David Jeremiah - The Greatest Promise in the Bible
It was January 18, 2010, amateur bowler Bill Fong was just three rolls away from perfection. Three consecutive perfect games, a 900. In the history of bowling, there have only been 21 perfect series. After rolling 33 consecutive strikes, Bill gathered his ball, walked up, and rolled another strike and then he rolled another on frame 35, and the crowd went wild. But something was wrong. Two frames back, Bill had begun sweating profusely and feeling dizzy. But he was just one roll away from history. Bill pulled the ball to his chest, took his usual five steps, and released the ball perfectly. People actually started clapping before the ball reached the pins, that's how perfect the roll was. It curved exactly where it was supposed to, made exact contact with the pins at precisely the right spot. Pins flew, the crowd cheered, and the number 10 pin wobbled but settled back onto its base. Eight ninety-nine, one pin short of perfection.
Heartbroken, Bill headed home. The dizziness that began on frame 34 had not improved. Bill staggered into his bathroom and threw up. The walls continued to spin and then Bill fell asleep, and when he awoke the next morning, he realized that he had suffered a stroke. Later in 2010, he had open heart surgery at just the age of 46. He survived, despite a 70% chance that he wouldn't. The doctors told him that the only thing that saved his life on the night of 899 was that the 10 pin stayed up. Had that last pin fallen, Bill's doctor said his body, already in the midst of a stroke, would have pushed his blood pressure even higher. That most likely would have killed him immediately. What he thought was the worst thing that could ever happen, the most awful thing after rolling 899 pins right, the last one didn't fall right, he thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen, but the worst thing that could ever happen was what saved his life.
Sometimes, the things we think are bad are only bad to us. God has a different perspective. I mean, all of us know that bad things happen to people. Some bad things are the result of national or international crises like pandemics. Some bad things are the result of bad decisions and bad conduct. Bad things happen. We know that. But if you'll listen today, you will discover that because of Romans 8:28, Christians have a unique way of processing life when bad things happen to them. One student of Romans 8:28 put it this way: "The truth of Romans 8:28 can change the way you think. It can provide a corresponding shift in your moods, emotions, and outlook. In time, it can actually transform your personality, alter your circumstances in life. It can turn troubled souls into people of confidence and good cheer. It's the secret of resilience and irrepressible joy. And this promise has your name on it. It meets the challenges you're facing right now. It's God's guarantee. Now, let us all stand to our feet and read this promise aloud from the screen. Everybody stand. This is Romans 8:28. I wanna hear your voices. Read this out loud with me: 'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.' You may be seated".
The interesting thing about life for me as I look back on it is most of the important things in life are pretty simple, aren't they? We make them complicated, we make them profound, but they're simple. And that's true with this verse, this verse is one of the simplest verses in the Bible. I mean, it's made up of one-syllable words. There are 25 words in Romans 8:28; only three of 'em are more than one syllable. These one-syllable words are put together in such a way and compressed in such a way that they're the greatest truths to be found anywhere within the Scripture.
So here are five great truths from this verse, five things I want you to remember from Romans 8:28. First of all, this is a definite promise. This isn't a suggestion or a possibility; it's a definite promise. Listen to what it says: "And we know". How incredibly important it is to know. I mean, we live in an age where people say you can't know anything for sure and where truth and knowledge seem to have taken a back seat to errors and opinions, and sometimes you wonder if truth even exists in the minds of some folks. But I'm here to tell you that what you know is important. That is why we're committed to teaching the Word of God. We want to know what we know. And here we are told something that we can know.
The word "know" is used 1098 times in the Bible, and the little phrase, "We know," is used 5 times in the book of Romans, and Paul says that we can know beyond all doubt that every aspect of our lives is in God's hands and will be divinely used by the Lord, not only to manifest his glory but also to work out our own ultimate blessing. We know that. It's definite. We don't have to guess about it. We don't have to get a counselor to tell us. It's in the Bible, and we know. Now, this verse would still be great if those words were missing. If the verse started, "All things work together for good," and we didn't have the first phrase, "And we know," it would still be a great verse. But "All things work together," isn't where it starts. It starts with, "And we know".
