|The Lamb's Bride Symposium |
|The Lamb's Bride Project|
P.O. Box 8240, Colorado Springs, CO 80933
Copyright ©1999 Dick Wulf. Permission is granted to copy and distribute.
In the NIV, Romans 8:28 reads, "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." The KJV is not much different and reads, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
In western society there is a tendency to think that Romans 8:28 promises that bad things happening to an individual will come back to that same individual in the form of some good thing. So, if my wife leaves me for the man down the street, it is reasoned that I will gain some very good thing in return. While good often comes back to us individually with spiritual growth and other good things, Romans 8:28 is most likely saying something a bit different. Consider that the deaths of the church's martyrs were not for their own good, but for the good of the church.
Actually, Romans 8:28 is a plural or community verse. The words "those" and "them" are plural words. There are no singular words present in the verse. Let me emphasize the plurality by adding a few clarifying words in parentheses.
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (the church), who (all together) have been called according to his purpose."
We propose that Romans 8:28 focuses on the church, two or more gathered in Jesus' Name, and should be understood in the context of Christian community. The promise is that our very creative God will use everything that happens, even the bad things, for the good of the church.
God is working to perfect the whole church. (See Phil 1:6.) He is concerned about the individual also, but never to the detriment of His people, who are corporately the apple of His eye. (See Zech 2:8.) God's creativity allows Him to care for the individual while He focuses on the whole church.
Misreading Romans 8:28 in the singular can be quite discouraging to a Christian who then must have proof that his own misery has been good for himself. Expecting all of our troubles to boomerang back to us in the way of good things is quite humanistic and does not mesh well with biblical teaching and values. Christianity is othercentered, first for God and His purposes and glory, second for other people and their needs. Only a correct plural reading of Romans 8:28 allows this understanding.
Unfortunately most Christians read the promise of Romans 8:28 as if it's intent is singular. They read "those" to mean "him" or "her" and subtly change the meaning of God's words. They then read the verse: "for the good of (him or her) who love(s) (God)." This reading focuses the Christian's life on himself, a serious error. He will usually look only to see how unfortunate events benefit himself. He will not be looking for what God is doing in the world or for the benefit of the others God also loves.
What if no benefit comes back to that believer who selfcenteredly interprets this verse? What if God instead blesses the church through this man's "misfortune"? What if God uses the adversity to keep this Christian man's son from going into the wrong career in order that he might end up on the mission field where God uses him to reach a hundred people for Christ? Only a correct plural view of Romans 8:28 will help this Christian father rejoice!
The person who believes that Romans 8:28 means that God will bless him or her from every misfortune will eventually find that to be false. The person may become cynical and cease to fully believe God and his promises.
The good news is that when the plural meaning is supplied, there can be trust that one's difficulties did someone some good, even if the person who suffered does not know who it benefitted or how. That person can experience joy and be content that he or she went through suffering for someone else's good. Now this is Christianity! This is precisely what Jesus did. Jesus went through a horrible death, not for himself, but for you and me.
It only makes sense that, if God wants to turn us into the image of His Son, we cannot expect our trials and sufferings to be primarily or only for our own good. The Holy Spirit of God would not promise such a thing in Romans 8:28, for to make such a promise would be to encourage us to be humanistic rather than Christlike.
Jesus went through trials, suffering and a painful death on the cross. When I want the good of my own suffering to come back to myself rather than back to the church, I am being just the opposite of Jesus. If I am to become like Jesus, I must learn how to look for and want the good of my own sufferings to come back as good for others. Isn't that the model Jesus left us?
We can be very much like Jesus, following extremely closely in his footsteps. We can suffer and not look to our own good, but the good of others. We can suffer without discouragement because we know that God is at work in his universe. And He needed us to suffer for some good reason of His.
Because God is so very creative and also because we also are in the church, good may come back to us as well. God can bless the church out of whatever happens and still creatively bring good to us as well -- just not each and every time.
God's purpose is not to sanctify us into self-centered people who look primarily for our own good, whether from our own adversity or anything else. God wants us to be loving people. Love is self-denial for another's good. That's the meaning of the Greek word "agape." So in no way would God want us to interpret Romans 8:28 in a way that would foster a focus on ourselves.
No, the Lord wants us to see that the church will be blessed by all things, things good, things bad and things in between. He is saying that we are special to him as a group, as the church. Jesus is building his church. We individuals are not more important than the church, the Bride of Jesus Christ. If we want true blessings, we will want our troubles to help somebody else. What greater blessing is there than to be like Christ? 
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