28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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. (NRSV)
I Agree with Rob Bell: Love Wins
Two brothers are terrible trouble makers. They are always breaking things, stealing things, lying, and making all kinds of general trouble. The parents have tried everything to get the boys to change, to no avail. Finally, out of options, they ask their pastor if he can help. He says he will talk to the boys, but only one at a time. The parents drop off the youngest and go home, promising to return to get him soon. The boy sits in a chair across from the pastor’s desk and they just look at each other. Finally, the Pastor says, “Where is God?”
The boy just sits there and doesn’t answer.
The pastor begins to look stern and loudly says, “Where is God?”
The little boy shifts in his seat, but still doesn’t answer.
The pastor is starting to get angry at the boy’s refusal to converse and practically shouts “Where is God?”
To the pastor’s surprise, the little boy jumps up out of his chair and runs out of the office.
The boy leaves the church and runs all the way home, up the stairs and into his brother’s room. He shuts the door and pants, “We’re in BIG TROUBLE. God’s missing and they think we did it!”
Where is God? Well, God is everywhere. Where can we go that God is not? I haven’t found that place yet. But I do admit that there are times when it feels as if God is absent, missing, and not with us. But today I want to look at Romans 8:28-39 to see that even though God may feel absent, there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. I would like to see how God works for us, through us, and for us; how God is the ultimate teammate, and how we are more than conquerors in Christ.
God working for us, God working through us, God working with us
Verse 28 of Romans 8 is one of the best known verses in all of the Bible. Many of us probably have memorized this verse at some point in your life, maybe during periods of hardship. Read with me verse 28 from the King James Version, “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.” All things work together for good if you love God. I can see how that can be comforting to someone like me that hasn’t really experienced a lot of hardship. But do we really believe that? Do we really believe that all things work together for good? What about personal tragedy and loss? Do these become good things? I think we need to be careful with this verse.
Many well intentioned pastors and Christians have tried to help a suffering friend by quoting Romans 8:28 at an inopportune time. I have heard a story about a woman who was in the hospital after giving birth to a child that died a few hours after birth. And her pastor came up to her and told her that all things work together for good for those that love God. Through tears, the woman asked the pastor to leave her room.
When I read this verse I think of a friend of mine that is going through a divorce right now. He does not want to be divorced; he wants to continue to work on his marriage. His wife is the one that wants out. On top of this he just found out that his sister has left her husband because he beats her regularly and that the child that she gave birth to in April does not belong to her husband; her way of getting back at him was cheating. And on top of all of this, that same friend’s grandfather passed away last week. And he asks me, “Kevin, where is God in all of this?”
How do I respond to this question? He is a Christian man going through a lot of stuff right now and I know that his faith is growing troubled and weakening. Would it help him to say that all things work together for good for those that love God, like these were all just puzzle pieces that God is trying to put together and we simply can’t see the bigger picture? I don’t think so.
As I think of all of the tragedies that have happened in this church over the last three years, I wonder if telling you that all things work for good will be helpful to you. I think of Jordan going to prison, of Florence’s battle with cancer, of Peggy’s heart condition, of Janie’s undiagnosed issues, of Jim’s leukemia, and of Matt’s death. Though some of you have experienced healing and victory, for those who continue to struggle, myself included, it probably isn’t too helpful to say that all things work together for good for those that love God.
Thankfully we have other translations that I think help us to better understand what Paul was trying to get at in this scripture. The NIV puts it this way, “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.”
God didn’t cause your suffering, but God is working through that suffering. God is not the causer of all things, but God is always present and always working to bring about good things to those and through those who love him.
I found another translation that I like as well from a New Testament scholar. He translates Romans 8:28 as, “28And we know that in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good, with those who have been called according to his purpose.” http://www.mbseminary.edu/files/download/geddert1.htm?file_id=12815136
I like this translation because God is definitely not causing suffering, and God is not only present during our suffering, working through our suffering for the good. But this translation says that God is working with all those that love him to bring about good. This says that God not only comforts those who morn, but uses those who love the Lord to comfort those who morn as well. This says that God not only works for good, but uses us to work for what is good as well.
Which translation is correct? People that know a lot more about Greek linguistics can’t agree on which is correct, so don’t expect me to give a definitive answer here, either. But I would say that there is truth in each version. I believe that God works for us, God works through us, and that God works with us.
God the teammate
Verses 31-35 read, “31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”
I love that part, If God is for us, who can be against us? The point isn’t that we as Christians will not face opposition, that no one will ever be against us. And when Paul says that God will give us everything else, he isn’t talking about money, wealth, and material things. Actually, if we look at the entire chapter of Romans 8 and the context, we see that the latter part of the chapter is about current suffering. So obviously Paul and the Roman Christians know something about suffering.
