of desert wandering be good? And how could their 430 previous years of slavery in Egypt be beneficial? Those years served to define and refine the Hebrews as their nation was forming. Their deliverances should have caused them to praise God, but many whined about what they had left behind. Do that, and you wander aimlessly—sometimes for years. In II Corinthians 4 we find that “our light afflictions are momentary” and will serve to produce in us positive spiritual changes far beyond comparison.
The Woman at the Well
She had been married five times and was living with a man when Jesus met her at the well. It is likely that her marital experiences cause her to appreciate Jesus’ living water all the more. Something wonderful happened in her life, for she ran off to tell others what Jesus had done for her. Her past frustrations no doubt caused her to appreciate her present opportunity.
Joseph in Egypt
His situation was grim and unfair. He had been sold into slavery by his brothers and then falsely accused and jailed by a lustful woman. But years later, Joseph is delivered, vindicated and promoted to governor of Egypt. He not only forgave his brothers, he testified how God had sent him into those circumstances because “God meant it for good.” Read the story in Genesis 50. “All things” worked together, for God used all these events to accomplish His will. Although Israel is the target of envious terrorists today, she is the single most important nation on earth. If God can work things out on a national level, He can certainly handle the circumstances in your life.
Paul and His Thorn
Paul had his “thorn in the flesh.” You may have one too. But why? Lest you be “exalted above measure” (II Corinthians 12:7). Though Paul had hard times, events in his life caused him to meditate a great deal. And God used him to write this very verse we are studying today!
Naomi and Ruth
Though Naomi’s son violated God’s law and married a Moabitess named Ruth, God ultimately brought her into the fold. Events followed which made Ruth the ancestress of the Messiah. All things were working together, but it was impossible for Naomi to see how before the end of her story.
Daniel in the Lion’s Den
Although there was no injury upon him from hungry lions (Daniel 6), He did have to spend some time in the den. But Daniel was delivered because he trusted God (Daniel 6:21-23). It is a challenge to trust God when surrounded by ravenous beasts. Envious co-workers sent Daniel to the den, but God met him there. He sent him to the den so he could later testify about the protection and delivering power of God.
Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace
Failure to compromise their faith in God sent them into the furnace of affliction. But had they never gone there, they never would have seen the Fourth Man walking with them, the one they said looked like “the Son of God.” Sometimes we may have to walk through the fire to find that Jesus was with us all the time. When they came out of the furnace, they did not even smell like smoke (Daniel 3:27), for their past hardships were forgotten. They found that “all things were working together for their good, because they loved God and were called according to His purpose.” “Your fire-tested faith will result in honor and glory when Jesus Christ appears” (I Peter 1:7).
He had denied the Lord, but the Lord appeared to Him privately after the resurrection (Luke 24:34). So personal and loving was this interview, we are told only that the meeting between them took place, but not what was spoken. When Jesus forgives you, He will communicate with you in ways far too personal to share with others.
Although she was “a woman of the night,” she seized the moment to help the people of God, and was promoted to the status of a great ancestress of the Messiah. Neither Rahab, Peter, Daniel and his friends, Naomi, Ruth nor Paul himself had a clear understanding of why they were allowed to experience such traumatic moments. But in the end, they saw—as you and I will—that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
This means “for ultimate good; resulting in good; being beneficial.” Circumstances may seem overwhelming at the moment, but this verse does not indicate that “all things” will appear good at the time they occur. God never promises this in any Bible verse. God has written the entire book of your life, but you only get to read one chapter at a time – and sometimes, only one verse.
“to them that love God”
In order to be clear, Paul adds the qualifier: “those who love God.” Without a personal relationship with the Master, things just don’t work themselves out all by themselves. Although situations may improve over a period of time, faith and obedience are the keys to seeing situations from God’s perspective. Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me Lord, but you do not obey Me?” Love for God is inseparable from obedience. “You are my friends,” Jesus said, “if you obey Me” (John 15:14). Love for God includes communication with God, trust, sensitivity to His will, loving what God loves and hating what He hates, loving the people of God and having a burden for those who do not yet know Him. “All things” work together…but it takes God to make them work.
“who are called according to His purpose”
There are two clauses in this last portion of our verse. First, we must love God. Secondly, we must be called according to His will. This means we must deeply desire to allow Him to work in and through all of our circumstances in life, whatever they may be. Paul is speaking to born-again believers and God had him write this down for us in black and white. We should appreciate the fact He is working in and through us for our ultimate good. Don’t accuse or blame God when things go wrong, for He has a plan for you which leads to a definite goal. If you want to know where it leads, stay on the path of obedience. Paul has stated in verse 14 of this chapter, that one is a son of God only as he is led by and obeys the Holy Spirit. God’s call upon one’s life depends on individual obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. “All things” are designed to get us where He wants us.
“All things” can even include evil things. The best example of turning evil into good is the death of God’s only Son. Satan thought it would be the end, but it was just the beginning. The worst evil Satan could devise, God turned into the best blessing the world has known. It is time we praise God for this magnificent verse, for the work that God is doing, through His Spirit, is always for our benefit.