Joseph Plum was a US jet fighter pilot who was shot down over North Viet Nam during the Viet Nam War. He was a POW for six years. For six years in lived in an eight foot by eight foot cell. He could pace three steps in one direction, turn and pace three steps in the other direction. In solitary confinement, he tapped on the walls to communicate to the POW in the cell next to him. While he survived, many POWs did not because of what he called “Prison Thinking.” The first reaction of “Prison Thinking” is the woe is me syndrome. Woe is me because I’ve been shot down, I’m in prison, separated from my family, and tortured. The second reaction of “Prison Thinking” is blaming others such as the President and the mechanics. The ones who felt sorry for themselves atrophied and died. Joseph Plum, however, said it was the best six years of his life. Even though he was tortured, laid on his stomach with his arms pulled out of joint, back behind him and tied to his legs, and beaten in the back.
He learned how to cope with affliction and benefit from suffering. After the war, Joseph Plum travelled all over the USA and spoke twice a week on “How to Survive.” He spoke to young people who have contemplated suicide and other similar groups.
There is a promise of God in a well know verse of Scripture that if understood and applied can help us to survive spiritually by not succumbing to the woe is me thinking or the blame game. The verse is Romans 8:28. But we must read carefully the fine print.
1. This Promise is for Members Only
“And” connects Romans 8:28 to what Paul has been writing in the entire chapter. Paul is writing to believers to assure them of their eternal salvation. Paul is writing to those “who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) in whom the Holy Spirit dwells (8:9) and who have assurance of their salvation and can cry “Abba Father” (8:15).
In other words, the promise in Romans 8:28 is not for everyone.
A. The promise in Romans 8:28 is for members only i.e., members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Paul identifies these members with two titles.
1. Believers Love God. This is the only place in Romans where our love for God is mentioned. In all other places, it is God’s love for us that is stressed. For example, just look at the three uses of “love” in 8:35, 37, and 39. But in Romans 8:28, Paul identifies believers as those who love God. This identification goes all the way back to Exodus 20:5, 6.
2. Believers Have been Called by God. Loving God is the human side of this identification and “the called according to His purpose” is the divine side. There is cause and effect in these titles. We love God because He called us to salvation. God initiated salvation. We will learn in 8:29-30, that God initiated our salvation in eternity past. Then He initiated our salvation in our life when someone gave us the gospel. Through the gospel, God called us to salvation (“He called you by our gospel” (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
B. This promise is not for Unbelievers. God is not working all things together for good to those who do not have God as their Father. With membership in the Body of Christ comes privileges. Just read 8:14-17. But the unbeliever is under the control of Satan. This is clear from 1 John 5:19: “We know that we are of God and the whole world lies in the wicked one.”
1) Because this promise is for believers, “we know” God works all things together. Not only do we have assurance of salvation, but we have assurance that God is in control of our lives. Paul did not say, “We feel that all things work together for good.” We don’t always feel good about life. We don’t always feel saved. Assurance is based of God’s Word not our emotions. Paul said in regard to salvation, “I know whom I have believed that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him” (2 Timothy 1:12).
2) We know this not because we feel it, but because we know God’s Word teaches this. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).
David Jeremiah’s comments:
We have to “know” the promises of God before we can feel encouraged, assured, or hopeful. Too many churches try to build up people’s emotions, appealing directly to the heart. But the way to the heart is through the head. We have to know before we can feel.
The phrase “we know” is used ﬁve times in Romans, and the verb “know” appears 13 times. So Paul puts great emphasis on what we can know for certain in spite of what we can’t know.
On the other hand, “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought.” So Paul is using an interesting contrast in this section of Romans 8. In verse 26, we don’t know how to pray; but in verse 28, we know all things work together for good. We know the ultimate truths even when we don’t know the immediate ones. Even when we don’t know how to pray, we know that God is in control.
We need to be students of God’s Word because what we don’t know can never help us, but what we do know can.
2. This Promise Includes All Things Working Together
The words “work together” come from one word in the Greek from which we get our English word, synergism. Synergism means that the action of two or more can accomplish more than separate individuals can.
Ecclesiastes 4: 9 says, “Two are better than one….for if one fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up.”
Paul uses the noun in Romans 16:3 and 9 to describe his co-workers in the gospel. When we work together, we can accomplish more in service to Christ. Paul used in 1 Corinthians 3:9 to say when we work together not only with each other but with God we can even accomplish more: “we are laborers together with God.”
When work together with God not only in ministry but in our circumstances we honor Him. We must believe that God is working all things together, which includes the difficult and the even the bad.