We know that Paul didn’t receive “everything else”. He asked three times to have some “thorn in his flesh” removed, and three times God chose not to do as Paul asked. Surely Paul asked to not have to suffer imprisonment and torture. But we know that Paul spent a lot of time locked up and he was martyred, killed for his faith. So when Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and he says that since God has given of his very son, he will give everything else we ask, he isn’t talking about the things of this world. He is talking about things that transcend the world as we know it: faith, hope, and love. And as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, the greatest of these is love.
If God is for us, who can be against us? Well, a lot of people can be against us. We find opposition to Christians in our work places, in our schools, and in our own neighborhoods. Though I don’t think that there is as much opposition to Christ as there is to Christians, I still believe that there are people and perhaps forces that are standing in the way of those that wish to spread the Gospel.
But even though we might come up against some opposition, the point that Paul is trying to make here is that love will always win because God will come out victorious.
I am a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers. And the Cavaliers have one of the best basketball players on the planet in LeBron James. LBJ is a freak of nature, 6’8”, built like a truck, and as athletic as anyone to come before him has ever been. LeBron led the Cavaliers to their best season ever and the best record in the NBA this season. They were many people’s choice for the NBA champions this season and LeBron was named the leagues Most Valuable Player. But what happened? LeBron didn’t fail to meet his quota, he often scored 40 points a night. But LeBron couldn’t do it all by himself and the Cavaliers went home early. Everyone, or many people, had already penciled in the Cavaliers as the champions, but one person was not able to carry the entire team.
Well I have my winner penciled in for the winner in this world, which is far from being a game. I pencil in God, because as I said, love wins. Love will win over hate. Love will defeat evil. Love will overcome oppression and violence. Love wins because God is love. And if God is for us, who can be against us?
More than conquerors
This brings us to some of my favorite scriptures in the Bible, verses 37-39, “37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.”
I mentioned a few of the things that have bothered me over the last three years, things that leave me wondering where God is: the illnesses, the broken relationships, the untimely deaths, and so on. And while I have been discouraged through all of these things, I maintain my faith because I am assured that through all of this crap, we are more than conquerors. We do more than just win in the end because 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.
Sonya is in Ohio this weekend because she wants to spend one more weekend with her sister and her family before she moves to Omaha, where she will live for at least three years. And if you are wondering, Omaha is 1,158 miles from Staunton, Virginia. That isn’t a weekend trip. You don’t just drop into visit when you live 1,158 miles apart.
I know that of the people of this church that are traveling this weekend, we have twelve people in Pennsylvania visiting family and another two in northern Virginia with their family. If you are living close to your family, consider yourself blessed. Various circumstances have led many of us to live in various places throughout the world and that can be hard…to be separated from people that you love and care about.
But guess what. Love doesn’t understand distance. Love doesn’t understand boundaries, mountains, borders, rivers, and plains. I guarantee you that Sonya will continue to have telephone conversations and email contact with her sister. I still speak with my mother on the phone twice a week. We travel to Nebraska to visit Sonya’s extended family at least once a year. With the communication and travel advances over the last 100 years we can be connected with someone half-way around the world instantly. Love can even defeat distance!
And if our love, which is flawed, imperfect, and even weak, can overcome physical separation, then how much more can God’s love overcome all of these things! 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.
So to all of my brothers and sisters at Staunton Mennonite that have, are currently, or will suffer, and I am going to guess that each of us has, where is God in all of this suffering? He is loving us.
I am convinced that God cries. I am convinced that God cries all of the time. How could God be love as 1 John 4:8 tells us and not feel our pain? If God is love and God is with us at all times and nothing can separate us from the love of God then I am convinced that God feels our pain, endures our suffering, and is present in every moment, good or bad. And believe me, I do not know why God doesn’t take away all or at least some of our suffering. I believe He can and he has in many cases. But God doesn’t always take away all of our pain and I believe God experiences that pain with us and has experienced pain beyond our comprehension.
Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, says that the cross is God’s way of saying “Love Wins.” http://curtis.klope.googlepages.com/RobBell-lovewins.mp3 Jesus was confronted with every kind of evil. He was beaten, he was tortured, he was stripped down to his underwear or less, he was spit upon. The Roman soldiers took him and nailed him to the cross as a way of saying, “This is what happens to those who oppose Rome.” The Jewish authorities and Romans government tried to defeat Jesus and his movement through violence and torture. Yet Jesus responds by refusing to take up arms against the enemy or calling down legions of angels and instead he took the punishment upon himself that he did not deserve.
But the joke was on those that had Jesus crucified because on the third day Jesus rose from the grave. Not even death could stop the power that was at hand to defeat evil. On that first Easter morning, God showed us that love wins. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
So remember, maybe all things are not good, but God is present and working through all things. And we have the best teammate possible in God, because we know that God does win in the end. God wins because love wins. Love wins in our homes, love wins in our places of work, love win on the busy highways. Love wins because love has conquered death.