By Dr. Gene Scott
Preached March 13, 1977
“What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
Paul felt that he should go preach the Word of God in Asia. We don’t know how, but God, through His Spirit, said No. He didn’t even tell Paul where else to go. I want you to think about God’s will for a moment. The need must have been great or Paul wouldn’t have wanted to go to Asia. But when the Spirit stopped him, Paul didn’t demand an alternative: he just turned around and went back down to Troas. And in the middle of the night, an angel appeared and said, “Come over into Macedonia.” (Acts 16:9)
With the beckoning of an angel he sailed to Macedonia, landed at the seaport city, walked inland to Philippi and preached the Word. While Paul was preaching, a girl started following him, yelling, “These are men of God.” What she was saying was okay; the words were right. But Paul discerned an evil spirit in the girl. He finally got fed up and turned around and cast the spirit out of her.
The Scripture says that this girl had a “spirit of divination,” and there were people who had been making money off of her. So when they saw that they had lost their hope of gain, they rose up against Paul and Silas, beat them and put them in the inner prison with their feet in the stocks. The inner prison was that darkened area deep inside the prison. Put flesh and blood on these men and get inside them. The Holy Spirit stopped Paul from going to Asia and an angel sent him to Philippi where he ends up in prison with blood running down his back. About midnight Paul and Silas sang praises, literally in the Greek, “hymned praises” to God (Acts 16:25). An earthquake shook that jail and all the doors were opened. The jailer appeared at the entrance, terrified; believing that all the prisoners had escaped, he sought to take his own life. Paul said, “Do yourself no harm: we’re all here.” The jailer responded, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas led him to the Lord and he washed their wounds.
Then it was found out that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. Paul appealed to the highest law in the land against the local mistreatment, and God would use that very appeal to spread His message to the Gentiles. But when the magistrates found out they were Roman citizens, they tried to get Paul and Silas to sneak away and they said, “Leave us in peace.” I can imagine Paul saying, “You put us in here illegally, now nothing doing!” And he went right back into town and stayed there and ministered many days. The magistrates sure would have liked to shut him up, but they didn’t succeed. (Acts 16:37-40)
Paul and Silas went from Philippi to Thessalonica. Ruthless men incited riots in the city against them that endangered their lives. They then went to Berea and the men followed them there, obsessed with getting at Paul. Again riots caused them to flee at risk of their lives. You’ve got to catch this full picture of the man: stopped from going to Asia, sent by an angel to Philippi, preaching the Word and getting beat up. Going to Thessalonica, preaching the Word, a riot, and run out of town. Going to the next town, preaching the Word, a riot, and run out of town.
Next, he goes to Athens. When the philosophers there encountered Paul, they said, “What will this babbler say?” He goes to Mars hill. They had so many gods they were afraid they would miss one so they built a monument to “the unknown God.” Paul said, “I’ll tell you who He is: Jesus, the Son of God whom God vindicated by bringing Him forth from the tomb. He is that unseen God! All the rest of them aren’t worth anything lined up alongside Him.” Many believed. Some said, “We’ll talk about it later.” Others scoffed. (Acts 17:22-32)
Imagine the force of Paul’s ministry and the defeats, in the natural, that Paul continually suffered. In Corinth, he went into the synagogue and taught and then moved in with a friend whose house was joined to the synagogue. Again they rose up against him and brought Paul before the judgment seat. Everywhere he went it seemed that all natural circumstance went against this man. In that same city, there was a sister businesswoman going to Rome, and Paul, after those happenings, wrote a letter and sent it to Rome by her hand, proclaiming, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Romans 8:28 begins with the words, “And we know . . .” How many times have we quoted these promises and not thought of the circumstance of the man who wrote them? After the history we’ve just catalogued, he could write: “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.” What kind of circumstance are you in today? You aren’t facing anything worse than what I just catalogued for Paul. I pray God will take His Word and zero in on your problem today.
In the midst of his circumstance, Paul could say, “we know . . .” The Greek is very precise. There is no question in this knowing. He did not say, “we think;” he did not say, “we hope;” nor did he say, “we wonder about it.” He said, we know that all things . . .” He did not say, “some things;” not “a few things,” not “a lot of things,” not even “most things.”
This is not a promise to everybody; it is a restricted promise. Who is the promise restricted to? “To them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” The opening lines of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians spells out what we are called to be: we are “called to be saints.” A saint is not a perfect-looking person. The Greek word for saint is hagios. A saint is a committed man or woman; someone who has so turned loose of themselves that they are totally given over to God for Him to work His way with, like a potter working the clay on the wheel. That’s why Paul said they are “the called according to HIS purpose.”