A. God uses the bad things that happen to us.
Whereas God limits for whom all things work together for good, only believers, God puts no limits on the circumstances He uses in believers’ lives.
Paul personally experienced this difficult truth and wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 12:7: “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” Thomas Watson wrote, “A sickbed often teaches more than a sermon.”
B. God uses the bad things we do.
The writer of Hebrews 12:6,10, and 11 taught that when we do bad and God chastens us, if we respond properly, that chastening can produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
My Dad used to say right before he spanked me for my disobedience, “Son, this is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you.” I remember thinking, “I’ve a solution that will save both of us a lot of pain.” But Dad was right as I learned when I became a father.
God works “all things” together. Individual trials may not be good. In the physical world, some chemicals by themselves are poisonous such as sodium and chlorine, but combined produce tasty table salt.
I read recently, of a pastor who returned to his pulpit a few weeks after his son committed suicide. With great emotion he read his text – which happened to be Romans 8:28.
Then he looked at his congregation and said, “I cannot make my son’s death fit into this passage. It is impossible for me to see how anything good can come out of it. Yet I realize I only see in part. I only know in part. It’s like the miracle of the shipyard. Almost every part of our great ships is made of steel. If you were to take any single part of that vessel – be it a steel plate from the hull or steel from its rudder – and throw it into the ocean, it will sink. Steel doesn’t float! But, when the shipbuilder is finished, when the last plate has been riveted in place, that massive steel ship floats!” He then concluded by saying, “Taken by itself, my son’s suicide is senseless. Throw it into the sea of Romans 8:28 and it will sink. But when the Divine Shipbuilder has finally finished, even this tragedy will build together God’s unsinkable purpose” (Stephen Davey’s sermon in Wisdom for the Heart).
The fine print of Romans 8:28 includes the following: This promise is for believers only, the promise includes all things or circumstances working together not just the good. Lastly, this promise means that all things work together for our good, not all things are good.
3. The Promise Means that All Things Work Together for our Good
Notice the fine print did not say, “All things that work together are good.”
You might say, “You mean even evil and sin and false accusations and injustice and failure and broken relationships and cruelty and betrayal and pain and suffering and hatred and jealousy and abandonment – you mean even that?” Everything I just listed was a part of the last few hours in the life of Jesus Christ. And it all worked into God’s plan for your good and His glory (Stephen Davey).
The good that can be accomplished is spelled out in 8:29, becoming more like Christ. There is no greater good than conformity to Christ.
This promise is for believers only, who have assurance that God works all things not just the good together. It is for believers who know this because God has said this in His Word. This promise is for believers who view their circumstances as God does.
In Genesis 42:36, when Jacob learned that not only had he lost his son Joseph but now he lose also Benjamin, Jacob complained, “All these things are against me.” For Jacob the world had turned sour and his words expressed his bitterness.
Bob Jones Senior used to tell of a man who fell asleep on a park bench and a bunch of mischievous boys put Limburger cheese on his mustache. When he awoke, he said, “This park stinks.” “The flowers stink.” “That bakery stinks.” “The whole world stinks.” The problem was right under his nose not everyone and everything else.
Contrast Joseph who was in the same trial as his father, Jacob. Joseph who had been mistreated by his selfish brothers was not bitter. When Joseph was 17 years old his jealous brothers hated him so much they plotted to kill and threw him in a pit. When they discovered they could sell him to some Midianite travelers and make a profit, they sold their brother into slavery. When in Egypt, the Midianites sold Joseph to an Egyptian officer whose immoral wife falsely accused him. Joseph was put in prison for two years when he was not just innocent but righteous in turning down Potipher’s wife’s proposition. Did Joseph have what Joseph Plum called “Prison Thinking?” Did Joseph have a pity me party? Did Joseph get on Facebook and start blaming and criticizing people? When finally delivered by God and promoted and reunited with his brothers 13 years later, he said to them, “Be not grieved nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here: for God did send me before you to preserve you” (Genesis 45:5).
Fanny Crosby, the blind songwriter, wrote in her autobiography about her doctor who accidentally put the wrong medicine on eyes when she was just an infant which resulted in her blindness for the rest of her life. Fanny Crosby wrote that she had heard that this physician never stopped expressing his regrets, and that it was one of the sorrows of his life. But Fanny Crosby said, if I could meet him now, I would say, ‘Thank you, thank you, over and over again for making me blind. Although it may have been a blunder on your part, it was no mistake on God’s. I believe it was His intention that I should live my days in physical darkness, so as to be better prepared to sing His praises and incite others to do so.”