And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (NKJV)
Here is a familiar verse that is often left to stand on its own in our midst, without context and even that may be shortened to part of the first phrase (“All things work together for good”)! I have even heard Christians use this to support their disobedience to God’s commands, like going ahead to divorce one’s spouse. But, of course, in the larger context of Scripture, “those who love God” also “… will obey my teaching” (John 14).
Some versions or footnotes read “in all things God works for the good” which relates to issues of text and translation. C. E. B. Cranfield, in his magisterial work (ICC), works through those issues and concludes that the interpretation, as quoted above (in NKJV, AV, RV, Vulgate), “is to be accepted as almost certainly right.” [“Dodd’s objection seems to have no cogency, and we can see no other objection.”]
“What is expressed is a truly biblical confidence in the sovereignty of God.”
The obvious limit placed on this, is the knowledge that this confidence is for “those who love God.”
“The primary reference of [‘all things‘] is, no doubt, to ‘the sufferings of the present time’ (v. 18), to what Calvin in his comment calls ‘adversities’ or ‘the cross’. That this is so is confirmed by vv. 35-39.”
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Paul’s meaning is that all things, even those which seem most adverse and hurtful, such as persecution or death itself, are profitable for those who truly love God.”
“. . . such grievous things as are mentioned in v. 35, must serve to help them on their way to salvation, confirming their faith and drawing them closer to their Master, Jesus Christ. But the reason why all things thus assist believers is, of course, that God is in control of all things. The faith expressed here is faith not in things but in God.”
C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans (ICC)