Blue: word from text to be discussed or defined
Green: on handout
Ink: to be filled in on handout
All things - What things in particular is Paul speaking of here? Sufferings.
"...as they call forth the exercises of hope, and give occasion for the kind interposition of the Holy Spirit, far from being inconsistent with our salvation, they contribute to our good… afflictions are real blessings."1 - Charles Hodge
work together for good - What good? (cf. vv.17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27)
Good = God's purpose. Not always what we think is good. God's values are higher than ares, informed by infinite knowledge and wisdom.
God's purpose = redemption of Creation, including us and our bodies. (See vv 18-23)
Note that Paul's subject here is in the plural - "them, those, they." This text is not necessarily declaring that everything that happens to you, the individual, works together specifically for your good. On the other hand, I'm not saying that it's not necessarily true that it does. But this text is saying that everything that happens in the world ultimately contributes toward the goal of the redemption of the fallen Creation, and that is said with a view particularly toward the suffering of the faithful. To those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose, that's good news. But it would be going beyond this text to look for everything that happens to you to result in tangible goodness that you experience in this life. As we're taught throughout scripture, suffering purifies us and testing strengthens us. Suffering and testing are not good experiences but they produce good results in those who are trusting Christ.God has a plan to accomplish this purpose. When did He form that plan? Eternity past. Eph 1:3-6, 9-11.
Those who love God, those who are called according to His purpose.
"Why all things work together for good -- -the action of God involved in their call is the guarantee that such will be the result."2 - John Murray
Cf. Genesis 1: Creation spoken into existence and order. The same voice that called the cosmos into being for His glory, the same voice that called Lazarus from the dead for His glory, calls us out of darkness into His glorious light for His glory. Soli Deo Gloria!
Are "those who love God" and "those who are called" two different groups of people, or the same one? Here are the logical possibilities:
Let's consider the viability of these four possibilities:
Now consider the consequences of the two viable alternative interpretations. If these are two groups, one a subgroup of the other, does that mean all things work together for good for those who do not love God? Or that they work together for good for those who are not called according to His purpose? I think that connecting Paul's flow of thought makes it obvious that he is describing one group of people. I think it fits far better with all the rest of the teaching of scripture to interpret it that way, too. In fact, it seems so obvious that I have not yet had anyone offer any real opposition to that point. So, why have I bothered to belabor it? Because of what it implies. If Paul is using both phrases to describe one group of people, What does that imply about God's call? It is effectual. Why? Because it shows that love for God is connected to His salvific call. You don't love God unless and until He calls you out from the world to be one of His own people; and if He calls you, He plants that love in your heart. If it were not so, Paul could not have written this passage in the way he did.
What else do the two phrases in question tell us about the nature of this one group?
We found early in the study of Romans that we are not at the center of the gospel, Christ is. It's important to distinguish between Christ as the focus of the gospel message, and us as the objects of His redemptive plan. Since we are baptized into Christ, and share in his inheritance, there is no remote possibility of contradiction or even tension in that distinction.
All whom He foreknew, he predestined for conformity to Christ's image; He called all of those; He justified everyone He called; he glorified all those He justified. Is there anyone who loves God who has not been justified (besides Jesus Christ)? Who is the subject in each case? God. Who is the object? Us.
"God alone is active in those events which are here mentioned and no activity on the part of men supplies any ingredient of their definition or contributes to their efficacy."3 - John Murray
How can it be true that our sufferings work to our benefit if we love God and are called according to His purpose? In that God's plan is connected in all its parts. The end follows unfailingly from the beginning.
The great sweeping panorama of God's plan:
"It is not the foresight of difference but the foreknowledge that makes difference to exist, not a foresight that recognizes existence but the foreknowledge that determines existence."4 - John Murray
"God's love is not passive emotion; it is active volition and it moves determinatively to nothing less than the highest goal conceivable for his adopted children, conformity to the image of the only-begotten Son."6 - John MurrayGod is making us like Christ in:7
So, what do we do now in light of God's will? "Love God and do as you please." Augustine could say that because he knew that someone who truly loves God will want to do what pleases God.
Supporting notes for handling questions and objections
Some people "supply something to make the sense complete. Who he foreknew would repent and believe, or who would not resist his divine influence, or some such idea. There are two objections to this manner of explaining the passage. 1. The addition of this clause is entirely gratuitous; and, if unnecessary, it is, of course, improper. There is no such thing said, and, therefore, it should not be assumed, without necessity, to be implied. 2. It is in direct contradiction to the apostle's doctrine. It makes the ground of our calling and election to be something in us, our works; whereas Paul says that such is not the ground of our being chosen… To say that faith as distinguished from works is what is foreseen, and constitutes the ground of election, does not help the matter. For faith is a work or act..." - Charles Hodge Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans p. 284
"It is certainly true that God foresees faith; he foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: whence proceeds this faith which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith he himself creates (cf. John 3:3-8; 6:44, 45, 65; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; II Pet 1:2) Hence his eternal foresight of faith is preconditioned by his decree to generate this faith in those whom he foresees as believing… It should be observed that the text says 'whom he foreknew'; whom is the object of the verb and there is no qualifying addition. This, of itself, shows that, unless there is some other compelling reason, the expression 'whom he foreknew' contains within itself the differentiation which is presupposed. If the apostle had in mind some 'qualifying adjunct,' it would have been simple to supply it." - John Murray The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans p. 316-7
"In all the cases in which this predestination is spoken of, the idea is distinctly recognized, that the ground of the choice which it implies is not in us. We are chosen in Christ, or according to the free purpose of God." - Hodge p. 285
II Tim 1:9: "...who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal."
The numbers are verse numbers. The definitions were taken mostly from Strong's Concordance, if I remember correctly, and some from The Complete Word Study New Testament, which is an excellent reference work, most helpful to those of us who don't read Greek ourselves.
This lesson relied most heavily on The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans by John Murray. I highly recommend it.