You’ve met my friend, Shawn, before. He’s a young lion, folks, and he really roars some good truth with this post. I’m honored to have him guest-fill for me on the Pasture’s Blog and you will too!
(Romans 8:28 ESV)
What a comfortingly beautiful verse. This is a verse we commonly use when we need to be reminded of how God is looking after us, when we are going into a dangerous situation and need protection, or when we are making a big decision. It was the 4th most popular verse on the Bible Gateway website in 2014 and has been in the top five since 2009. People have this verse double-underlined and highlighted in their bibles, tattooed on their bodies and it is inevitably floating around on a youth group t-shirt somewhere. We love it! But, why do we love it?
It could be the fact that we love the idea that if we believe in God, good things will happen to us. God becomes a genie that can be manipulated by our acts of affection towards him. You are most likely scoffing at this article now due to this sharp change to an accusing tone. I beg you to stay with me! I think if we (including myself) were put in front of the judge, the prosecutor might not have any evidence proving that we consciously think like this, but would overload the courtroom with concrete evidence of our subconscious overflowing with this idea through the way we act towards God.
I think we can all agree (maybe reluctantly) that this verse isn’t really about us living a comfortable, safe life; but rather about God using us for his good, for his glory. Paul is writing to the Romans about the Holy Spirit. He is explaining that even though we don’t know how to pray perfectly, the Holy Spirit is speaking on our behalf with just the right words. He reminds us that we don’t have to worry because God is going to use us “according to his purpose” “for good” no matter how we pray. The part of the verse that is getting the most misconstrued here is the word “good.”
Whose good? How is good defined here? Where is this definition coming from? I think these sorts of questions are answered by Paul five years later in his letter to the Philippians while he was sitting in jail in the very city of the people that received the verse we are discussing:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:12-18)
Now imagine with me that you have heard rumors that your spiritual leader and founder of your church has been put in jail for sharing his faith. You are worried for him, angered at his imprisoners, and confused at why God would allow this to happen. You then receive a letter from your leader, and near the beginning of his letter you read that his being in jail “has really served to advance the gospel.” “But how?” you think, “You are rendered useless in a jail cell by yourself.”
You continue to read about how the entirety of the guards you were previously enraged at are now hearing that your leader is suffering for Jesus; how other Christians are becoming bolder in the faith after hearing the same thing. The wonder and awe of this unexpected effect of his imprisonment weighs you down so that you have to take a seat to read the rest of this letter.
Your leader continues and tells you that there are those in his absence that are preaching the gospel “from envy and rivalry…out of self-ambition…thinking to afflict” your leader. Your anger flares again as you are disgusted that anyone would do such a thing. Then you read, “What then?” What an ironic question that completely takes you by surprise. He then continues by degrading the intentions of these people. He explains that whether the gospel is being shared with dishonest intentions or through love, it is still being shared.
Then the final shock comes as he says, “In [this] I REJOICE.”
Being in prison and having people despise you are not usually the types of things to rejoice about. These seem like terrible conditions for gospel-sharing; yet people are developing and deepening relationships with Christ.
And Paul is rejoicing in all of this!
I love to rejoice and I love to watch people rejoice. It brings me great joy. What if this is the “good” that Paul talks about in his letter to the Romans? What if Paul’s relationship with his savior is so deep, that the things that benefit Jesus are the things that bring Paul joy?
I think we see this in other parts of our life. If your significant other, child or close friend wins an award, sure you are proud, but you are filled with joy because they are excited and joyful. There is a bond in that kind of close relationship that causes you to share in the emotions of someone else’s situation.
I think as we start to “love God” more like Romans 8:28 says, we will start to see how everything “works together for [the] good” of God. That will bring us joy, and we will see that it is ultimately “good” for us as well.
I pray that we start to build this kind of relationship that Paul has and that we (1) start to recognize the hand of God in every situation and that we (2) start to feel that joy as we see the glory of God being revealed through his marvelous works.
Great stuff here, beloved.