Sunday, October 29, 2006

In all things God works for the good of those who love him: A sermon preached at the Magheralin Healing Service 29/10/06 Romans 8:18-39

When you come to a healing service, what is it you expect? Are we looking for the miraculous? Do we expect the unexpected? Are we disappointed if healing doesn’t come in the manner we expect?

And what do these disappointments mean in terms of our faith? Do we run into doubt, doubting God’s power, or God’s goodness? After all, if God was both powerful and good, then he would heal everyone right now. What is it we’re looking for?

Our passage this evening assures us that God is both powerful and good. Even though these attributes may not immediately appear to us as we pass through difficult circumstances. Even though it might seem that God isn’t in control, or that God doesn’t care.

God has a plan, and a purpose, and all things are moving towards that purpose. Before we look in detail at our reading, it’s good to put it in context. Where has Paul been going with the argument up to now? Having started Romans speaking of the universal sinfulness of humans, he told us about the salvation of God, through faith in Jesus. As he moves on, then, he speaks of what life for the Christian is like – the struggles with sin, and living in the Spirit. In 8:17, he talks of sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

In verse 18, there’s a continuity, but also a shift, as things look more and more towards the end – as he says ‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ Yes, things are tough now, as we struggle with sin, and suffer in so many ways – illness, doubt, bereavement, marriage break-up… but as Paul looks forward, he sees that when they are put in eternal perspective, they just don’t compare with the glory to be revealed – not just in the world, but ‘in us.’

The rest of Romans 8 is concerned with this looking forward, this hope of future glory. It’s something that we look forward to, but we’re not alone in our hope. The creation also is looking forward, eagerly waiting for the end, when we are liberated and redeemed; when Jesus comes to call time on time.

So for Paul, the creation can be seen to be groaning as in the pains of childbirth, as it looks forward, as it waits for the end. Can we see these groans? What else can we make of the volcanoes and earthquakes, and the tsunamis which rock our planet?

In a similar way, we look forward and groan, as we wait for our adoption as sons. We have this hope, and we await for it, yet we’re still in the midst of the struggles. Just as we’re not alone in our hope and in the groaning of expectation, so God doesn’t leave us alone – giving us the Spirit, as the firstfruits of eternal life, and also to help us to pray- especially when we don’t know what to pray for.

Romans 8 has been described as the pinnacle of the Bible, as we climb the heights of God’s word to us. And so, as we consider all that has gone before we come to one of the high points, in verse 28. It’s this that we’re going to be thinking about: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’

These words are full of hope, and comfort and assurance for us, so let’s take time to unpack them, to see exactly what Paul is saying. But where to begin? Our obvious starting point is God! Notice what it says about God – ‘God works.’ So as Paul looks at his circumstances, and at what is happening, he sees that ‘God works.’ As Jesus tells the Jews in John 5: ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working’ (Jn 5:17).

So when is God working? Jesus has already answered it for us in John 5, when he said ‘My Father is always at his work’, but as Paul tells us in Romans – ‘in all things God works.’ God is working in the full scope of everything that happens. Nothing is outside of his work.

What is the outcome of his work? ‘In all things God works for the good.’ Just as God is perfectly good, so his works are good, and the outcomes are for the good. But it’s not just an abstract good… it is the good of specific people.

So who are the people God works for the good of? ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ This group of people is one and the same- not two different types of people, some of whom love God, and some of whom have been called. Rather, as verses 29 and 30 go on to explain, the ones who have been called according to his purpose are the ones who love God. We see the process of God’s work, as he foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified.

And what is God’s purpose? The good that he is working towards for those who love him and are called, is to ‘be conformed to the likeness of his Son.’ This is the outcome of God’s plan for us – as he first justifies us by his grace through faith, and as the Spirit lives in us, sanctifying us, and making us more like Jesus.

So to put this all together, then, what can we say of verse 28? ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.’

Firstly, we are assured that no matter what we’re going through, God is in it with us, and God is working for us in it. I used to think that the verse said ‘all things work together for good’ – a sort of whatever will be will be attitude. But better than that, in all things God works. He is personally involved in our needs and struggles.

It isn’t that God has started the world up, like a wind-up clock, and left it to wind down, leaving us to whatever fate brings. No! God is intimately involved in his creation, as he works in us, through these difficult situations, working for our good.

God is ultimately in control, even when it may seem that he isn’t. Sometimes our circumstances can block out our vision of God being on the throne. Imagine if you had asked Joseph as he sat in prison if he thought God was in control, that God knew what he was doing? He had been promised the position of power with his brothers bowing down to him, yet he was so far from home, languishing in prison. Yet God was working in that situation, so that by the end, he could say to his brothers ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good’ (Gen 50:20).

Or what about the disciples? If you had asked the disciples on the evening of Good Friday if they thought God was in control, would they have been confident of what would happen just two days later? No, to them, Jesus had failed, their hope was gone, and God couldn’t be in control. Yet God was working in that situation too.

Being assured that God is working in all the things that happen – what is it he’s working for? Our reading says it is ‘God works for the good of those who love him.’ But what is the good? As we go through the hurt or pain, we might think that the good God should be working for is the removal of pain, the miraculous healing and putting right of all our wrongs now.

Yes, sometimes he does do the miraculous ,and chooses to heal. But if he doesn’t, does it mean he isn’t working for our good? This is not easy to talk about, or to think about, but sometimes God’s ultimate good for us means that we have to put up with the bad things, and keep trusting in him – because our ultimate good is to become more like Jesus.

It’s like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, as he talks about his thorn in the flesh. ‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”’ (2 Cor 12:8-9).

Paul thought his good would be the removal of the thorn, yet his ultimate good would be served by growing in faith, so that Jesus’ power could be demonstrated through his weakness.

In all things God works for the good of those who love him. Allow me to share a personal story as a testimony to this. It may seem like a small thing, but it goes to show how God can work in all things – not just the big, but also the small. After doing GCSE’s, I moved schools, and wanted to do English at A Level. My heart was set on being a journalist, so I needed to do English. But the head of year came to me on my first day and told me I couldn’t do it, because my grades hadn’t been good enough. I had to go home and think about an alternative subject – maybe politics. It seemed as if my future plans were crashing in round me…

But I did politics, and in that first class on the Monday met one of my best friends – ended up doing it at university, and getting a job out of it! My best friend is now in training at Union for Presbyterian ministry, and here am I, in training for ministry too. Out of the seeming bad situation, God has worked so much for good.

In all things God works for the good of those who love him. As if all that were not encouraging enough, the rest of chapter 8 continues to build this theme. Sadly we don’t have time to look at it now, but as Paul adds to the argument again and again, he shows that the complete basis of our trust in God working for our good is that if we are in Christ, then God is for us and will give us all things; that no one can bring a charge against us or condemn us; and that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As we come tonight for prayer ministry and prayers for healing, we are right to ask in faith that God will heal us. We are assured from God’s word that he works in all things for our good. But lets not get discouraged if healing doesn’t come in a visible way – God is still working for our good on the inside as well, as we who have been called according to his purpose are those who love him.

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