Donald Grey Barnhouse makes this point about that phrase. He says, "It would be wonderful if all things worked together for our good without our knowing it, and we would find out about it later". That'd be wonderful. "But it is possible here and now to know that all things work together for our good, and to lay hold of that fact is to claim a new power in your life that will calm the turbulence and bring to quiet and confidence the whole of your life. Nothing can touch me unless it passes through the will of God. God has a plan for my life. God is working according to a fixed, eternal purpose. And we know that all things work together. We know".
The American folk writer, Robert Fulghum, wrote a book with a strange title. The title is "All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". He confessed that by the time he was 50, he had distilled his core belief into one word and that word was "Maybe". How sad is that? How blessed we are as Christ followers that we don't live our lives on maybes. We know what we know and it makes all the difference in the world as to how we live each day. You know, earlier in the same context in the book of Romans that we've been studying, Paul has spoken of the ability of the believer to know. For instance, back in verse 22, he said, "For we know that the whole creation groans". We know that. And then we come to verse 28 and "we know that all things work together for good". So here in this context there are two things that we know, but there are still some things that we do not know.
So look at verse 26. Remember this? "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray". Now, put those things together. They're not accidentally adjacent to one another. One verse about knowing, and the other's about not knowing. It's not incidental. Here is the difficult road we follow as believers. While we can know that God is in control of our lives, verse 28, we cannot know how all the details are being fitted together, so sometimes we don't even know how to pray. We know that God is in control, that he's gonna make all things right, but in between knowing that and living it, we don't know sometimes how it works out every day. Isn't that true? We know what we know, but we also don't know what we don't know.
One of the paradoxical things about being a Christian is this, and I wrote this little principle down. Here it is: "We are often the most certain about the ultimate when we are the most uncertain about the immediate". When we don't know how it's working out, as Christians, we rest on the fact that we know how it's going to turn out. We may not know how it's working out, we do know how it turns out. This is a definite promise: and we know. Say that with me. "And we know". It's also a divine promise. Here, Paul says that we know that God works and he's at work in our lives. You see, Romans 8:28 doesn't work if God isn't working. God is ceaselessly, energetically, purposefully working on our behalf. It is God who is bringing this good about on behalf of those who love him. Here's what Isaiah says. I love this verse. He said, "Since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him". God is working for us.
This week, I read about a pastor who returned to his pulpit ten days after losing his son. He began his message by reading this verse, "And we know that all things God works for good for those who love him". He was visibly struggling, and he said, "I cannot make my son's death fit into this passage. It's impossible for me to see how anything good can come out of it. Yet I realize that I only see in part, I only know in part". He said, "It's like the miracle of the shipyard. Almost every part of our greatest vessels are made of steel. If you take any single part, be it a steel plate out of the hull, or a huge rudder and throw it into the ocean, it will sink to the bottom. Steel doesn't float. But when the shipbuilders are finished, when the last plate has been riveted into place, then that massive steel ship is virtually unsinkable. Taken by itself, my son's death is senseless. Throw it into the sea of Romans 8:28, and it sinks. Still, I believe that when the eternal shipbuilder has finally finished, when God has worked out his perfect design, even this senseless tragedy will somehow work out for God's purpose and my eternal good".
This is a definite promise: and we know. This is a divine promise: that God works. God is working in all of this. And then thirdly, this is a definitive promise. He works all things. The "all things" of this verse is totally comprehensible. You may think, "Oh, yeah, this may work for a lot of people, Pastor Jeremiah, but you don't know what I've been going through. My 'all things' are not good. And God isn't involved in this. I'm outside of it". Well, you can't be outside of it because here you have this all-encompassing statement. What is involved in this promise? What does this include? It includes all things. All means all. Or as one preacher put it, "All means all and that's all that all means". Take it in context, the promise allows for no restrictions or no conditions.
