Text: “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Romans 8:28
BETHLEHEM EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
Ridgewood, New Jersey
The following sermon was delivered on April 8, 1945, one month before V-E Day, and simultaneously read by servicemen from the congregation in Ridgewood and others in harm’s way in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and those serving in South America, stationed in the United States, serving on naval ships, and recovering from injury in a hospital. April 8 was the date selected by The Lutheran Church for a special worship service dedicated to the men and women in the armed forces and their families and others on the home front.
Sermon – delivered by Pastor F. A. Ottmann at a special service held in honor of our men and women in service – April 8, 1945 at 10:30 A.M.
Beloved in Jesus Christ:
To many people, the world is full of unsolved riddles, perhaps now more than ever. Time and again in past years, we have heard the question asked, “Why such a monstrous war when God long ago proclaimed peace on earth, and all nations engaged in this terrible struggle profess to accept the religion of ‘good will toward men’? Why should so many be made to suffer because of the unholy ambition of a few? Again people ask, “Why are epidemics permitted to stalk through the country claiming their victims by the thousands among the unbeliever as well as the Christians? Why do the honest and upright frequently have affliction and sorrow while the wicked are apparently free and prosperous?” These and other questions of a similar nature often greatly disturb the souls of men. Especially when adversity comes to the individual, when the question takes this form: “Why should I have reverses? Why should my house be stricken with disease? Why should my husband, my wife, my son, my child die?” Then the puzzle often spells disaster, wrecking men’s lives and driving them to despair. We Christians too, are sorely tried by such questions. But we know where to find an answer. We turn to the Word of God. True that Word does not always give us a definite answer to these particular questions. On the contrary, it tells us that often God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out. But it assures us that they are ways of wisdom and love gives us the definite promise that “all things work together for good to them that love God”. And that comforting assurance I want to impress upon you today. The Theme:
All things for good – so God says to His children.
“All things”, that is an all inclusive statement. It includes everything and excludes nothing. “All things”, whether to is they seem good, bad, or indifferent. We usually make this distinction. Some things we consider to be always beneficial to us, as good health, a comfortable income, a circle of true friends. Other things we look upon as misfortunes, believing them to be contrary to our interests, as calamities, war, sickness, business reverses, loss of employment. Then there are things which we ordinarily imagine have practically no influence on our welfare. But our experience and that of others show us that we are often mistaken in making these distinctions, what we usually call blessings are often harmful to those who receive them. Many a man has been morally and physically ruined by prosperity. So called misfortunes, on the other hand, often proved to be blessings in disguise and the apparently trivial things of life are in many instances of momentous importance in their consequence.
But here comes the Word of God, saying that all things work together for good to them that love Him, even the evil things. Yes, God even makes use of the sins of men, for which He is in no wise responsible, to further His ends, as the story of Joseph in the Old Testament and particularly that of Jesus in the New Testament clearly how. Joseph was torn from his home, sold into Egypt as a slave by his brothers. They wanted to get rid of him, get him out of the way, they hated him. But God was with Joseph. He made use of the sin of his brethren to further His purpose, namely to elevate Joseph to the regency of Egypt and make him a benefactor of the world of his time and especially to his own brethren. Wherefore Joseph said to them, “And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me thither, but God.” Yes, God was with Joseph. And need I remind you of the fact, that the greatest wrong man ever committed, the betrayal of Judas, the condemning of Jesus by Caiaphas, the sentence of death placed upon Him by Pilate, the crucifixion on Calvary, was used by God for the eternal salvation of man.
