The Expository Files

God, in Rom. 11:33-36

Romans 11:33-36

Most people don't take the time to think much about God. We are busy with other things which seem to be more immediate, more exciting and entertaining. We seldom take the time to consider eternal realities and we may even resist any serious thought about ourselves and God. We need to take time to study and personally think about who God is, what God is like, how He is described in the Scriptures, what His plan is and then what our response will be.

There are many superb passages in the New Testament that communicate clearly to us about God. One is Romans 11:33-36.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid pack to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Summary of Romans 1-11
Before we undertake a study of truths in this paragraph, we need to consider the context: the book of Romans. In the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul gives a step by step presentation of God's plan, the gospel of Christ.

In the first three chapters, he begins with the sin of man. It is an ugly picture of how people know there is a God and they know what is right before Him, but they do what is wrong. Near the end of this section there is that statement of Paul: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Rom. 3:23). The truth is, man has sinned, but God - in the riches of His love and grace - has given a remedy, the gospel of Christ (the power of God to save, Rom. 1:16).

In chapters four, five and six - Paul takes the next step in this journey. Though we have sinned, we can be forgiven; we can be justified "by faith" and enjoy peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The direction of that faith, the response and activity of it, the life of faith that responds to Christ and pleases God - all of that is developed in this section. And here, Paul clearly identifies the proper response of sinners to the gospel: we were buried with Him through baptism into death ... so we should walk in newness of life ... you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered ... and having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. So, the problem is sin; God provides the remedy in Christ - the gospel tells of Christ as the remedy - but individual must respond (hearing, believing and obeying from the heart).

In chapter seven, Paul speaks to the Jews about their previous relationship with the law of Moses, now severed by their marriage to Christ. In chapter eight, the freedom, blessings and hope enjoyed by those whose faith responds to the gospel.

Now in chapters nine, ten and eleven - Paul deals with a particular, sensitive issue at that time, the Jews and their difficulty in accepting Gentiles. Because of their history, traditions and attitudes, it was enormously difficult for Jewish Christians to understand the change from the old covenant to the new. It was a special challenge for most of them to accept Gentiles as brethren, share with them and conquer all their prejudices. Part of the problem was, some Jews were mis-informed and confused by Paul's enemies - thinking that Paul was teaching that God had rejected every Israelite. The apostle addresses these sensitive questions in Romans nine, ten and eleven. And his argument is well expressed in the opening statement of chapter eleven: "I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew!"

So, there is the problem of sin; the solution God provides in Christ; man's necessary response of faith; also, in Romans, Paul deals with questions and issues about all of this. Romans is a step by step presentation of the gospel plan, written by the inspired apostle.

Beginning in chapter twelve, Paul teaches how we should live in view of all these marvelous truths. This is sometimes called "the practical section" of the book because of the focus on practice in daily life. However, before beginning this section - Paul stops at the end of chapter eleven and offers up this excellent statement of praise to God.

Here is what this is like.

If you are out in the forest, or climbing a mountain - there is the labor involved in the task (walking the trail, climbing the rocks). But from time to time you feel compelled to pause and look around, beholding the wonder and beauty of nature and praising the God who made it. This is like a traveler who has reached the summit of some great mountain. There, he stops to praise the beauty of the creation and the Creator.

Paul - in Romans chapters one through eleven - has given this account of what the problem is and what the solution is. Man has sinned. God sent His Son. We must respond to the gospel. Paul has tackled the difficulties of misrepresentations, issues between Jews and Gentiles, etc. Now at this point, at the end of chapter eleven, this is like a traveler or mountain climber who is compelled to pause and praise the One who made it all.

One thing we should learn from this is, we should never get so busy and involved in academics, arguments and apologetics that we forget the God who deserves all the glory! It was necessary for Paul to provide all this rich instruction about God's plan. It is important for us to read and understand it, then teach these things to others. But let us never become so involved in analysis and apologetics that we forget to praise the God whose plan we are teaching and following. The truth of the gospel should always provoke in us the desire to worship, praise and acknowledge Him.

But now back to the statement in Rom. 11:33-36. Let me make these four points:

1) This passage tells me how I can be enriched.
To be "enriched" is to add depth and meaning to your life. In some private and public schools there are "enrichment" programs, designed to give motivated students a fuller educational experience. In agriculture, when you enrich weak soil, you add good nutrients to it, in the hope of a better harvest. To be enriched is to have a deeper, fuller experience in life - anticipating a better eventual outcome. Now the devil tries to tell us that sin is the key to a better life. He is a liar! He promises what he cannot deliver, and he delivers what he does not promise. The God Paul describes in the above passage is capable of providing the enrichment we should seek, and in Christ He does that. If I will place my heart and life into the hands of God, submitting to His plan - the gospel - there is great and powerful enrichment that is mine in Christ.

2) It is ludicrous to imagine that we could ever teach God anything.
This is so obvious to anyone who has read the Scriptures and who knows anything at all about God. It is unlikely that you will hear anyone claim to take on the task of instructing or counseling God.

What would we teach Him? What would we say, to enlighten and inform Him? Does God suffer with some ignorance we could remedy by imparting to Him our wisdom?

His wisdom is infinite, unsearchable, incomparable and invincible. We, on the other hand, suffer with ignorance and the resulting sin. We must depend upon Christ, the divine remedy. We need help. We have to study, learn and repent. What counsel can we offer God?

He knows everything. Everything possible; everything actual; every event; every person and every thought in the mind of every person ... past, present and future! We need His counsel, and He provides it in Christ.

3) We are not God's creditors.
Think about this. What do we have that we could offer to God, that He needs, and that would put Him in eternal debt to us? What would that gift be? Does God suffer some insufficiency or lack that we could supply? (See Acts 17:25).

There is nothing we have to offer or give, that God needs and that would put Him in eternal debt to us! That's the point of verse 35: "Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?"

I should clarify this. There is reverence, worship, praise and obedience we ought to give God, because He is God and we are not. But this is not a matter of putting Him in debt to us. This is our response to Him who is "above all," and worthy of our praise. {On pay day, do you consider your check a matter of grace or benevolence? No. You think of it as your due compensation for work done. We will never be able to stand before God and demand due compensation for work done... unless we want justice without mercy.}

4) "To Him be the glory forever."
If I worked in such a perfect fashion all my life, that I earned the pay of eternal life as compensation equal to my performance, I might be justified in being proud of myself; and I might boast that "I did it all myself."

Since salvation is a gift received; since we come into this as sinners needing the blood of Christ, to God be the glory! Abraham gave "glory to God," (Rom. 4:20). This inclination to praise God was a result of his active faith. So every Christ should confess, "Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God," (Rom. 15:17).

God is so great. Do we recognize that, think about it and respond to it? Man's response to God's greatness and God's plan for man in Christ should be to be buried with Christ in baptism and then walk in newness of life.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 7.8; August 2000