All things is inclusive in the fullest possible sense. It includes the suffering of verse 17, it includes the groaning of verse 23. In other words, all that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in the execution of God's eternal plan. Nothing is beyond the overruling, overriding scope of his providence. I wanna say that again. This promise that we're investigating is not a partial promise, it's not a conditional promise, it's not a "probably," it's an absolute, all things. Everything that goes on in your life or mine comes under the umbrella of this passage.
Anybody who studies the book of Romans will ultimately have to read the writings of a pastor who preached for many years in Philadelphia. His name was Donald Grey Barnhouse, and he wrote ten volumes on the book of Romans. They're amazing. He was one of the great illustrators of his day, a great preacher. Here's what he says about this passage. He says, "All things within the compass of existence, within the range of possibility, within the knowledge of God. There are no exceptions to the sweeping breadth of this statement. There is no will or act of creatures, men, angels, or demons, that can do other than work for our good. No dog can bark against us, no man can speak or act against us, no sinister power of evil can be against us, but all must be for our good. There is no phenomenon of nature, fire, flood, storm, earthquake, that can work us ultimate ill. The law of gravity cannot trip us up or cause anything to fall upon us unless it has been first sifted through the will of God for our good".
What he is saying is that when you begin to see life like this, when you begin to realize that while there are incidents in your life, things that happen, bad things, good things, we look at them often individually, but God sees them as a part of his ultimate plan, and when we begin to understand that God has an ultimate plan for our lives, it begins to free us up in our own spirit to know God is in control, I may not understand this, but God has a purpose for all that happens in my life. That's what Paul is saying. Let me tell you what he is not saying. I don't want you to be confused by this or go home and wonder, "Did I miss something"? What he's not saying is that sickness, suffering, persecution, grief, or any other such thing is good. He's not saying that. On the contrary, these things are evil. Hatred is not love, death is not life, grief is not joy. The world is filled with evil, but what the text says is that God uses these things to affect his own good ends for his people. God brings good out of evil.
Paul is not saying that God prevents his children from experiencing things that can harm them. He's rather telling us Lord the Lord takes all that he allows to happen to his beloved children, even the worst things, and he turns those things ultimately into blessing. No matter what our situation, our suffering, our persecution, our sinful failure, our pain, our lack of faith, in those things as well as in other things, our heavenly Father will work to produce ultimate victory and blessing in our life. In other words, Paul is not expressing faith in the goodness of all things. Paul is expressing faith in the goodness of God, in the goodness of God's purpose for us.
Randy Alcorn says this. He says: "Do you see the difference between saying each thing by itself is good and all things work together for good? Think about it. The difference is tremendous. This verse does not tell me I should say it is good if my leg gets broken or my house burns down or I'm robbed and beaten, or my child dies. But it does say that God will use these events and weave them together with every other facet of my life in order to produce what he knows to be the very best for me". What a tremendous promise that is. It's a definite promise: and we know. It's a divine promise: that God works. It's a definitive promise: he works all things.
Now here's the one that I think is the best of all and most important that we understand: it's a dynamic promise: all things together for good. Say this, "Together for good". Say that with me. "Together for good". Do you ever know the frustration of putting together a puzzle that's above your pay grade? Well, let me tell you about the world's hardest jigsaw puzzle. Designed by the Japanese manufacturer, Beverly, priced at just $30, the puzzle isn't difficult because it has so many pieces. Its 1000 pieces pales in comparison to the world's largest monster, a 551,232-piece monster that features a lotus flower and six petals. No, the puzzle is difficult because it consists of just one single color of black. Here it is, look at this. There's the puzzle. It's almost impossible to determine how the pieces fit together. Adding an extra layer of frustration, the company claims its 1000 micro-sized puzzle pieces are the world's smallest. Suitable only for the nimblest of fingers, here is how small those pieces are.
