GOD’S PROMISES are a great comfort and strength to His people, especially during times of sickness and distress. One of God’s greatest promises is the one from our text that is quoted above. This passage may be divided into five parts: (1) “And we know,” (2) “that all things work together for good,” (3) “to them that love God,” (4) “to them who are the called,” (5) “according to his purpose.” Normally we would examine a verse in its chronological order, but with our text, it seems more fitting to consider it in reverse order. We will therefore begin with the fifth part of the verse first:
“According to his purpose”
The “his” here refers to God. His “purpose” is His eternal Plan, which may be summed up in the great Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12: 2, 3); primarily the Sarah features of the Oath-Bound Covenant (Genesis 22: 17, 18), and secondarily the other features of the Oath-Bound Covenant. One of the most important features of God’s Plan consists in the development of the primary spiritual seed of Abraham – the Christ class – who will be the primary blessers of the entire human family.
The Bible speaks of two main salvations for the human race – the elective salvation and the free grace salvation. One part of God’s purpose is to bless the entire world of mankind, and another part of that purpose is to gather the agents whom He will use to bless mankind. Those agents include the four elect classes – the Little Flock, the Ancient Worthies, the Great Company and the Youthful Worthies – and various quasi-elect classes. God gathered the Ancient Worthies in the Ages preceding the Gospel Age; He gathered the Little Flock during the Gospel Age; He gathered the Great Company here in the end of the Age; and He is presently gathering the remaining Youthful Worthies and the Consecrated Epiphany Campers. When that work is completed, God will bless the non-elect with the opportunity to be restored to human perfection and everlasting life.
“To them who are the called”
This part of our text speaks of the “called.” The word call is used in a variety of senses in the Scriptures. In the widest sense it refers to everything that God does in inviting an individual out of sin until he attains a place in God’s Kingdom. This includes an invitation to wisdom, justification, sanctification and deliverance (1 Corinthians 1: 30). In our text the “called” are invited to become members of the premillennial seed of Abraham.
“To them that love God”
The chief characteristic of God’s people is love, in particular, love for God. It is a quality of heart in which one hungers and thirsts after righteousness, that feels after God, that desires a relationship with Him and that seeks to know Him. The Bible speaks of two forms of love for God and man: (1) duty love – the love that God’s law demands of us (Matthew 22: 37-39); the good will that we owe by right to God and our fellow man; that thankfully recognizes that whatever good we have received is a gift from God, and that He therefore deserves this form of love; and (2) unselfish, disinterested love – the love that is not required to be given, but that is based upon a delight in good principles; that rejoices in good people, principles and things; that takes pleasure in God as the fountain of all good; that is in oneness of heart with God out of appreciation for Him; that in sympathy feels with Him in the mistreatment that He has received from His willful, blinded and ignorant enemies; and that sacrificially lays down one’s life for God.
“That all things work together for good”
This part of our text is the heart and soul of this verse. The “good” in this passage does not refer to earthly good things such as health, prosperity, popularity and ease of life. On the contrary, Jesus in faithfulness received unpopularity, persecution, hatred, rejection and death as a rebel. In fact, the history of the Gospel Age shows that the more loyal a follower of Jesus was, the more hated and misrepresented he was. The “good” here is character good, as we read in v. 29, just following our text: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The word “image” here refers to the character-likeness, the heart-likeness of our Lord Jesus.
As to the “all things,” many times we may only think of our untoward experiences, such as hardships, losses and sickness. But these “all things” refer equally to our toward experiences, especially God’s grace on our behalf. Let us list some of these toward experiences: (1) God’s Word, the Truth (2 Timothy 3: 15-17); (2) God’s spirit in our minds (our intellects and their contents) and in our hearts (our affections), by which God builds us up in truth, righteousness and the graces of character; (3) God’s providences, which are all in our favor, and made to work good so as to strengthen our faith and zeal; and (4) opportunities to serve God, His Word and His people. Many more things could be mentioned such as fellowship with God, Christ and the brethren.
“All Things” Include Untoward Experiences
These “all things” also include our untoward experiences – those hard, disagreeable and unpleasant experiences – which are just as necessary as our toward experiences, in order to prepare us for our place in God’s Kingdom. We read in Acts 14: 22, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Also 2 Timothy 3: 12, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Trouble is a part of our training in the school of Christ. It is training for our intellect and for our heart. We need to develop Christlike characters so that we may be safely entrusted to help administer affairs in God’s Kingdom; for we will undoubtedly be called upon to deal with all kinds of people then, many of whom will be quite willful, especially at the beginning of that Age. Without well-rounded characters, we would not be prepared for Kingdom work. But at first God graciously treats us very tenderly, like hot-house plants. Later, when He sees that we have more strength of character, He allows us to experience the symbolic hot sun and frost experiences. How important it is for us not to bewail our trials, which would only make us bitter; but to embrace them, knowing that they are all working “for good.”
Some of our untoward experiences include the following: losses, disappointments, delays, restraints, shelvings, faults, hardships and lack of necessities, oppositions and contradictions, divisions, enemies, pain and sickness and persecutions. Each one of these untoward experiences teach us good lessons, especially along the lines of strengthening, balancing and perfecting our Christian characters.
The School of Christ
Every one of our Christian graces of character will eventually have to be tested, and if we are properly exercised by those tests, good will result. We are not promised earthly good in this present life, but we are being prepared by God for eternal blessings that cannot even be imagined by us now. Let us strive to not only graduate from the school of Christ, but let us seek to graduate with honors. However, if we are found unworthy we will not graduate. We will not be fitted for a place in the earthly phase of God’s Kingdom.
The most valuable thing that we can attain is a good character. The sufferings that we endure may be compared to a penny, but the character that results from those sufferings can be compared to a diamond. There are times when we may think and feel that everything is against us, but let us remember that God has a Plan, and if we are in harmony with Him, we have a place in that Plan. We come to Him with our faults, but God sees our faith and our love for Him, and is making all things work together for our good. So when things seem to be going to pieces, let us remember that God is working all things for our good.
“And we know”
This part of our text is an expression of our confidence and assurance in the fulfilment of the promise of this verse. It gives us comfort in knowing that all of our interests are under Divine care and supervision; that all of our experiences are under Divine direction and are working toward our highest good. There are no accidents in the lives of God’s consecrated people. All of our experiences are directed toward the attainment of our highest goal – Christlikeness.