Sermon preached on Romans 11:33-36 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/10/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“For of Him and through Him and to Him”
These verses are what is called in theological terms, a doxology. A doxology is not just a specific song in our hymnals. A doxology is any statement of praise to God. The first part of the word doxology comes from the Greek work doxa, which means simply glory. The second part of the word doxology comes from the Greek word logia meaning sayings, similar to the Greek word “logos” meaning “word.” And so a doxology is a glory saying, or glory words. The word “glory” is the same word found in the final verse of today’s passage where Paul says to God be glory forever. And so a doxology is about glorifying God through our words, and that is what Paul is literally doing here. That will be our subject for today – to consider the glory of God, as Paul describes here.
As we do that, keep in mind the context so far. This doxology is praising God in light of what Paul’s been writing about. It’s not clear if this praise has in mind just the last few verses, or the whole book up to this point. In the last few verses, he had spoke about the amazing way God would bring salvation to all the elect among both Jews and Gentiles. In the rest of the book up to this point, he’s been teaching about important doctrines such as justification, sanctification, and predestination. We can’t say dogmatically if he had one specific thing in mind or the other. But clearly he’s expressing this doxology in light of what he’s said so far. And so the safe thing to say, in terms of the context, is that it’s about God’s wonderful plan of salvation. The context at a minimum includes that. How God has graciously saved us — that spurs Paul’s praise. God’s marvelous plan of salvation launches Paul into this doxology.
Well, as we analyze this doxology, we see two related subjects. God’s knowledge, wisdom, and riches. And mankind’s knowledge, wisdom, and riches. Those will be our two main points for today. And we’ll then assess and apply these truths. And so let’s begin with God. Verse 33 asserts God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge, in that order. Some translations, including our pew Bibles, express the word for riches as just describing the wisdom and knowledge — the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. That’s a possible read of language, but the most literal translation has “riches” as another item Paul is praising God for. Like the ESV which has “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” Not a huge difference, but a subtle one. But Paul does talk about God’s riches elsewhere in Romans. For example, Romans 9:23 and 11:12 both talk of God’s riches, and both seem connected there with what God gives us in salvation. And then Paul says in Romans 10:12 that God bestows his riches on all who call on him. And so, there is something to be said here that Paul is recognizing the riches of God. In fact, this doxology affirms this in verse 35. There it asks the question, who has first given to God, that God should have to repay him? The implication there is that God has sufficient riches of his own. God never needs to take out a loan from anyone. And so God’s riches include that he owns everything. But it also includes all the riches of his salvation which he has to give. The riches that he gives to believers when he save us. Such riches are cause for a deep praise by Paul and us.
Now we said that Paul also praised God’s wisdom and knowledge here. These are closely related terms, but there is a distinction. Knowledge gets at information. Wisdom is about how to work with the knowledge you have. Wisdom allows you to make use of your knowledge in the best way to achieve your desired goals. For example, knowledge is like knowing you need to work in order to earn money to eat. Wisdom takes that and orders you life in a balanced way so you spend the right amount of time working; not too little so you starve, nor too much so you don’t have time for other important things. It’s so important to have both! Knowledge without wisdom is dangerous. Wisdom without knowledge is impotent. But Paul says that God has them both. And he has them both in a depth beyond our comprehension. In terms of knowledge, we affirm God’s omniscience. That means he knows everything. There is nothing he does not know. He even knows the possible outcomes of endless possibilities. But the Bible also asserts his manifold wisdom as well. With all the wonderful descriptions of wisdom in the Bible, God’s is the highest. This is expressed so well in Romans as we see God working out his plan of salvation. A passage like Romans 8:28 is able to be true, because, in part, of God’s wisdom. He’s able to work all things for good to those he has foreknown, because in his wisdom he directs everything to his desired good.
This is of course the point of the last half of verse 33 when it talks about God’s judgments and his ways. You can roughly think about the judgments as they pertain to his knowledge, and the ways as they pertain to his wisdom. But we shouldn’t overly divide them up. It’s his infinite knowledge and wisdom both at work in his judgments and ways. His judgments refers to all his many decisions, decrees, and verdicts. His ways are about how God does all that he does to accomplish his holy will. His ways are about the paths God takes human history down. God’s knowledge and wisdom work together in all of this. It’s how he can make the perfect judgment at any time, because he knows all that he needs to know to make a wise decision. And with his wisdom, he won’t make a bad choice. That means that he’s able to manage all the infinite amount of variables in human history to make the best good come forth. For the most part, this all just happens. In other words, we aren’t privy to the fine details. But sometimes we get to see how it works out. Take Joseph for example in the Old Testament. His brothers betray him and sell him into slavery, but God worked this so as to rise up Joseph to a place where he could later save the lives of his brothers when the horrible famine hit. At the time, it probably wasn’t clear to Joseph what good would come out of the evil actions of his brothers. But later, Joseph recognized how God used it for good. Again, this is what Paul has been asserting about our salvation. God’s wisdom and knowledge makes it all work out wonderfully. Paul had just explained how God could use man’s disobedience to bring his mercy — verse 32. Our salvation is through and through a testimony that God’s knowledge and wisdom is supreme. Who else could make a fallen people saved through a baby born in a manger and who dies the horrible death of crucifixion. But God sees his plan as beautiful. We have only begun to appreciate his wisdom and knowledge in it all.