How difficult is the puzzle? Well, one puzzle expert said it took him 17 months to complete just half of the puzzle. Please don't go buy this puzzle and send it to me. You all know I love to do puzzles. I'm not interested in this one. One man described the puzzle as "The devil reincarnated in an inanimate object". Now, why is that so? Why is that different than any other puzzle? Well, there's no pattern. There's no structure. There's no way to even have a clue as to how the pieces might fit together. When you are clueless about the pieces of a puzzle, frustration abounds. The same is true in life. Few things can frustrate us more than when we can't see or understand how the pieces of our lives fit together.
Some of you here today are trying to figure out what is God doing right now in my life? How is what's happening to me, how does that fit in to God's plan for my life? And sometimes, if the problems are serious and you're trying to sort them out, it can really keep you up at night. But Paul uses an interesting expression to describe how God is working in our behalf. He says that all things work together, and he uses a Greek word. I don't use a lot of Greek words, but this is an important one. The Greek word is sunergeo. Sunergeo. And the word comes from the word from which we get our word "synergism". Sunergeo, synergism. Now, let me just remind you since you probably have forgotten this from your school days, that synergism is the working together of various elements to produce an effect that's greater than and often completely different from the sum of each element, if they were acting separately.
Now, I know that's a long statement but let me say it again. Synergism is the working together of various elements to produce an effect that's greater than, and often completely different from, the sum of each element acting separately. In the physical world, the right combination of otherwise harmful chemicals can produce substances that are extremely beneficial. I'll give you a simple illustration. Ordinary table salt is composed of two poisons: sodium and chlorine. But when you put it together, it's salt. And you've gotta have it for your French fries. Now, once again, it's important to point out that Romans 8:28 is not saying that things will just work together. It is saying that God causes this synergism to happen so that everything will ultimately and somehow work out for our good, for your good. God is the one who is stirring the mix. God is the one who is making this happen.
"When I was young," said Randy Alcorn, "I used to help my mother bake delicious cakes. Before she made a cake, she would lay out each of the ingredients on the kitchen counter. One day," he said, "I decided to try an experiment. I decided I was gonna taste each one of the individual ingredients to a chocolate cake. Think about it. Have you ever tasted baking powder? How about baking soda? The flour was horribly bland, and I won't try to describe the raw egg. Even the semi-sweet chocolate tasted terribly bitter compared to the sweet milk chocolate I was used to eating. To sum it up, almost everything that goes into a cake tastes terrible by itself. The striking thing was that when my mother mixed it all together in the right amounts, placed it in the oven, and then laid it out to cool, an amazing thing took place. The cake was delicious. Isn't that something?
While the individual ingredients tasted terrible, the final product tasted terrific. If I would have judged the whole cake on the basis of the individual ingredients, I would never have believed it could be good". So, do you see the analogy to Romans 8:28? The individual ingredients of trials and apparent tragedies that come into our lives are neither delicious nor desirable. In fact, at first taste, they are often very bland and even bitter. But God is capable of carefully measuring out, mixing up these ingredients in order to produce a final product that is for our very best. Until you have seen this work in your life or experienced it, it's hard to believe it's true. But it's true. And if you live long enough and walk with the Lord, you'll be able to, even in this life, look back over your shoulder and see, "Oh, so that's what that was all about". This is a definite promise: and we know. It's a divine promise: that God works. It's a definitive promise: he works all things. It's a dynamic promise: is together for good. And it's a defined promise. Watch this, "To those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose".
Now, this is one of the most absolute verses in all of the Bible. We are absolutely to know that absolutely all things work absolutely together for absolute good. It's absolutely wonderful. But now comes the part that's not absolute. Listen carefully. This promise does not apply to absolutely everyone. This is a precondition that must be met before this promise does its work. The Bible says this promise that I have just explained and we have just outlined, belongs to a certain group of people. Who are those people? Those who love God. Those who love God. It's the fraternity pin of the believer. How do you describe a believer? He's a person who loves God. I have been totally blessed at how many times we, as believers, are described in the Bible simply as those who love God. What a great name for believers. We're God lovers.
