A Commentary by John Stott
Thirdly, God works for our good *in all things*. The NIV translation understands *panta* (‘all things’) not as the object of the verb (‘God works everything for good’) but as an accusative of respect (‘in everything God works for good’). Either way, ‘all things’ must include the sufferings of verse 17 and the groanings of verse 23. ‘Thus all that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in the execution of God’s eternal plan.’ Nothing is beyond the overruling, overriding scope of his providence.
Fourthly, God works in all things for the good of *those who love him*. This is a necessary limitation. Paul is not expressing a general, superficial optimism that everything tends to everybody’s good in the end. No, if the ‘good’ which is God’s objective is our completed salvation, then its beneficiaries are his people who are described as those who love him. This is an unusual phrase for Paul, because his references in Romans to love are rather to God’s love for us (e.g. 5:5, 8; 8:35, 37, 39). Nevertheless, he does elsewhere allude to our love for God (E.g. 1 Cor. 2:9; 8:3; cf. Eph.6:24), and this is a common biblical concept, since the first and great commandment is that we love God with all our being (Dt. 6:5; Mk.12:30).
Fifthly, those who love God are also described as those *who have been called according to his purpose*. For ‘their love for him is a sign and token of his prior love for them’, which has found expression in his eternal purpose and his historical call. So God has a saving purpose, and is working in accordance with it. Life is not the random mess which it may sometimes appear.
These are the five truths about God which, Paul writes, *we know*. We do not always understand what God is doing, let alone welcome it. Nor are we told that he is at work for our comfort. But we know that in all things he is working towards our supreme good. And one of the reasons we know this is that we are given many examples of it in Scripture. For instance, this was Joseph’s conviction about his brothers’ cruelty in selling him into Egypt: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…the saving of many lives’ (Gen.50:20). Similarly Jeremiah wrote in God’s name a letter to the Jews in Babylonian exile after the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem: ‘”I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’ (Jer.29:11). The same concurrence of human evil and divine plan has its most conspicuous display in the cross, which Peter attributed both to the wickedness of men and to ‘God’s set purpose and foreknowledge’. (Acts 2:23; cf. 4:27f.).