The Chapel of Christ
409 West Marion Street, Shelby
Sunday mornings at 10:30

To All or to Some?

Last week we talked about part of a verse from Romans chapter 8.  We looked at the way that verse is translated in six different English versions of the Bible.  Then we looked at that verse in the Greek manuscripts. 

We saw that the verse is properly translated as something like, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”

We saw we can interpret that as saying that in spite of all the bad things that happen to us, God is always there, trying to work for our good.  It’s not that God causes or sends the bad things; it’s that God is able to work for our good in spite of the bad things.

That’s a good picture to have of God.  Here we are in the world.  There are bad things here.  Bad things happen to us.  Life is hard.  But God is always working against the bad things, working to mitigate the bad things, working, in spite of the bad things, to bring good to us.

But there’s something about that passage that can be disturbing, something we didn’t talk about last week.  It says God is like that “to those who love Him.”  God is always at work for the good of those who love Him.

That naturally brings up the question—What about those who don’t love Him?  We Christians know God is always working for our good.  But what about those who are not Christians?  Is God working for good in their lives, too?  Or, is God not working at all in their lives?  Or, is God working for bad in their lives?  The passage we’ve been looking at says God works for good for those who love Him, but it doesn’t address those who don’t love Him.  So is He working for good also for those who don’t love Him?

The question really boils down to one thing—Is God’s love and care for people unconditional, or is God’s love and care dependent on our love for Him?  Is God’s love and care for people unconditional, or is God’s love and care dependent on our love for Him?  That’s what I’d like for us to think about today.

Most Christians will reflexively say that God loves everybody, and there are places in the Bible that unquestionably speak of God’s love for all people.  For example, there is John 3: 16, “For God so loved the world…”  The reason God came here as Jesus to save us is that He loves the world, the people of the world.  Also, we see that God’s offer of salvation is extended unto all, for John 3: 16 says “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  God’s offer of salvation is not extended to just a few of God’s favorites.  It is extended to all.  This is seen as an illustration of God’s love for all.

And then, there’s Romans 5: 8, which says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus did what He did for our salvation before anybody was a Christian.  Jesus didn’t wait until the world was full of Christians to come here and live, die, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven.  Jesus did all that before anyone was a Christian.  This, also, is seen as an illustration of God’s love for all.

First John 4: 19 says that “we love because He first loved us.”  This is an illustration of God’s love for all.  God is the one who takes the initiative.  He loved us before we loved Him.

In Matthew 5 Jesus said this, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

The implications here are obvious.  Jesus is telling us that we are to love and do good to everyone, not just to people who love us and do good to us.  And why are we to do that?  Because we are to be imitators of God, and that’s what God does.  The picture Jesus paints of God here is unmistakable.  God loves and sends good on those who love Him and on those who don’t, the righteous and also the unrighteous.

There’s something else to look at.  Second Peter 3: 9 says that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  The implications of that are that God must love everybody.  He doesn’t want anyone to perish.  He wants all people to come to Him and be saved.

Passages like this from the Bible are the basis for the belief that God loves everyone.  God’s love extends to all people.

However, within Christianity, there are some who place limits on that.  This idea says, “Yes, God loves everyone, but God has a special love for Christians.”  In other words, the belief is that God loves everyone, to an extent, but God really loves those who please Him, those who are good Christians.  Those who are good Christians, those who please God, supposedly have a special place in God’s heart.  God loves everyone, but not equally.  God loves Christians more than He does non-Christians.  God has one kind of love for everyone, but He has a special kind of love for Christians, for those who please Him.

According to this idea, how much God loves you depends on how good a Christian you are.  If you’re an average, run-of-the-mill Christian, God loves you, certainly more than He loves non-Christians, but not as much as He loves “super” Christians.  This is a belief many Christians have.  It was illustrated recently with the death of Billy Graham.  When Billy Graham died, I heard all kinds of comments about what a place of honor Billy Graham would have in heaven.  Many people were sure that Billy Graham would receive a special place of honor in heaven.  The implications of statements like that are obvious—God’s love for you is proportional to how “good” you are.  People like us, who are just average Christians, get an average amount of love from God.  People like Billy Graham, who was said to be a “super” Christian, get super amounts of love from God.

People who hold this idea have things in the Bible they point to in support of their position.  One of the most obvious comes from a major theme that runs through the Old Testament.  There is a voice in the Old Testament that says God is a God who gives you what you deserve.  If you please God, God gives you good things.  If you displease God, God gives you bad things.  God blesses those who please Him; God withholds His blessings from those who don’t please Him, or even sends bad things on those who don’t please Him.

That is one way many Christians interpret the Old Testament—God gives you what you deserve.  And, there is no question but that that voice is in the Old Testament.

But as we’ve seen in here before, there are other voices in the Old Testament that say things counter to that.  One of the major voices in the Old Testament contrary to that is the book of Job.  The book of Job is a difficult book, one which many different interpretations have been put on.

But, whatever interpretation you put on the book of Job, it does grapple with the issue of bad things happening to someone who at least doesn’t seem to deserve them.  In the book of Job, bad things happen to Job.  Job’s friends drop by and try to explain to him why these bad things happened.  Some of their explanations are along the lines of “you deserve it.”

But, interestingly, in the book of Job, the explanation that “you deserve it” is rejected.  Those who told him Job deserved it are presented as being wrong.  The book of Job never does give us an explanation.  What it does, mainly, is reject the idea that God gives you what you deserve.