Are you a God lover? Deuteronomy 7:9 says: "Therefore know that the Lord your God, he is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for 1000 generations with those who love him". Psalm 145, verse 20 says: "The Lord preserves all who love him". 1 Corinthians 2:9 says: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him". 1 Corinthians 8:3: "But if anyone loves God, this one is known by him".
Let me ask you a question this morning. Do you love God? I see you shaking your heads, most of you. Somebody might be here and say, "Well, I know God. I know about God. I'm here because I know about God, but do I love him? Ah, come on, Pastor, does anybody really love God? I mean, how can you love somebody you can't even see"? The Bible teaches us how to love God and it describes what we do when we love God. The Bible says if we love him we will keep his commandments. Are you walking in fellowship with God? You know, if you're married, your partner has every reason to be able to look at your life and see any elements that would make your partner believe that you love her or him. There should be evidence every day. I've told you before that one of the great secrets to marriage is to develop a servant spirit and try to figure out what your mate wants you to do, and do it before they ask you.
Isn't that a great thought? I mean, some of you are thinking, "Oh, my goodness, I never thought of that". What would it be like if you looked at God that way? Do you love God? Are you trying to do what you believe God wants you to do before you're apparently aware that he's watching? Are you loving God in your life? Do you love God? What I'm asking you today is are you a Christian? Because a Christian loves God. That's the view from our perspective: Christians love God. Here's the view from God's perspective. God says we are the called according to his purpose. We love him because he called us. Because God has called us, and we are his children, the incidents in our lives are not incidental. Did you know that? We are God's children, the trials of our lives are not trivial.
When you look at what's going on in your life, God is up to something. He has called you, you love him, you're in this relationship and God is working in your life. He's working all things together. He's stirring the mix so that what happens in your life is for his glory and for your good. He is using even setbacks to advance your spiritual maturity. Some of the things that you think are the most negative may be the most productive. Isn't that interesting?
Elizabeth Elliott once told a story of visiting a British sheep farm one day when the shepherd was treating his flock for parasites. The shepherd would herd the sheep into a small enclosure, and then, one by one, pick up the sheep and throw them into a vat filled with chemical disinfectant. If the sheep tried to escape, the shepherd hooked him with a rod and dunked him back in, holding down their nose, eyes, and ears for a few seconds below the liquid. Elliott said, "What must the sheep have been thinking when all this was happening"? Probably something like, "I thought the shepherd cared. He's trying to kill me. What is he trying to do"? And yet, the shepherd, had he not been doing that, the sheep couldn't understand what was going on, but without that disinfectant, that sheep would have been miserable and possibly even dead. What seemed like such a terrible thing to undergo, ended up being life-giving, live-saving.
Romans 8:28 reminds us that God has a plan that is better than ours. Sometimes it's uncomfortable, sometimes it doesn't make sense to us, but it is always for our good if we love God and are the called according to his purpose. That's Romans 8:28. Let me give you three things to take home with you from this verse that I feel very strongly about. First of all, I am determined to trust God because of Romans 8:28: "For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from the ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.' Indeed I have spoken it; I will bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will do it".
In theory, it is easy to understand this promise that all things work together for good. It's easy to understand it, but to get this into our blood stream is another matter. It's one of the most difficult tasks for the practicing Christian. Here's what it is. It's not only believing in God, but it's believing God. Do you believe in God? "Yes, I believe in God". No, no, that's not the question. Do you believe God? God said what we have been talking about today. Do you believe that? There will not be anything that you and I will face in the years ahead that will surprise God. He has already told me that all things are under his control, so I choose not to live my life out of fear of what bad thing might happen to me, but out of faith in what great thing could happen to me. And this is not reckless, fearless living; this is radical, faithful living. And I've made my choice. If Romans 8:28 is true, I am determined to trust God and not live in fear. Number two, I'm determined to thank God. 1 Thessalonians 5 says: "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God".