And so this leads Paul to the final verse of this chapter. It’s a grand one. Verse 36, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” This emphasizes God’s wonderful involvement in everything. All things are of him. All things are through him. All things are to him. Three subtle prepositions that express so much. The first one, all things are of him. This gets at the source. God is the source of all things. Think of our creation, especially, here. All things in one way or another are contingent on God. Nothing could exist or be, if God had not ordained it. Second, all things are through him. This get’s at how God is not just the watchmaker who winds up the watch and leaves it alone to operate all by itself. No, this is saying that in all things, we are dependent on God. Paul said in Acts 17:28 that in God, we live and move and have our being. You could think of providence here too. Through God we continue to exist. Through God we have what we need. Even strength and knowledge. Through God it all happens, every moment, every day. Third, all things are to God. This gets at the trajectory and purpose of everything. They all look to glorify God. They all have that chief end, whether or not all of God’s creatures willfully acknowledge that or not. They will serve that end. This is so foundational, that Paul tells us it explicitly: He ends by saying glory to God. Even though he just said “all things” are to God, he then tells us one of those things. Glory. Glory to God. Surely that’s because as all the things are unto God, they are especially unto his glory.
And Paul says this glory is forever. Stretching off in every direction, past, present, and future. All things are unto God’s glory. And that is a glory that is eternal. Of course, we are currently in the present. And so this is our task. Our chief end. To glorify God. To express that in our praise and worship. To acknowledge it in our lives, in how we live. To speak it to others. If all things are to God’s glory forever, let us look to glorify God in 100% of the things we do, and let us look to glorify him 100% of the time. Yes, that doesn’t mean we should spend our days at a continual worship service. But it does mean that all of our life is set in the context of glorifying God.
Well, our first point today has been to consider God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge. Now we turn to consider man’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge. Let me say it now. There is a degree in which we can possess these things, but never to the fullness in which God possesses them. We just mentioned the eternality of God and his glory. He’s always possessed these things. He’s had them from before the beginning and will never lose them. We, on the other hand, begin our lives with none of them. Hopefully, we grow in them. Hopefully we gain various riches. We surely grow in knowledge, and again, we hope, in wisdom too.
Of course, we remember as we say this, where our riches, wisdom, and knowledge come from. Remember verse 36. All things are of him. These are blessings from above. Our various riches and treasures are gifts from God. When we talk of us having knowledge and wisdom, in theological terms we describe these as communicable attributes. In other words, God possesses these in perfection, but having created us in his image, we reflect these qualities too. We, of course, reflect them in a finite way. God possesses them in an infinite way. As Christians, this is especially a benefit of our salvation. When a human is fallen in sin, their knowledge, for example, is affected negatively. But for the Christian, God is renewing our mind. This need is actually mentioned in the very next chapter — chapter 12, verse 2. Colossians 3:10 talks about this renewal of knowledge that we have as Christians as well. And so humans in general, and Christians especially, can acquire riches, wisdom, and knowledge from God.
On a side note, let me point out that though these things come from God ultimately, he does often work through secondary causes. In other words, there are things we can do in this life that generally reap more riches, wisdom, or knowledge. They still come from God, however, even if we are involved somehow in their acquisition. We have the strength to seek these things out even, because of God, as one example. Well, my point here in all of this, is that mankind does have riches, wisdom, and knowledge. It comes from God, but we have to grow in these things, and we never possess them in the degree that God does.