All things work together says our text. There is design and purpose in everything. We have the evidence of that fact all about us. In the whole universe there is order, adaptation, system, as every careful student of nature must see. The great things as well as the small things denote the presence of a divine Master-mind. There is purpose then in the things that enter into the life of each individual, and all things which enter into your life work together to accomplish a certain end. What is that end? That work together for good. God’s purpose is always good so all things must work together for the good of His children – I say for His children. The Lord knoweth them that are His. That is our great comfort at all times and in all conditions of life that the Lord knows us as His own. He is deeply concerned about our welfare. Nothing can befall us without His will and so all things must work together for our good. Which does not mean that they work together solely for the promotion of our pleasure or according to our ideas of what is good, but for our best interests, our welfare, our real happiness according to God’s ideas in time and eternity. Everything in our lives is a means to an end. It is not always the medicine which is most pleasant to the taste which is most effective. Sometimes a very bitter medicine prescribed proves to be the very thing to restore health to a sick person. So God often prescribes for us, bitter things, which at the time seem far from good for us, yet they are for our benefit.
As the Apostle says, Hebrews 12:11: “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Not of themselves however, are our experiences productive of that good of which the text speaks. The essential thing for our true welfare in time and eternity is the salvation of our soul. And that is obtained only by faith in Christ, not by any other thing entering our lives. It is by faith only that we receive full pardon for our sins and become acceptable to God. It is by faith only that we are made righteous and heirs of eternal life. It is faith which fills our hearts with peace and joy, comfort and hope, faith, living faith, in the Savior Jesus, and such faith is wrought and strengthened by the Holy Spirit through the means of the Gospel. All the various things then that we experience in life work together for good only when they serve the purpose of bringing us closer to Christ, nearer to God, more and more under the influence of the Gospel. And that is precisely what adversities and afflictions, according to the will of God, are to accomplish. It is the days of good fortune that ought to bring us nearer to God. They ought to fill our hearts with greater appreciation of God’s goodness. They ought to turn us to God in true repentance. They ought to induce us to seek the Lord in His temple, to come before Him with thanksgiving. But we know very well that God’s blessings only too often have the opposite effect. When a man enjoys God’s blessings he often becomes careless of spiritual matters, of church and religion, and drifts away from God. Instead of being led to repentance by the goodness of God, he despises the riches of God’s mercy and forbearance. Therefore, the discipline of trials and sufferings are needed.
They are to divert our minds from the perishing things of this world and fix them on things above. They are to remind us that our welfare is entirely in the hands of God, that He must provide for us the things that make for our real happiness, and that our relation to Him must be right if we are to enjoy His blessings. As Job says: “Lo, all these things worketh together oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.” (Job 33:29) Many who are Christians today, earnest Christians, are ready to acknowledge with feelings of deep humility and gratitude that they never had serious thoughts of eternity, never truly sought their Savior, never found comfort in the Gospel until the days of adversity made them consider, gave them food for thought, so that today they are more thankful to God for some of the troubles they have had than for the good fortunes which befell them. And we earnestly hope that all the anxiety and worry, the trouble and want, the suffering and sorrow, and the heartache and heartbreak of the present time will have the result of turning the people more permanently to God and His Word, and that all these things and whatever affliction God permits to come into our lives will truly work together for the real good of all of us.
But if that is to be the case, we must not forget the concluding words of the text, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” While God’s dealings with men are intended to be for the good of all, His gracious purpose is realized only in some. Not in those who merely entertain reverent thoughts of God, not in those who merely form resolutions to lead upright lives, not in those who attend church off and on to pacify their consciences, not in those who come to God in days of affliction, but soon drift away again. No, only in those who truly turn their hearts to God, who realize that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and cling to Him with an abiding faith; only in those who are moved by the Spirit of God and therefore are God’s children.
It is to His children that God gives the promise that all things work together for good to them. One of the chief characteristics of a dear child is that he listens to the voice of the father and abides by his will, and so the child of God will, even in deepest sorrow and the greatest trouble, turn to the Father and say, “Father, Thy will be done.” So if we are truly children of God, come what may, all things must work together for our good. Here is God’s definite promise. Behind that promise He stands, the all gracious One, the all wise One, the all powerful One, the all faithful One. It must be fulfilled. Amen.