Recently, in my reading, I've come across a lot of guys who are suggesting keeping a blessing journal. That's not a bad thing to do. "Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done," says the writer of hymns. So we should be thankful for all that God is doing. As we watch him work in our lives, we may not understand it all, but we can learn to be thankful for what God is doing in our lives. And don't forget even to be thankful for the difficult things. I'm gonna give you a little statement that I read this week and tell you kind of a little funny story about this because I ran into this statement in a book, and here's the statement, attributed to Charles Spurgeon. Here's what he said: "Learn to kiss the wave that throws you against the Rock of Ages".
You stop and think about that, that's a really profound thought. So I wanted to find out where this was. I traced it down to the back of the book, and in the back of the book, here's what I found: "This comes from a book about Spurgeon, and the title of the book is, 'All the Things Spurgeon Did Not Say.'" So I don't know if he said it or not. I don't know who said it. I think he said it, but I don't know if he said it. But somebody said it, and whoever said it, said a good thing. Isn't that right? Learn to kiss the wave that throws you against the Rock of Ages. In other words, whatever God uses to bring you back into fellowship with himself, whatever God uses to make your relationship with God deeper than it was before. How many of you know that when we go through stuff in life, it often draws us closer to the Lord. Whoever said this, whether it be Spurgeon or someone else, learn to kiss the wave that throws you against the Rock of Ages.
Be thankful for what God is doing in your life. And then, last, I'm determined to trust God, to thank God, and to test God. Here's a word from John Piper. He said, "If you live inside this massive promise, your life is more solid and stable than Mount Everest. Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside of Romans 8:28, all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty. Outside of this promise, future grace, you see straw houses of drugs and alcohol and numbing TV and dozens of futile diversions. There are slat walls and tin roofs of fragile investment strategies and fleeting insurance coverage and trivial retirement plans. Outside of Romans 8:28 are a thousand substitutes for this promise. But once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28, everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply can't be blown over anymore".
Something happens in your life that you didn't expect and that you don't know what to do with, you just say, "All things work together to those who love God". I don't understand it, but I believe it.
I read this week about a man named Bernard Gilpin. He was a Christian hero during the age of Martin Luther. He was an outspoken evangelist in the British Isles, and he was often referred to as the Apostle to the North, and to those in his own congregation, he was known as the Romans 8:28 man 'cause every time he turned around he was using this passage of Scripture and he preached on it all the time. They just ended up calling him the Romans 8:28 man. That's not a bad title. One day during his travels, he broke his leg in an accident. And someone mockingly asked if his broken leg would turn out for his good. They were teasing him. "Yes," Gilpin replied vigorously, "all things, all things, all things". And so, his broken leg delayed his trip to London, where the Queen, Bloody Mary, had determined to place him on trial because of his preaching. By the time he was able to resume his journey, the news came that Mary had died.
So Gilpin was saved from almost certain martyrdom and he lived to serve the Lord with renewed freedom for another 25 years. When he broke his leg, he had no idea what God was up to. But looking back, he realized it was a part of the plan of God to give him additional years of ministry. So, this quote is definitely from Charles Haddon Spurgeon and it's not in that book of things Spurgeon didn't say. It's a tremendous reminder of all that we've talked about today, so listen carefully.
Everything that happens to you is for your own good. If the waves roll against you, it only speeds your ship toward the port. If lightning and thunder comes, it clears the atmosphere and promises your soul's health. You gain by loss, you grow healthy in sickness, you live by dying, and are made rich in loss. Could you ask for a better promise? It is better that all things should work for my good than all things should be as I wish them to have been. All things might work for my pleasure and yet might not be for my good. If all things do not always please me, they always benefit me. This is the best promise in the Bible. This is the best promise in life.
And as we close this message, seated, once again, let's read this verse out loud, shall we? "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to his purpose".