"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."
This verse is commonly used as encouragement to those suffering, that ultimately all of the persecution we have in our life will ultimately work to provide us with a happier, more fulfilled life. But this is not a proper interpretation of this verse.
Yes it is true that occasionally we will see suffering working in order to save us from further harm, but nowhere does this verse truly tell us that we are to receive a fulfilled and abundant life on earth. If we examine the rest of Scriptures (particularly the New Testament) we learn that we are to live our lives for the glory and honor of God, and that truly that is the only purpose we have in life.
Thus, when it says that all things work together for good, why do we start to selfishly think that this good is something that is good for us? Nowhere in Scripture does it guarantee that our lives will be pleasant. They certainly can be joyful despite what we go through. But we have to acknowledge that our lives will bring persecution if we are truly living for God. Remember the words of 2 Timothy 3:12,
"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
That persecution is in my mind, a small price in order to please the Lord, but it is a price. Pleasing the Lord does not promise rewards in this life.
In this life. That one phrase highlights a few deeper problem in Christian culture in relation to this verse. Since when have we become so concerned with the rewards we can receive temporarily on Earth anyway? Shouldn't we be more focused upon eternal rewards?
Yes, our eternal life is presented purely on the basis of the works of Jesus and our faith in Him. But our works can have an impact on the rewards that we will receive in Heaven. For instance, in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, we read,
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."
We are promised rewards throughout Scripture for our service to the Lord, but they are always promised in eternity. In this world, we will have tribulation. In this world, we might not have the most enjoyable time. But in the next, we will have rewards.
I know this isn't the popular thing to say. Perhaps it is because it is a depressing subject that nobody wants to hear about.
But if there is one thing the Bible is clear about, it is this - the end of Christianity, the reason Christ came and died, was for our eternal benefit and not our temporal one.
When we interpret Romans 8:28 to refer to our temporal gain, we have divorced Christian life from its entire purpose. We have started to gain the wrong perspective on how we are to live our lives. Our ultimate goal has become to store up treasures on Earth, and not in Heaven. But Matthew 6:19-33 admonishes us,
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? ... Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
So as we go through our suffering in today's society, we do have this consolation from Romans 8:28, all things work together for the Lord's and our eternal gain. That's still a pretty encouraging thought to me.