NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXXV)
Now Paul adds his second qualifier: They must not only love God, but must also be those whom God has called for His purpose. Jesus made this perfectly clear when He said that while many are called, only a few are chosen.1 Paul shared his own calling with the Galatians.2 He also told the Ephesians that this was all planned by God through His Son in order to populate the select spiritual family that He would gather to Himself for eternity.3 And to Timothy, Paul uses Numbers 16:5 and Nahum 1:17 to give his protegé this advice: “God’s truth stands firm like a great rock, and nothing can shake it. It is a foundation stone with these words written on it: ‘The Lord knows those who are really His.‘”4
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster says it is never the case that God knowingly or intentionally gives believers the opposite of what they ask for just because they are ignorant of what they really need or even want. Paul is teaching the Roman believers what they should really be asking for in prayer if they truly love God. This is what the Lord says in the Gospel: “For your Father knows what you need, even before you ask Him.”5 That’s because those He called according to the promise are those whom God knew would become believes.6
The well-known early church preacher Chrysostom explains that when Paul speaks of “all things” working together for good, he includes even those things that might be painful. For if tribulation, or poverty, or imprisonment, or famine, or death or anything else should overcome us, God can transform them into blessings. This is a clear instance that shows His unmatched power. He can actually make painful experiences appeal to us by turning them into something that really helps us. Paul also talks about being called for a purpose. This is to show that the calling in itself is not sufficient. The calling is not forced on anyone, nor is it compulsory. There is no such thing as being drafted into God’s army. Everyone was called, but unfortunately, not everyone is willing to answer the call.7
And in his explanation of what it means to be called according to God’s purpose, Patriarch Cyril says that to be called according to God’s purpose is to be called according to His will for our lives. But we must ask, is this the will of the one calling or the will of the one being called? It is only natural that every impulse which leads to righteousness will come from God the Father. Christ Himself once said: “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.”8 Says Bishop Cyril, it is not a mistake when we say that there are some who say they were called by God according to His purpose, but in reality, it was according to serve their own purpose.9 I agree with the Bishop up to the point that all those whom God calls fit into His purpose, but that purpose must then become their purpose as well no matter what their original intentions were.
Martin Luther points out that the Greek verb synergeō translated as “work together” is in the singular. The point is, that God takes every request and deals with them one at a time so that what we are asking for, and what the Holy Spirit intercedes for, and what God wants for us will work together to fulfill His purpose for our lives.10 Let’s put it this way: You have a church growth plan you want to get your congregation involved in. Things seem to be coming together and it looks very promising. Some of the members are for it but have trouble with what it will take to finance it. Others are for it and think everything should be done to facilitate and finance it. While still others do not see it as compatible with the mission of the church. You pray, moan, and groan over it because you feel it is part of the vision God has given you. The Holy Spirit inspires you on what to say to your elders and congregation, many of whom are heartily for it. But you want more proof that this is God’s purpose and not yours. So that’s what you pray for.
What they don’t know is that just a few days before the vote was taken, you were offered an opportunity to go overseas to help direct and coordinate a new missions outreach that included a new training center and Bible School. You told the Lord you wanted to stay where you were, but you will take His answer as being what fits His plan for your life, not yours. When the vote was taken, the council votes against it. That frees you to accept the overseas appointment where you are given the opportunity to reach thousands, instead of the hundreds had you stayed. No, this is not a fictional story, it really happened – to me.
John Calvin says that although God does not immediately assist His people by relieving them from whatever may be standing in their way, He does not forsake them. In fact, often what was intended to be evil, He turned into good. Calvin puts it into perspective when he says that although the sinner and the saint are indiscriminately exposed to the same calamities, there is still a great difference. God uses such afflictions to train and educate the faithful, thereby promoting them to greater things in His kingdom.11 The reason why the elect are in a better position to cope with adversity is that God is always looking for ways to tailor anything they encounter into a promotion rather than a demotion. The biggest factor is, they are trying to seek God’s purpose for their lives.
