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Confidence in the midst of suffering

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Confidence in the Midst of Suffering

Romans 8:28


Romans 8:17-39 comprises a most blessed portion of Scripture for although it is a passage on suffering, it emphasizes that suffering leads to glorification. This passage focuses on the path from suffering to glorification. It also shows that even though we will suffer as we are continually sanctified, we can persevere through this suffering. There are four reasons given in verses 24-39 that show us how we can persevere through suffering. In verses 24-25 the reason for perseverance is the hope of the future realization of our present salvation which culminates in the redemption of our bodies. Verses 26-27 show that we can persevere through suffering because of the help that the Spirit gives us in regards to our weakness in prayer. The third reason is found in verse 28 and is the confidence that we can have that God will work all things together for good. The fourth and final reason for perseverance through suffering on the road to glorification is found in verses 31-39 and is the fact that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. The third of these reasons is where I would like to direct your focus this afternoon.

Let me begin through the story of a wealthy young family who lived in the 1870’s. The family consisted of a wealthy business man, his wife and there five children. The family was prosperous, and in fact they owned much real estate along the shores of Lake Michigan. They seemed to be living the perfect life, when disaster started to strike. In 1870 the youngest of the children and the only son, came ill with scarlet fever and died at the young age of four. Several months later, every real estate holding that they owned was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After these events they decided that a vacation was necessary and so the family decided to go to England for rest, and also the opportunity to help D.L. Moody who was a close family friend. The family headed for New York where they were scheduled to set sail for England. At the last minute a last minute business development arose, and the father was unable to leave at that time. He encouraged the rest of his family to continue on, and he would follow them a few days later. His family set sail on the ship ‘Ville de Havre’ and several days after setting sail the ship was struck by another and sank in only 12 minutes. The business man received a telegram several days later form his wife which read ‘saved alone’ Upon hearing this news Horatio Spafford set sail to join his bereaved wife. Several days after setting sail the captain of the ship came to Horatio and told them that they were over the very spot where his four young daughters had drowned. Horatio returned to his cabin and penned these words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul

It is well, with my soul

It is well, it is well, with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well, with my soul

It is well, with my soul

It is well, it is well, with my soul

My sin, Oh, the bliss of this glorious thought

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul.

It is well, with my soul

It is well, with my soul

It is well, it is well, with my soul

And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul

It is well, with my soul

It is well, it is well, with my soul

What made it possible for a man who had suffered such grief to pen such words?

Maybe you are here today, and you are suffering in such a way that you cannot imagine why God would allow this event to be taking place in your life, or you see no way that good could come from it. Let me assure you with this verse.

Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those called according to His purpose.

This verse shows that God is accomplishing His will in and through us for our own benefit and blessing, regardless of whether or not we can see the benefit or blessing we can have confidence that it is so.

James M Boice asks the following: “When times are good—when we have steady jobs, when our families are doing well, when no loved one is sick, and there have been no recent deaths—in times like these, well, it is easy to say, “we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love him.” But what about the other times?”

In this passage we see two areas in which the work of God brings us the confidence we need to persevere even through the hardest of times.

Confidence in Knowing that God is sovereign over all things

“The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is often abused, misunderstood, and misapplied. Many Christians decide it is too deep, too confusing, too hard to understand, or too offensive. But we should not run from it; we should run to it. We should not be afraid of it; we should rejoice in it. This doctrine crushes human pride, exalts God, and strengthens the believer’s faith. What could be more encouraging than to know that God is sovereignly in control of all His creation? The universe is not subject to chance. There is no possibility that God’s plans will fail. “We know that God causes all things to work together for good … to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). That’s the best-known and best-loved promise in all of Scripture, and it hinges on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.”1

With this statement often comes the question or accusation.”Why then does God allow bad things to happen to good people” This question in short is answered by these verses here in Romans 8. He allows and even decrees things to happen because He uses them for the good of his children in order to conform them to the image of His Son and to bring glory to His Son (Romans 8:29-30). I we follow the context of the passage going all the way back to verses 16,17 we could also say that He uses these things to sanctify His children (conform to the image of His Son).

We would be remiss if at this point we did not discuss a poignant example in Scripture. This truth is no better answered than by Genesis 50:2 where Joseph told his brothers “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant if for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

In this case we actually see the result of God’s allowing evil and using it for good. Not always will we be able to see the result in this manner, but always God will use such circumstances to bring about his sovereign will.

Ephesians 1:11-12 is tied in with these verses very closely, and states “Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His Glory.”

All things are worked to the counsel of His will, this gives us confidence to know that whatever the circumstances, God is sovereignly in control over them, and even though we do not always see why He allows things to take place, we can rest knowing without a doubt that all events are in accordance with His will.

Not only do we have confidence in the fact that God is sovereign over all things, we take that a step farther and realize that His sovereign will actively brings about good in the life of His children even through suffering.

Confidence in knowing God works all things together for good in the lives of His children.

Verse 28 tells us that God works all things together for good. The context is suffering, so we would have to say that God even uses suffering to work good. There are some boundaries here though that we must establish. These boundaries are taken from James M. Boices commentary on Romans 8:28, and shed great insight into what is in mind in this passage. There are four boundaries that we will look at, and then take a look at one aspect of this passage in which there are no boundaries.

Areas in which there are boundaries

“For Christians Only”

The first and most important qualification in this passage is that the recipients of this goodness are believers. The passage qualifies this by two statements in apposition to each other.