The promise is to those who are called, and if you have repented, if you have been born again, you are being regenerated and you are called according to His purpose. There is nothing mystical about these words. Repentance is simply “to turn from your way to His way.” It is a change of mind and a “turning from . . . to” To be “born again” is to change your mind about your way, and your right to go your way, to an acceptance of His way, and His right to have His way rule. To be “born again” was a colloquial expression in New Testament times. When a Jewish person would proselytize a Roman, and he changed his view about the Roman gods and worshipped Jehovah, that Roman was said to be “born again.” That is why Jesus wondered that Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, did not know what the expression meant; it was a catchword in that day. (John 3:10) But there is also a miracle happening: regeneration. That is spiritual power: the same power that penetrated a stone and went through a locked door and sailed off to glory, that power that brought Jesus forth from the grave - that same power can penetrate my person and new life comes to dwell in me.
If that has happened, you are called according to His purpose, and He aims to work His purpose in you. So this verse separates the crowd. The promise is “to them that love God.” Do you love Him today? Surely, you know whether you do or you don’t. Are you “the called according to his purpose?” Then what are you worrying about? Because the promise is: “we know.” Once and for all, settle it.
Let’s look at some alternative translations. We use the King James Version, but occasionally we’ll refer to “The New Testament from 26 Translations.” This Bible has the King James Version in bold type, and underneath there are up to 26 translations of the same phrase available in plain type. If the verse is simple you are not going to find too many alternative translations under it. For example, if the verse is “Jesus wept,” there are only four alternatives because there isn’t too much you can argue about on that. (John 11:35) If it is a difficult verse, you will have a long series of quotations from the 26 alternatives, which tells you that the translators have had some difficulty with that verse. Romans 8:28 is a moderately difficult verse: there are about eight alternatives. Here are some of them:
“But we do know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him.” -Twentieth Century New Testament
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” -Revised Standard Version. There are a lot of things in the Revised Standard Version I do not agree with, particularly in their handling of the Old Testament. But they did not do too badly here.
“Moreover we know that to those who love God . . . everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.” -Phillips
“We know that in everything God works with those who love him . . . to bring about what is good.” -Goodspeed
Write in the margin of your Bible the literal, word-by-word translation of the Greek: “God worketh together,” like a cook who mixes the ingredients, or a potter who works the clay, or an engineer who puts all the parts together. “God worketh together all things” as though He is knitting and folding and bending and filing and grinding and melting and welding and fixing and shaping. God is like a giant hand that “entereth in to all things to work His good.” This goes against the grain of the extreme Calvinistic theologians who think that God has a big clock and that He has set it all in motion and everything is going to follow its course. They would take away from God His own freedom. Whatever the circumstance, even when we sometimes mess it up ourselves, or when the elements sail in like a meteorite out of the blue, God is still in control.
I have often gone to Paul in the New Testament, and to David in the Old Testament, and read their writings and read about their lives in times of stress because these are men who have lived in the same kind of problems that you and I face. David had won many victories for God. He seemed incapable of defeat, but his own son Absalom rose up against him. In the midst of that terrible betrayal by loved ones when everyone had turned on David and his people had fled him, he wrote Psalm 3: “LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! Many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God.” I don’t know what trouble you’re facing today, but it couldn’t be worse than this. “But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” You may have in the margin of your Bible an alternate translation: “thou are a shield about me.” it is a strange kind of shield. It is a word in the Hebrew that pictures a shield like a sphere all the way around you. No one can even sneak up behind you with that kind of shield.
“I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill . . . I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, hat have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou has smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belonged unto the LORD: the blessing is upon thy people.” Glory to His name!
Here again, you get it confirmed in the mouth of two witnesses. Paul was saying the same thing when he says, “God worketh together all things for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Let the heathen rage; let the voices rise in tumult. God is alive and on His throne. And “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Paul goes on to say, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He is OUR Lord, and He is Lord over all.
Keep these words with you as your prayer. God is not working together WITH the things, as though the things have something to say along with Him; the things don’t have anything to say about it. The things have gotten in on the act, but God comes with the final words. Whatever your problem, “we know that God worketh together all things for good to them that love God, to them which are the called according to his purpose.” We know that His purpose is to make us like His Son.
We have to grow, but I know that God is going to lead in the growing, and He is going to lead us out of our crises. It is not as important that we win as it is that God’s purposes be accomplished. When we get that priority right, He goes ahead and wins the battle, too.
Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
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