There is a powerful passage tucked away in the middle of Romans that bears reviewing. To better grasp the context of this one passage I want to share a point with you about how some of the Biblical authors organized their messages or letters to their audiences. For help with this, I want us to look at Romans, Ephesians, and 1 Peter.
Some of you may have a study Bible that helps organize the scripture passages in each book a certain way. Something I was shown a few years ago that has helped me in trying to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” is in how these three books mentioned previously are presented.
Paul and Peter both shared in the initial part of their letters with their audiences about “What God Has Done” or said another way in some study Bibles, “What We Are to Believe”.
What We Are To Believe / What God Has Done
Romans 1 - 11
Ephesians 1 – 3
1 Peter 1 – 2:10
The authors then devote the remainder of their letters, or as we call them “books”, to what some call the “How We Are to Live” section or said another way, “How to Apply What God Has Done” that was shared in the first part of the book or letter.
How We Are To Live / How To Apply What God Has Done
Romans 12 - 16
Ephesians 4 – 6
1 Peter 2:11 - 5
In general, Paul started all of his letters out in a similar fashion. It was as if Paul knew that if you did not start with God and become grounded in what He has done for you, then it would be futile to focus on how to live. Paul knew that everything proper in life started with God and our relationship with Him. It is why He stated in Romans 1:16 that “the Gospel is the power of God that brings salvation”. True life, a life filled with joy and peace from Christ Himself, starts only after the miracle that God does in you.
I have shared with you before how many Biblical scholars consider Romans the high point of scripture. Paul in this book discusses more of the details about what has occurred through Jesus Christ than in any other book he wrote. Being the scholar that he was, he brought together the Old Testament and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ in an amazing way. God selected Paul specifically for this task. He was the one God chose to highlight for the entire non-Jewish world, the Gentiles, the message about Jesus Christ and the faith-based salvation and righteousness available to them through Jesus Christ.
Many Bibles actually highlight this section of Romans we will review today as “Paul’s Doxology”. So, what is a doxology? Folks as old as myself and even those older such as Ed Smith who reads these notes each week, remember singing the Doxology in church each Sunday. It was a short hymn of praise to God. I referenced one of the more common versions of a doxology hymn several weeks back in the note titled “How The Spirit Glorifies Christ”. One of the more common definitions is “a short hymn or line of praise to God”. The following is Paul’s Romans Doxology.
Romans 11:33 – 36 (ESV)
33) Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
34) “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”
35) “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?”
36) For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Paul has just finished writing down his most complete work on what God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit has done in Romans 1 – 11:32. He now breaks into a moment of praise and worship, considering all that has been written before. It is not a coincidence that Paul includes two passages from Scripture in this short burst of worship and praise. The center of all praise to God should always be Biblically based, in other words, praising God for what He has done and who He is. The songs we sing in church on Sunday, though contemporary in style, are typically always based on some points from the Bible. Ron and Cory have a close friend named Scott Windrum who visited us at the old church building many, many times. He led a praise and worship seminar one week where he taught several from the community about praise and worship. A core theme Scott always highlighted was that praise and worship is always to be scripture based.
Verse 34 is a quote of Isaiah 40:13. Remember Isaiah 40 is that passage I referred us to a few weeks back and stated that it is a chapter that Cory or Ron could preach from for weeks on end. Each week, some preacher somewhere is quoting passages from Isaiah 40 to their congregation.
Then in verse 35 Paul quotes from Job 41:11. If you are familiar with the book of Job, chapters 38 – 41 are the chapters where “God speaks”. Every verse in those chapters is recording what God says to Job after the many previous chapters where Job and his friends discuss and contemplate all the calamity that has befallen Job in the span of just a few days.
One way to look at verses 33 – 35 is that they highlight a key point we should all love about God. That point is that He is too big for us to fully understand. Sadly, some people feel they cannot worship a God they cannot fully understand. There are people that struggle with God intellectually and then there are those others that have gone through such tragedy and loss, similar to Job, that they now struggle to find any “good” in God. They struggle to “Look to Jesus” as Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to do in the trials of life and race we are here to run. Job continued to praise God, regardless of his losses.
Paul knew that it was impossible to fully understand God and chose to praise God for that very attribute. Consider this, a God whose counsel you could fully grasp, whose ways you could fully discern, and whose nature you could fully explain in your human mind, would be a fairly limited God. As Eddie Fitzgerald told me recently, “That kind of God would just be like a man”. Eddie admitted he wanted no part of a God like that. The God of the Bible is far bigger than us. As we covered many weeks ago in a weekly note titled “Why Eternity”, we highlighted that the one reason God has stated we will live with Him for eternity is because, simply put, it will take us that long to get to fully know Him. He is literally that big and beyond our full comprehension.
If you really want to grasp just how big God is and what Paul is really aiming at with this doxology of praise, consider the prior verses / chapters in Romans that Paul has just covered. Romans 9 – 11 cover a common theme or subject. The main theme of those passages is as follows:
1. Romans 9:1-29 – God sovereignly chooses those He will save through faith in the Gospel
2. Romans 9:30 – 10:21 – People are responsible for their rejection of Jesus and His Gospel with Paul explaining this in detail as it regarded the Jews who should have known the truth better than the Gentiles
3. Romans 11:1-32 – But there is and always has been a remnant of Jews that believe, just as in the days of Elijah. God’s call of this believing Jewish remnant is because God’s gifts, His call, His long-standing promises to them are irrevocable.
This section of Romans, at the end of the “what we are to believe” or “what God has done” section explains the relationship between sovereignty and believing faith. Biblical scholars use the word “antinomy” to describe this. Paul outlines here what at first seems to be two apparently equally valid principles that seem to be in conflict or in contradiction to each other, but yet are both true. God is completely sovereign over all history while at the same time, every human is completely responsible for his or her behavior. Said another way, as explained by Martyn Lloyd-Jones regarding this passage and salvation, “We are responsible for our rejection of the Gospel, but we are not responsible for our acceptance of it”. This is the heart of Romans 9 – 10 and chapter 11 is where Paul, himself a Jew, highlights how God fulfills His longstanding call to them for the promise of true salvation.
Paul understood that we will never find joy in praising the accomplishments or decisions of man. Praise as Paul states, comes only to the degree that we see our own weakness, our own impotence and complete dependence on God. Romans 9 – 11 shows us that the doctrine of God’s complete sovereignty in salvation is what should lead us to the greatest joy and praise. This is another reason Paul includes the passage from Job. “We have never given God anything and as such He owes us nothing”. These are the ideas that brought Paul the most joy in praise and worship. They are also the ones that will bring us the most joy in praise and worship leading to peace and joy in who we are in Christ. Many times, we shy away from points such as God’s sovereignty. Paul puts it all out there though, purposefully reminding us of our own weakness and complete dependence on God. Paul praises:
· A God whose judgments are unsearchable
· A God whose paths are beyond tracing or figuring out
· A God whom we cannot know His mind
· A God whom we cannot counsel
· A God whom can never be repaid for what He freely gives us
· He is a God that everything comes from, through, and then back to Him (commit that to memory)
· It is all about Him.
· All glory and praise belong to Him forever.
You do not need to be worried that you do not understand everything about God and His plans. Romans 9 – 11 for example, are studied by theologians for years. It all comes down though, in the end, to trusting that what God tells us through Paul here is true. Just praise Him for what He has revealed to you, recognizing that there is so much more that He has not yet revealed. You may not be able to understand everything about Him but you should still be able to marvel at Him. Marvel at Him and echo what Paul states for us here. You have heard me say before, it is not about you! Praise Him today for thankfully, it is all about Him!