And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to become] conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Romans 8:28-30 (NASB)
Hymn: "We Worship and Adore Thee"
Oh, the deep joy we draw from Romans 8:28. Well, the first part, anyway. "All things work together for good for those who love God," we will repeat, through every hardship and every period of confusion. We invoke these words as an absolute statement, but it isn't even a complete thought. How often we leave off not only the end of that sentence, but the description given after about what that good actually is!
A whole post could be written just on what is meant by "called according His purpose," but let's focus on defining the good being promised. What do we think the good promised to us is? I was told once that there was concern that I was not on the path God actually had for me, because the speaker expected it would be a good bit easier for me if I was. "We walk in the steps of martyrs," I replied, "what ease are you expecting?" When we hear that God has good for us, do we think it will be wealth or comfort or ease? But the proverb says:
Two things I asked of You,
Do not refuse me before I die:
Keep deception and lies far from me,
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
Feed me with the food that is my portion,
That I not be full and deny [You] and say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or that I not be in want and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
Proverbs 30:7-9 (NASB)
The author has a minimum, which is basically just that God meet their basic needs, but note where the priority lies. Asking for good things, for basic needs and freedom from deception, are not ends in themselves; if they were, there would be no cap on them. The focus is on glorifying God. The author is calling out to God to give enough that they can glorify God, but not so much that they fail to give God the proper glory. The ultimate good being requested isn't the material goods or even the freedom from deception, but the glory of God. And how many of the Psalms have the same message?
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
For the sake of Your name, O LORD, revive me.
In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.
And in Your lovingkindness, cut off my enemies
And destroy all those who afflict my soul,
For I am Your servant.
Psalm 143:10-12 (NASB)
The whole psalm, David is crying out for salvation from enemies, for help in his time of need, but at the end he clarifies that this isn't just something he's asking for his own comfort. The desire behind asking for deliverance is that God's glory would be shown in how He handles the situation.
The good promised by God, like that sought after by the writers of Proverbs and Psalms, is to glorify God. And we most glorify Him when we can reflect Him to the world around us. The good God promises is that we will grow, and develop more and more in our walk with Christ, that we will enter into glory in the end. But this is a painful promise to fulfill. Paul, the man through whom God delivered this promise, could also honestly state that:
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine [lashes.] Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. [I have been] on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from [my] countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; [I have been] in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure...If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.
2 Corinthians 11:24-27, 30 (NASB)
Paul not only endures, but praises, the trials God has brought Him through. Not because going through these things shows him to be a better Christian or a more devout follower. Paul is not praising the pains he has endured or his ability to endure it. He is praising the God who has brought him through it and taking joy in the way God has used these pains to conform him ever more to the image of Christ. Do we think any good greater than the glory of God? Do we think our growth must be easier than it is for other Christians?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation