And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
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All Things Work for Good
27 May 2014
During one of the budget and debt limit battles in Washington, I was reminded of the law of unintended consequences. Politicians are always trying to arrange the political conditions in such a way that they emerge from the battle smelling like a rose. They want their constituents to perceive them as their champions and their opposition to appear to be chumps. Try as they might, however, the politicians aren't always able to get things to work out that way. Sometimes what they do to make themselves look good and the other party look bad has the opposite effect. Politics is a dangerous business; both for the governors but especially for the governed. Things don't always turn out as expected.
This is also true for God's enemies. The harder they battle against Christ and His blood-bought brothers, the more Christ's church is seen to succeed under the signs of blood and suffering. Satan thought that He had finally cornered God on the cross, pinned Him upon the sign of degradation and death. He was certain of his triumph. But the instruments of his triumph became the very mechanism of his complete downfall. His attack on Christ, the eternal Son of God became a suicide. Christ's loss became the devil's loss. Christ's shame became His glory. Our serpentine enemy snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The cross was our enemy's Stalingrad. He and his army have been encircled by the embrace of Christ in death and beaten into complete submission. Only the mopping up operations remain.
Because God used the evil of His enemies against them and turned it into our eternal God when Christ suffered death for us, we also should not look at our misfortunes and the persecution we suffer in any other way than that they are being turned by God to our good. Every insult: "You don't believe that religious nonsense, do you?" will redound to God's glory and your benefit, when you reply, "I believe in a gracious God in Christ, who has loved me so fully as to offer Himself in my place. I have a peace that surpasses human understanding. Let me tell you about it." Even when reviled, we are being reviled for faithfulness and we are also getting an opportunity to testify to the divine truth. What could be better than that? The Lord Himself is the one who justifies (Rm 8:33). Shall we not trust ourselves to Him alone? This is what our Lord Jesus did: "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1Pt 2:23). Turn every attack into a blessing by sharing the story of Christ's death for the world with those who are attacking you. The result will be good, even if not by our faulty human standards. They are according the just standards of the one judges justly. All things work for good, because they work for God.
"'What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us' (Rm 8:31)? What Paul means is this: Let me then hear no more about the dangers and the malicious plans from every quarter. For even if some disbelieve the things to come, still they have not a word to say against the good things that have already taken place; the friendship of God toward you from the beginning, justification, and glory. And yet He gave you these things by seemingly painful means. And the things you considered a disgrace: the cross, whipping, and bonds, these are what set the whole world right. He set free and saved all by what Himself suffered, even though it appeared forbidding. He is able to do the same in regard to those things which you endure, turning your suffering to glory and honor for you. 'If God is for us, who can be against us?'
"But you might say, 'Who is there that is not against us? The world is against us, both kings and nations, both family and countrymen.' But those who are against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even against their will they become to us the cause of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, because God's wisdom turns their plots to our salvation and glory. See how really no one is against us! It was this which gave new honor to Job, when the devil battled against him. For the devil turned friends against him, his wife against him, and his servants against him. Job suffered wounds, and a thousand other plots. And it turned out that none of them was against him when the bigger picture was considered. And his suffering was no great thing to him, though it was great in itself. It is a far greater thing, that it turned out that they were all for his benefit. Since God was for him, even things seemingly against him all became for him.
"This happened with the Apostles also, when the Jews, Gentiles, false brothers, rulers, peoples, famines, poverty, and ten thousand things were against them. Yet nothing was against them. For the things which made them the most bright and conspicuous, and great in the sight both of God and men, were these things. Consider what a word Paul uttered about the faithful, that those who are painfully crucified receive a far more glorious crown than an Emperor can achieve. For against the Emperor there are barbarians arming themselves, enemies that invade, bodyguards that plot, subjects who are ever and often rebelling, and thousands of other things. But against the faithful who listen to God's Word, neither man, nor devil, nor anything else besides, can stand!
"For if you take away the money of a Christian, you have become the procurer of a reward for him. If you speak ill of him, by the evil report he gains fresh honor in God's sight. If you cast him into starvation, the more will his glory and reward be. Even though it seems to be the most severe blow, if you give him over to death, you are entwining a crown of martyrdom about his head. What is equivalent to this way of life against which nothing can be done? Even those who seem to devise mischief are no less of service to him than benefactors. This is why Paul says, 'If God is for us, who can be against us?' Not being satisfied with what he had already said, the greatest sign of His love for us, and that which he is always dwelling on, he sets down here also, namely, the death of God's Son. For He did not only justify us, glorify us, and make us conformed to that image, but for you He did not even spare His own Son.
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 15
Lord Jesus Christ, You offered Yourself into suffering and death, that we might see that suffering and death brings the world the greatest good. Help us to see our suffering in the light of Your own, that we might confess Your goodness and grace when called to account for the hope that is in us. Amen.
For persecuted Christians, that they might confess God's faithfulness in the midst of suffering
For all those in Houston and Central Texas who have suffered flooding of homes and businesses, that they would be sustained in their cleanup efforts and recover fully
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus would continue to grant him the strength to carry out the duties of his office
For Pastor-elect Chad Smith, that he would be sustained in the days leading up to his ordination and installation
Art: DYCK, Anthony van Pentecost (1618-1620)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014