This is of course, what we see in this passage in several ways. First note the last half of verse 33. In talking of God’s judgments and ways, it says that they are unsearchable and past finding out. Thought this is talking about God, it’s also talking about us. We can’t search out God’s judgments. We can’t find out God’s ways. They are inscrutable. Verse 34 develops this further. Who can know God’s mind? Who has become his counselor? The point here is simple. We don’t have the capacity to know fully what and why God does what he does. Our wisdom is not sufficient to fully appreciate the wisdom God exercises. This does not mean that we shouldn’t search it out. Proverbs 25:2 says that it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. All the passages in Scripture that talk about how good it is for us to meditate on the works and glory of God would say that its good for us to try to figure out how God is at work. But we need to have humility to realize that we will only know in part. God’s knowledge and wisdom is so far above us, that we can only begin to appreciate how God is at work. This means that we are in no place to criticize God either when things work the way they do. I know that my kids often ask me why I do certain things and will sometimes tell me I am doing things wrong based on their limited understanding and perspective. I have to then try to explain in a way they can understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. Often they don’t have a large enough
knowledge set to really have an adequate understanding of certain complex things I’m doing. But they get some basic understanding out of it all. Well, the difference in knowledge and wisdom between God and man is far greater than the difference between adults and children.
This is further brought out then with this reference that none of us will ever be God’s counselor. This would go for angels as well. God doesn’t need anyone’s advice. Again, use the example among humans. We tend to think of the more aged among us as possessing great wisdom and knowledge. It’s wise for the younger generations to seek out counsel from the more experienced among us. But in this life, it would be a mistake to think that the younger generation never has any counsel to offer the older generation. Just take computers for example. The younger generation tends to give computer advise to the older generation all the time. That’s because no single ordinary human has all the answers. They don’t have all the wisdom and knowledge. But God does. There will never be a time where you have a better idea on something than God. There will never be some creative piece of advice you can give them. We like to give advice. We like to tell people or companies how to do their jobs better. A wise person or company will acknowledge his limitations and actually solicit such constructive criticism. But God doesn’t need a suggestion box. He’s got it figured out already. He’s God.
The question in verse 35 gets at this same thing, but with regards to riches. Who has given to God that it should be repaid to him? We’ve already said God doesn’t need to take a loan out. But now consider this from the other direction. From our perspective. It’s not just that God doesn’t need to take a loan out. It’s also that we really don’t have any riches to offer God that would be of any sufficient value to him. Faced with his infinite riches, whatever we possess would be laughable for us to try to loan it to God. Any yet, of course, we do take offerings at church. But we ought not to think of those as us giving a loan to God, or even somehow that God would be impoverished without it. Rather, the right perspective is to realize that all our own wealth is actually God’s already. He’s entrusted us to steward it. And as part of that stewardship he calls us to cheerfully give offerings, and to help the poor, etc.
Brothers and sisters, our message today can be summarized in one sense with the opening words of verse 33. Oh the depths! Oh the depths of God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge compared to ours! That’s the point we keep coming to. God possesses these things in a depth we do not and cannot and never will. It’s like what God says in Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” And so this is not just Paul’s point. In fact, the questions listed in verses 34 and 35 are actually Old Testament quotes. The first comes from Isaiah 40:13 and the other from Job 41:11. Both bring out the same idea in context — that God is vastly above us. I especially like the context of Job 41. That’s the part of Job where God finally answers Job and his complaints against God. Though Job had essentially been asking so many questions about why God would let all these troubles fall upon him, God never really answers those questions. Instead, God essentially says that he is God, and Job is not. That Job is not in a place to scrutinize God’s ways. Job is not in a position to even fully grasp God’s ways.
Now that might not have been the answer Job wanted, but when he heard out God he realized it was right. You see, this is a lesson we learn from this passage. It’s the lesson I hope we all get today. We are not God. God is God. We are not. There stands between us and God a great divide. An infinite distinction. We need to get this distinction right, this creator / creature distinction. If so, great humility will come. A wonderful trust and peace should come too. We will look to glorify God all the time when we get this right. This is the problem at the heart of so many false religions. I think of a lot of the eastern influences coming into the North Bay. At the heart of them is this sense that all of us posses a bit of divinity in us. That thinking is contrary to the Biblical revelation of God. We are not God. But there is a God. A glorious God whose wisdom and power is so grand; so amazing; so wonderful. And if you have trusted in his Son, Jesus Christ, then you can be sure that this God is your Heavenly Father. And he loves you. And has a wonderful plan for your life. A plan you might not always understand in detail. But one he assures us is for our good; not to mention for his glory.
And so let us praise God. Let us glorify him. Let’s look to capture some of the exuberance that Paul expresses here. What I find especially compelling here, is that this joyful doxology is put here after just a short while ago he expressed his sorrow. He had just expressed in chapter 9 the great sorrow and grief he had over all his unsaved Israelite kinsman. But he could still moments later issue this kind of doxology. Paul could glorify God in all circumstances. Even when he had such grief at the same time. Surely it was because he understand that God was God. That God was good. That God was in control. And that God would work things out in the right way. Let us trust God too, even in our sorrow. And in all things. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. The glory be to God, forever! And as Paul says, “Amen.” Amen means “truly” or “so be it.” Well, indeed then, “amen!”
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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