The Biggest Little Word
by Jason Overman
The first Bible verse I recall memorizing was Romans 8:28. It wasn’t my doing. I was only 6 or 7 years old and attending a weeklong church conference with my family. A lady named Dorothy was in charge of the children’s ministry that week. We worked hard — with Dorothy’s unwavering patience and guidance — to prepare the children’s program we’d perform in front of the whole conference during the closing Saturday (Sabbath) service.
Quoting Romans 8:28 “by heart” was the centerpiece of that program.
I don’t remember many details about that week or performance, but now, at nearly 50 years of age, I can still recite that verse from memory like it was yesterday:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (KJV).
This profound little verse, tucked right in the middle of Apostle Paul’s magnum opus about God’s gospel of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ and the cleansing of the Spirit, is tucked in my heart all of these years. I can think of no other verse that has had a greater impact on my life and ministry.
Of all that it communicates about being part of God’s love and purpose, what grabs me most is that “all things work together for good.” That is a remarkable claim! And a great comfort and encouragement to Christians of all times and places, because it refuses to let the circumstances of life determine our worth or destiny. Instead, we see that these very circumstances cooperate with God for our good to His end. In a nutshell, this text is a tremendous witness to God’s sovereign authority over all for our sakes.
It’s that little word, all, that looms so large in this passage. It demonstrates God’s all-love-and-power and demolishes our unsuspecting imaginations in the process. With little effort, this biggest little word in the Bible remakes a weak faith and stretches it to real trust.
All! Really!? Every missed turn and misstep, every pain and affliction, every doubt and failure, every labor, love, or loss — every minute of every day? It really all works for good? Yes! Believe it because God is God and we are not. Trust Him!
A commentary by well-known scholar Matthew Poole remarks on the scope of this all, including “. . . even sin itself; because from their falls, God’s children arise more humble and careful.”1
All means all.
We may question what this “good” is that God is working us toward. It is not the sort of good that those lost in death understand, but a good far above all goods — the good that defines the very notion of good itself. Those caught up in the love and purpose of the God-over-all and would share Him with others know that end to which all is working out. The answer is given in the next verse: “To be conformed to the image of His Son” (v. 29, NKJV).
Jesus, and being just like Him, is the good goal that all is bending toward in my life and in yours if we will love God and lean heavy into His purposes. He is all in all.
With each passing day, I learn this truth more and more. Dear Sister Dorothy passed away last year. It turned out that she’d be a special influence in my life, part of God’s all for me. I thank Him for her. In my early teens, she briefly crossed my path again and once more patiently guided me to memorize other Bible verses. This one comes to my mind, and again, with that biggest little word…
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5, 6, NKJV, my emphasis).
Surrender all and God will take it and spin it to the good, into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
1 Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3 (Hendrickson Publishers), 506.