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Commentary on Romans 8:28-39
By Leighton Flowers
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
The Greek verb οἶδα (oida), translated as “we know,” is a perfect active indicative form of the verb, meaning “to observe and therefore perceive.” The perfect tense indicates past completed action with continuous results. Paul is literally saying, “we have observed and therefore we know.” This is not intuitive knowledge, but that which comes from observation of the past.
Paul is saying that we know from observation of God’s past dealings with those who love Him that He has a mysterious way of working things out for the greatest good. By observing the stories of the saints that have gone before us, those called to accomplish His redemptive purposes, we can rest in knowledge of this truth. God can take whatever evil may come our way and redeem it for good. We can know this because He has been doing it for generations.
So, Paul is not merely saying that his readers should intuitively know how God works things out for those who love him. He is saying we know what is true of God by observing what He has done in the past for those who loved Him. We have a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us (Heb. 12:1), giving evidence of God’s trustworthiness toward all who enter into a covenant with Him.
A simple survey of the verses leading up to this point reveals that Paul is reflecting on the problem of the evil and suffering in our world since the beginning:
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:20-22, emphasis added).
Notable New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, comments on Romans 8:28-30, saying in part:
“[This passage] is a sharp, close-up, compressed telling of the story of Israel, as the chosen people, whose identity and destiny is then brought into sharp focus on Jesus. Jesus, in a sense, is the one ‘chosen one.’ But, then that identity is shared with all of those who are ‘in Christ.’ And he [Paul] isn’t talking primarily there about salvation. He is talking primarily about the way God is healing the whole creation. There is a danger here. What has happened in so many theological circles over the years is that people have come to the text assuming that it is really saying how we are to get to heaven, and what is the mechanism and how does that work. And if you do that, interestingly, many exegetes will more or less skip over Romans 8:18-27, which is about the renewing of creation…”
In verse 28 the focus shifts to providing comfort for those in suffering by reminding them to observe God’s dealings with others who loved God throughout history. Notice that this truth is not applicable to everyone. It is specifically an observation of those who “love God,” or as Wright noted, “those who are in Christ.” The point is not that God causes everything for a good purpose, but that God redeems the evil for a good purpose in the lives of those who love Him. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to use this passage to support the concept of divine meticulous determinism of all things. Again, God does not cause the evil for His purposes, but instead He redeems the evil for a good purpose. As John MacArthur explains:
“But God's role with regard to evil is never as its author. He simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends. Ultimately He is able to make all things-including all the fruits of all the evil of all time-work together for a greater good.”
The focus of the Apostle’s observation is on the saints of old, those from the elect nation of Israel who were called to fulfill God’s plan to redeem His creation from its groans and sufferings. This does not mean that the truth being revealed is not applicable to those of other nations. Rather, it means that what is proven to be true of God by observing His dea
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