Adam Clarke points out that Paul does not only say, “all things work together for good,” but that they only work on behalf of “them that love God.” He also notes the verbs are in the present tense. It’s because God‘s providence is being carried out one experience at a time. His Spirit also working together with God and the one in whom He resides as comforter and guide. Therefore, whatever troubles, or afflictions, or persecutions may arise, God does to them what He did to the water at the wedding, He changes the ordinary into something special.12 In fact, He presses theses problems into His service. He makes them part of His plan so that they end up contributing to the believer’s good. Not just any person, but the one who loves Him; the one who is serving by love and faith under the influence of the Holy Spirit.13 Clarke also feels that to best understand what Paul means by “things,” it is best to look at what is also mentioned in verses 29-30.
Robert Haldane comments that verse 28 is one of the most quoted verses from Romans. He concludes that nothing is more important for believers than to be fully persuaded of the joy and privileges that come with being a child of God. That way they can serve the Lord with cheerfulness and freedom of spirit as they pass through the troubles and trials in this world. Paul offers further consolation by telling believers that when they go through such sorrows, sufferings, and persecution, that in itself may not be a source of joy. In fact, it can be very grievous and painful. But the joy comes when they realize that although the afflictions in themselves may be meant for harm, yet their effects, when overruled and directed by God, become very useful. Yes, everything, of any variety, that believers face in this world are not outside God’s sovereign domain.
Haldane says that when overruled by God, these bad things are transformed into doing good for the believer. Paul had previously spoken of the various sources of consolation in the two preceding verses. How the Holy Spirit helps us with our weaknesses, and how by dictating those prayers which are heard of God, the Apostle now eliminates another objection. There are those who question that if God hears a believer’s sighs and groanings, then why are they not immediately delivered? In Paul’s answer we find that afflictions can be both beneficial and profitable. This is because although they are not quickly removed, God changes their intended purpose and makes them work together for our good. But just to make sure that no one is misled into a false sense of security, the Apostle adds that this promise is only for those who love God by putting Him first in their lives, and are “the called according to His purpose.” It is Haldane’s prayer that not only is what Paul says here is true in itself, but he asserts that every believer must be convinced of its truth.14
Albert Barnes has an interesting take on how all things work together for good to satisfy God’s purpose for allowing them to occur. He points out that the Greek word prothesis rendered “purpose” meaning – a proper proposition, or a laying down of anything in full view of others. This is applied to how the bread was laid on the Table of Show-bread in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle.15 We can take this then to mean that when this is applied to the mind, it is a clear plan with an obvious purpose. In that sense, it implies that all along God had a plan, purpose, or intention, for those who became Christians. They were not saved by chance or good luck. God does not redeem and call people out of sin’s bondage without having a pre-planned design and purpose for them. His designs are not last-minute decisions, they were formed in eternity past. What God ends up doing, He meant to do all along. Whatever He does that turns out right was always meant to be right. Everything God does is an integral part of His predetermined purpose or plan. We can see and affirm that He has had such a purpose in regard to the salvation of His people since the beginning.16 It is clear that with God’s purpose for His creation being a proposition, it, therefore, should not be considered predestination without choice. Mankind’s free will is to choose what God offers, not to have it enforced against man’s will.17
Puritan preacher Charles Simeon proclaims that true believers know they’ve received a lot of great encouragement to draw closer to God. They’ve also been assured of having the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit when pouring their hearts out before Him with the assurance by God Himself that their prayers will heard and answered. Yet sometimes, like the Israelites in Egypt, the more they renew their requests, the more they find their burdens and struggles are increased.18 That causes them, like the Israelites, to start murmuring and becoming despondent and want to give up.19 But it’s the same Spirit that comes to their side and by grace encourages and enables them to wait patiently for the Lord’s right timing. When they do, they will see how the dark clouds of doom they dreaded, will burst with glorious blessings on their heads.20
1 Matthew 22:14
2 Galatians 1:15-16
3 Ephesians 3:3:8-9
4 2 Timothy 2:19
5 Matthew 6:8
6 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 15
8 John 6:44
9 Cyril of Alexandria: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 127
11 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 John 2:1-11
13 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 157-58
14 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 390-391
15 See Matthew 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4
16 See Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:11; 3:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; Jeremiah 51:29.
17 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op cit., loc. cit.
18 See Exodus 5:6-8
19 Ibid. 5:20-21
20 Charles Simeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.