Another voice to think about in the Old Testament is found in the book of Amos.  As background to this, we go back to the Hebrew people, and later the Jewish people, in the Old Testament.  Some of the Hebrews, and later the Jews, developed the belief that they, and they alone, out of all the people in the world, were God’s people.  God loved them more than any other people in the world.  In fact, some developed the belief that God loved only them out of all the people in the world, that God was concerned with only them, that only they were important to God.  No one else was.

Because of that, some of them developed the belief that they were “special.”  They were “God’s people” and could do anything they wanted, because they were “special.”  They could get by with anything, in other words. 

And so they lived like that.  They did as they pleased, like spoiled children.  Sort of like a grandchild that believes that it, out of all the other grandchildren, is the grandparents’ favorite and can do and get by with anything.

The book of Amos presents God as getting tired of that attitude, of them believing they were “special” and could get by with anything.  And so in Amos, God says this, “’Are you not like the people of Ethiopia to Me,
O children of Israel?’ says the Lord.  ‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?’”

God is saying here, “You think you’re the only people I’m concerned with?  I’m also concerned with other people.  You think you’re the only people I’ve ever been active among?  Sure, I brought you from Egypt, but I also brought the Philistines out of Caphtor and the Syrians out of Kir.”

Keep in mind that the Old Testament is the product of the Hebrew people and then the Jewish people, and so naturally, they’re going to produce scriptures that support their beliefs, but here, a dissenting voice does peep through.  It’s a voice that says, “God is concerned with everyone.  God is active among all people.”

One of the things that seems to be true of many religions, not only Christianity and Judaism, but also other religions, is that a certain people who worship a certain deity sometimes develop the belief that that deity favors them above all the other people of the world.  Many Christians believe that God favors Christians above all other people.  Many Jews believe that God favors Jews above all other people.  Many Muslims believe that God favors Muslims above all other people.  It’s the same with many other religions.  We worship this deity; therefore, this deity holds us above all other people and favors us above all other people.  That seems to be a common belief that many religions develop.

But is it true?  For the question that we’re trying to answer, does God only work for good in the lives of Christians, or does God also work for good in the lives of people who are not Christians?

As we’ve seen in here before, when we’re trying to look at a question like this, we do of course look at individual scriptures, but we can’t base a belief just on a certain set of scriptures we pull out of the Bible.  We have to look at the broad sweep of the Bible and base our belief on that.

When we look at the broad sweep of what the Bible tells us, the Bible in overview, we see that God is good, the force for good.  God wants good everywhere, for all.  But there is something else out there, and it wants bad.  We see from the broad sweep of the Bible that what is going on right now is that God is working to defeat this force that wants bad, this force that brings bad, and that one day, God will finally defeat this force for bad, and then there will be only good.

And so what we’re really talking about when we talk about God being at work for good is a general struggle between God—the force for good—and evil—the force for bad.  It of course plays out in our individual lives, but it’s not a struggle that’s limited to individual lives.  It’s a struggle that’s going on in general, not limited to any certain person’s life and not limited to any certain group of people’s lives.

God is engaged in a general struggle against evil, everywhere, across the board.  And so with that in mind, what we can say is that it’s not just that God is at work for good in Christians’ lives; God is at work for good in everyone’s lives.  That’s what we come up with when we don’t just look at specific passages we pull out of the Bible but instead look at the broad sweep of the entire Bible.

Let’s go back to the verse we’ve been talking about, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”  Let’s look at the context of that verse, which is something, remember, that we always have to do.  The context is that Paul is talking to people who are Christians, people who do love God.  They are undergoing sufferings.  Exactly what sufferings, we don’t know.  Later on down in Romans 8, Paul lists them in general as hardships, distress, persecution, famine, poverty, danger, and battle.  We’re not sure what those things refer to, and exactly why those people were undergoing those things, but whatever the case, we see that when Paul says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him,” he is talking to people who are undergoing those things, and he says it in the context of talking to them about them undergoing those things.

So, we have to understand it in its context.  Paul is saying this to people who are undergoing a lot of hard times, and he is telling them that God has not abandoned them, and God has not forgotten them, but that God is working, in spite of all those things they are having to go through, to bring good.

Paul is reminding these people to remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.  That is the statement Paul makes, and that is the statement we, as Christians, are supposed to believe.

But here’s somewhere that illustrates how you’ve got to be very careful with the Bible.  The verse says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”  We have to stay just with what that says.  It does not say anything about those who do not love God.  The verse doesn’t mention those who do not love God.  Saying “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him,” only talks about “those who love Him.”

We cannot use statement to say God does not work for good in the lives of those who do not love Him because the passage does not state that.  It only states what God does in the lives of those who love Him.  That’s all.  We can’t take Bible verses like this and extrapolate from them and say, “Since it says God works for the good of those who love Him, it must mean that God does not work for the good of those who do not love Him.”  We cannot do that with that verse because that’s not what the verse says.  It doesn’t mention those who do not love God.  It doesn’t say anything about them.

We can base a belief only on what the Bible says.  We cannot extrapolate from what it does not say.  We must leave what it does not say alone.

So, from this verse, we have confirmation that God does indeed work for good in the lives of those who love Him.  From looking at the broad sweep of the Bible, we get the belief that God doesn’t do that only in the lives of those who love Him, but in the general struggle against the force for bad, at the very least, the lives of those who do not love God are impacted for good as well.

Farther than that, if we’re going to base our beliefs just on what the Bible says, we cannot and should not go.