May 2, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Romans 8:28 (NRSV)
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 teaches us that God is at work for good in all things. Even things that feel so wrong and painful will be used by God for good in our lives. This good news is sometimes hard to believe, however, especially when we experience suffering or injustice. When we wonder if God is really at work for good, we are free to cry out to God, to lament, to tell God exactly what we feel. Our merciful God may not act according to our expectations, but he will help us to hang on tightly to the truth of Lamentations 3:23, “Great is your faithfulness!”
Today’s devotion is part of the series God’s Transformational Calling.
Romans 8:28 is one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible. I memorized it when I was in fourth-grade Sunday School, and I’ve brought it to mind at least five hundred times since then.
Romans 8:28 contains profound truth related to related to our calling, though this aspect of the verse has received much less attention than the primary clause, “We know that all things work together for good.” Before I get to what we learn about our calling from the secondary phrase, today I want to reflect with you on this verse’s main point.
Like all languages, the common Greek of the New Testament has its quirks. On the one hand, it allowed communication with unusual precision. Yet, at times it also permitted curious ambiguities. We find one of those in the statement, “We know that all things work together for good.” The verb “work together,” sunergeō in Greek, is singular. In English, it wouldn’t agree with the subject “all things,” which is plural. However, when the gender of a Greek plural noun was neuter (neither male nor female), it would actually take a singular verb. So, the NRSV option “all things work together for good” is possible.
But there is another option that is favored by many translations and commentators. You see, in Greek it was also possible for a subject to be implied. Given the flow of the argument in Romans 8, the subject of “work together” could very well be God. Thus, the NIV translates in this way: “And we know that in all things God works for the good.”
For several reasons, I am persuaded that this translation is best. But even if Paul meant to say “all things work together for good,” he certainly believed that this was so because God was at work in all things. Paul did not believe that good things automatically came to those who loved God, as if the world was not shattered by sin. So, whether you go with the NRSV’s “all things work together for good” or the NIV’s “in all things God works for the good,” the basic meaning is the same. Good things happen for people because God is at work. Even though this world is broken, even though evil has the power to wound and to oppress, God is at work. And, in the end, God is working in all things for good.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe this. When we experience suffering, either in our own lives or in the lives of those we love, it can feel as if God is doing anything but working good. When racial injustice dehumanizes people, denying their dignity and even stealing their lives, we can wonder where God is. In these and so many other situations, it can be difficult to believe that God is truly working in all things for good.
What do we do when we’re struggling to believe Romans 8:28? There is no simple answer to this question, but, in closing, let me suggest a few things we might do. First, when we struggle to see God at work in the ways we expect, we are reminded that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). This is both humbling and painful, but it’s a truth worth remembering. Second, we can let God know exactly how we feel, holding nothing back. The Psalms, through which God teaches us to pray, are filled with no-holds-barred lamentation. They give us unprecedented freedom to be honest with God. Third, we cry out to God for the faith to believe, like the man who once prayed in the presence of Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Fourth, we share our struggles with sisters and brothers in Christ who can walk with us, holding us up when we stumble. Fifth, we remember how God has been faithful in the past. The beloved biblical affirmation, “Great is your faithfulness,” comes in a chapter of the Bible that is filled with gut-wrenching lamentation (Lamentations 3). This chapter models for us the freedom of genuine faith, faith that feels the sting of suffering, that wonders if God is still there for us, and that holds on tightly to the faithfulness of God.
How do you understand the ways God works for good in all things?
Have you ever experienced God at work in your life in the midst of hard times? When? What happened?
When you struggle to believe that God is at work, what do you do?
If you’re having a hard time right now seeing God at work in difficult things, consider which of the suggestions I made above might be helpful to you, and then do it (or them). If you’re not struggling to believe right now, pray for someone you know who is.
Gracious God, thank you for the good news of Romans 8:28. Thank you for being at work in all things, at all times, always for the good. Thank you for the ways I have experienced this in my life.
Lord, when I struggle to believe that you are working in all things for good, help me to hang in there with you. Help me to be honest with you and with those who can walk with me. Help me to see what I cannot see with my own eyes. Help me to trust all that I am to you. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.
Lord, today I want to pray for people who are struggling to see you at work. Hear their cries for mercy, Lord. Make your presence known to them. Work for good in their lives. Embrace them with your love . . . today! Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Eagerly Awaiting Bodily Redemption for Ourselves and God’s Creation (Romans 8:18–30)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.