We are now at the end of the doctrinal section of the book of Romans, the greatest theological treatise in the entire New Testament, containing truths that have often brought reformation and revival to the Church. In chapters 1:18-3:20 we encountered an explanation and condemnation of the sinful human race. From that grim theme, 3:21-5:11 moved on to the grand hope of justification. Then chapters 6-8 presented principles of living the Christian life. And finally in chapters 9-11 we saw a defense of God’s righteousness in His dealings with the Jews and Gentiles in history, eventuating in great blessing for both in the future. So wonderful is God’s plan that having voiced it, Paul now can scarcely contain himself, he breaks into praise in verses 33-36. Formally stated, Romans 11:33-36 identifies the proper response of our hearts to God’s sovereign working. Any person who truly appropriates something of Paul’s response in these verses will experience a marked increase in joy.
The expression of Paul’s wonder begins with the two exclamations in verse 33. First we read, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” “Knowledge” is the gathering of information; “wisdom” is knowing what to do with it. Paul marvels at how deep and rich God’s wisdom is, especially in reference to His dealings with Israel.
God has not failed Israel as a nation. God always has worked through the principle of election (for example, Jacob and Esau). God is the potter, and fallen humanity is the clay. Israel, however – i.e., the individuals who make up Israel – is responsible to accept the simple gospel by which God lovingly stretches out His hands to sinners. But they were hardened, so the gospel went out to the Gentiles. However, one day the blessing is going to return to Israel and there will be a great national repentance. Paul experienced a sense of wonder at a God who can so work in history.
One exclamation was not enough for the apostle, so he used another as well: “How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” How beyond us God is! The word “inscrutable” (or “unfathomable”) literally means “untraceable.” Tracing God’s ways in His dealings with man is as futile as tracking His footprints on the sea (Ps. 77:19). God’s methods of operation do not conform to man’s preconceptions (Isa. 55:8-9). God is by nature incomprehensible to us. One of the reasons for this is, of course, that our experience limits us. We cannot think in categories beyond our range of experience or sensation.
In his exclamations Paul wonders at the greatness of his God, and his thoughts naturally flow into worship: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, who has been His counselor” (v. 34)? The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows Him his counsel? Whom did He consult, and who made Him understand? Who taught Him the path of justice, and taught Him knowledge, and showed Him the way of understanding? (Isa. 40:13-14). Who could ever suggest anything God had not thought of first? God knew all things before human history began and has never learned anything during the history of the world, because He has known all things forever. Thus, no man can call God to account, saying, “What are you doing?” To argue with God is to argue with the One who makes it possible to argue! Paul continues in verse 35” “Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?” God does not, and never will, owe anything to anyone. He is no man’s debtor.
Paul bows in awe at the depth of God’s knowledge and wisdom. Who can fathom His wondrous salvation of the lost human race…the miracle of justification…our sanctifying identification with Him…the victory of the Christian life…the mystery of His dealings with Israel? Worshiping God for His knowledge and wisdom fills us with mystery and hope for the future.
We come now to what is, I think, the most uplifting doxological statement in the entire New Testament. Certainly it is the proper affirmation of the believing heart. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (v. 36). “From Him…are all things.” There was a time when there was nothing but God. Matter and created mind were yet unmade or unborn. He was complete, and everything came from Him. Since He created everything, the first idea had to come from Him. No one could have suggested anything, because there was no one to suggest. The atomic structure of the atom, supernova, and pulsar – all came from Him.
Not only that, but “through Him… are all things.” There was no raw material with which to work. He created the universe out of nothing (see John 1:3). One second without God’s power and everything would disappear (see Col. 1:16-17). Matter is not God, but God is in everything, and nothing works or exists except through His might. Further, “to Him are all things.” Everything in the work of creation is to Him. Because there was none but Himself and none equal to Himself, His motive and glory was of necessity Himself. His own glory is His highest aim, and the day is coming when we shall see all things are “to Him.” The new heavens and the new earth shall ring with praise (v. 36).
As in creation, so it is in our salvation! Salvation is “from” Him. God ordained the plan, the hour it was promised, the moment Jesus should come, when He should be born, what death He should die, and when He should rise and ascend. He elected the heirs of salvation and called them to eternal life. Salvation is also “through” Him. Through Him came the prophecies. Through Him the Son was born. Through Him came the atonement. Through Him the world is preached. And salvation is ultimately “to” Him. Those who would give a single word of praise to man or angel will be silenced forever.
“For from Him…are all things.” What do we have that He has not given us? “…and to Him are all things.” Who else deserves highest honor? Finally, Paul reveals what is to be our ultimate devotion: “To Him be glory forever. Amen” (v. 36b). God’s glory should be our sole and constant desire. To this end we should raise our families. To this we must focus all prosperity. To this end we ought to live our entire lives (see Ps. 150). How right life is when theology becomes doxology!
Romans 11:33-36 Reflection Questions:
Verses 33-36 end chapter 11 by using the rich traditions of Hebrew praise from Isaiah and Job. How does Paul want us to feel and respond at the end of this amazing discussion of God’s grace and His covenant faithfulness?
Once Israel arrogantly assumed it was the sole repository of God’s mercy and blessing. Paul warns the Gentiles against a similar arrogance in Romans 11:20. How does the danger of arrogance, which was a temptation for the Jews and Gentile Christians alike, seep into our churches today?
How are you tempted by it in your own life?
Focus your prayer time on praising God for His mercy on all and His grace through Jesus Christ. Praise will keep us humble and protect us from the arrogance which destroys Christian community.