The first qualifier, is emphatic in its position and states “to those who love God” This promise therefore is only to those who love God. This phrase could very easily be misconstrued. For who really loves God as they should. None of us fulfills the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and might.” So where does this leave us? In order to answer this we must turn to several other passages.

1 John 4:19 reads “we love Him because he first loves us.” This is an important understanding especially when we come to look at the second qualification. 1 John is a book designed to give assurance to the believer. In it we see three tests of faith. Love, obedience, and service. Love is an evidence that we are a child of God, but as this verse tells us it is a love that did not origionate within ourselves, but originated through the love of Christ bestowed upon us. So those who love love him are those who have first been loved by Him. This in and of itself should be an encouragement in the midst of suffering. We are loved by a merciful God based on no work of our own.

The second qualification in this verse is that statement in apposition to “those that love Him” and states “to those called according to His purpose” This statement again stresses the sovereign work of God in salvation. The calling here is the effectual calling in which God brought us to the point of salvation through his own will and volition and not through some spark of divinity within ourselves, or through some work of our own righteousness.

This gives us confidence, peace, and humility, for we realize that God called us for the purpose of using us to bring Him and His Son Glory. Again, not because of any great righteousness of our own, but through the righteousness of His Son imputed upon us. Whenever I am confronted with this great truth I can’t help but ask: why me God?

We can’t help but come to the conclusion that if God called us and saved us according to His Sovereign will, then whatever He uses us for will bring about the goodness of His will regardless of the circumstance He places us in.

This was the realization of Horatio Spafford as he penned the words to the final two verses of It is Well

“Though Satan should buffet,

though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul”

“My sin, Oh, the bliss of this glorious thought

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul.”

For a specific purpose

The next boundary, is the word “good” what is it that God works out all things to. Does this mean that God will make all believers rich, healthy, or famous, etc..? If it did mean this then we would have to say that the text is not true for not all those who have loved God have had these things happen to them. There have been many that have suffered poverty, death, illness, failure, scorn and much more. Most of us in this room will never have any of these things (riches, fame, etc…) does that mean that we do not love the Lord, or have not been called according to His purpose? No of course not. So there has to be another meaning of this word “good”

I believe that the text itself defines this word in the very next verse when it states “to be conformed to the image of His Son” The purpose of His calling us is to bring His Son glory through our being set apart to Him. “It is impossible to think of a higher good than for human beings, than to be like one’s maker.”

In context then we would have to say that our suffering with Christ is being used by God for the good of conforming us to His image for the purpose of exalting Him as the “firstborn among many brethren.”

As believers this gives us confidence that God is purifying us through these trials and struggles that He has placed us in. This gives us a confidence to persevere through the sufferings as it brings us closer to God in our relationship with Him.

“good use of bad things”

The next boundary considers what about the means to bring about good. Are the means good in and of themselves, or is the end what is good? This is a good question, for often the means that God allows are evil. Does this mean that in some cases evil is good? We must stick to the fact that God is not the author of evil, but that He can use evil for good. As Genesis 50:20 told us. Men meant it for evil, but God used it for good. Many people cannot see this distinction and they accuse God of evil. This cannot be so. The most recent example of this accusation by some was September 11th, or even more recent, the shootings at Virginia Tech University. The important thing to realize here, is that God may use and allow these things, but God can never be the source of the sin. Sin is sin regardless of how God uses it to bring about good. Just like God allowed Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, God did not force them to do so.

“Knowing rather than feeling”

The final boundary is an important one, but one that I was not thinking of until I read Boice’s commentary on this verse. Many times our feelings deceive us. There may be times when we do not feel like God is working things out for our good.

It does not feel good to lose a loved one, it does not feel good to lose your job, it does not feel good to be sick, it does not feel good to have a rebellious child, it does not feel good to have the sheep turn against you, it does not feel good to be mocked or ridiculed. This verse though does not begin with “we feel that all things work …” Instead it begins with “We know” this is interesting especially in light of the fact that the previous verse emphasizes the fact that we do not know the will of God, and we do not know how to pray as we should. In those verses we have confidence through the help of the Holy Spirit despite our lack of knowledge. That is not the case here. In this case, we have confidence because we do know something. And that which we know, is that God will work all things together for the good of His children.

We now turn to the work of God in which there is no boundary.

Area in which there is no boundary

“all things”

The passage does not say that God works some things for the good of His children, but that he works all things for the good of His children. This tells us that there is nothing that will or can take place in our lives that God will not use for good. God even uses our sin to chasten us and teach us how to become more like Him. He uses our sin to humble us and to teach us our dependence upon Him. He uses our strengths for the benefit of the church. He uses suffering to refine His people. Boice concludes this discussion by stating “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

Some have said that this will only be realized eschatalogicaly, but that is simply not the case. God’s good in all things will result in our being blessed even in the present. Again we might not immediately see or realize this blessing, but God’s working in the life of His children never results in anything but blessing whether we realize it at the time or not.

God’s goodness being worked out in our lives knows no boundaries. There is nothing that God cannot use for good in our lives. This gives us confidence to know that no matter how we feel, we can know with confidence that God knows better and His active working in our lives has a divine purpose and in so being is good by definition.


When we suffer, and we will suffer (although in different ways and intensities), it is a comfort to know that God is in control, and He is using these circumstances for our benefit and ultimately His own glory and honor. As you are sitting here today you may be suffering in a number of ways. Maybe in ways that no other human knows, you can have confidence in first of all knowing that God is sovereign over all and has a purpose for what is taking place in your life, and secondly, that He will take these circumstances, trials, sufferings, and use them for the good of His children. Oh what joy to strive together with Him and to look forward to the day of glorification for “I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

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