From Theology to Doxology (Exposition of Romans 11:33-36)

I remember about 12 years ago that I was traveling on Northshore Rd. just off between Martel Rd. and the brand new 140 that connected Oak Ridge and Alcoa, TN. As I drove it was raining and I was listening to a new cassette tape in my car. It was a album by Steve Green titled “The Mission” and the specific song that I remember listening to as I drove on Northshore with water in the lakes on both sides of the road and falling from the sky in an afternoon shower was called “The Symphony of Praise.” This was the moment in my life when theology (the study of God) became doxology (the worship of God).

God was working in my life at that time in a number of ways. It was around this time in my life that I was reading The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, Ashamed of the Gospel and Reckless Faith by John MacArthur, and The Pleasures of God by John Piper. And I was listening to God-centered music with lyrics like these:

The composer and conductor of the universe
Steps before the orchestra of God
Creation lifts their finely crafted instruments
As all in heaven wildly applaud

The seasons well rehearsed begin with His downbeat
And on his cue the sun trumpets the dawn
The whirling winds swell in a mighty crescendo
With each commanding sweep of His baton
The oceans pound the shore in march to His cadence
The galaxies all revolve in cosmic rhyme
The fall of raindrops all in wild syncopation
As lightning strikes and thunder claps in time

The symphony of praise
Conducted by the Ancient of Days
May each creation great or small
Lift their voices one and all
In the symphony of praise

Heaven waits in hushed anticipation
The great I AM then turns to mortal men
A massive chorus robed in spotless garments
Offer up their song of praise to Him
The glories of God explode in full orchestration
As all creation joins the thunderous refrain
“Worthy, Worthy
WORTHY IS THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN”
Lyrics from http://www.stevegreenministries.org

Finally, here was music that matched the theology that I had been reading. The greatness of God that I was studying in Scripture, I was now hearing sung in praise to God. This was a pivotal moment in my life! The day when theology became doxology.

In Romans 11:33-36, the apostle Paul moves from theology to doxology. Theology is the study of God, doxology is the worship of God! This is where all theology should end up, in praise to God! As Paul seeks to bring to a conclusion the first eleven chapters of doctrine before moving to practical Christian living in the remaining chapters, he can think of no greater note on which to end than that of praise to God!

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (34) For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? (35) Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? (36) For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

First, true worship is filled with awe about God’s purpose and plans. As Paul meditates on the focus of chapters 9-11 (God’s redemptive plan in history concerning the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles in His family), he is moved to a point of awe at the mystery and majesty of God’s plan.

In these chapters Paul has shown that God is faithful to His Word and that He has a saving purpose that will not fail! He has a gracious purpose in election, choosing a remnant of Jews in this age, while blinding the majority. He has a sovereign plan for the inclusion of Gentiles in His saving purposes! Yet, those who reject Christ remain responsible for their unbelief. The gospel is freely offered to all who will “call upon the name of the Lord.” Both Jews and Gentiles are invited to come and all may be saved. There is also in chapter 11 the mystery of God’s continuing plan for the nation of Israel. There is coming a day when the blindness from Israel’s hearts will be removed and they will embrace their Messiah with faith and so “all Israel will be saved.”

When Paul thinks of the lofty truths that he has just communicated to his Roman audience, he is struck with awe! This is a proper response to God and His sovereign purposes. He begins this section with the exclamation, “O!” That might be easy for us to pass over but it used in the Greek to express very strong emotions. Can you sense that Paul has become overcome with emotion as he meditates on the greatness of God and His plan? But he doesn’t stop there . . . “O the depth of the riches . . .” Paul is exhausting human language to express the greatness of God. “Both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” God’s knowledge is His active involvement in the affairs of men. Not merely knowledge about, but causation. God’s wisdom is the execution of that knowledge in the world.

God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways are incomprehensible! Here Paul gives praise to God, not just for what he knows but also because of what he doesn’t know! For the apostle Paul, not being able to understand what God is doing was not a reason to abandon the faith. Instead it was a reason for praise. A “god” that we can fully comprehend would not be much of a “god”! As God Himself declares of Himself in Isaiah 55:8-9,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. (9) For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Not only was Paul filled with awe at the greatness of God’s plan, he was also speechless at God’s greatness! In verses 34-35, Paul asks three rhetorical questions in a row. All three have the assumed answer of “No one!” These questions have the effect of silencing all who hear them:

  • Who has known the mind of the Lord? Silence, because the answer is no one!
  • Who has been God’s counsellor? Silence, because the answer is no one!
  • Who has first given to God? Silence, because the answer is no one!

This series of questions serves to shut the mouths of all those who might seek to boast in God’s presence. In verse 34, the apostle uses the language of Isaiah 40:13 (which in its context is dealing with the return of the nation of Israel from the Babylonian captivity). The implication is that no one could have foreseen God’s deliverance of the nation of Israel from their Babylonian captivity. No human could have devised this plan. In a similar way, Paul uses this verse in Romans 11 to highlight that no human could have devised the plan for God to turn again to the nation of Israel in the last days and remove their blindness that they might experience salvation, but this is exactly what God has done.

In verse 35, the question is reminiscent of God’s question to Job in Job 41:11. The question is who gave first to God, tell us and He’ll pay you back! Silence! There in the context of chapters 40-42, God questions Job and Job is reduced to silence! See Job 40:1-10; 41:11; 42:1-6.

This is the response of those who have encountered the greatness of God. They’re not hooping, hollering and running the aisles. They are silenced at His majesty! Some people get nervous if it gets quiet in church. Instead, why don’t you use those moments to meditate on the greatness and majesty of our God!

Finally, in verse 36, Paul was struck by the centrality of God in all things! This is the basis of doxology, God Himself! God is shown here to be the source of all things, the means of all things, and the goal of all things!

  • He is the source of all things: James 1:17
  • He is the means of all things: 1 Chronicles 29:14
  • He is the goal of all things: 1 Corinthians 15:24-28

A little over a year ago, John Piper preached a sermon on the supremacy of Jesus Christ. No one I know living today is a better example of blending theology with doxology than John Piper. In this message he said of Christ:

He is supreme in every admirable way over everything:

  • over galaxies and endless reaches of space;
  • over the earth from the top of Mount Everest 29,000 feet up, to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean 36,000 feet down into the Mariana Trench;
  • He is supreme over all plants and animals, from the peaceful Blue Whale to the microscopic killer viruses;
  • over all weather and movements of the earth: hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, earthquakes, avalanches, floods, snow, rain, sleet;
  • over all chemical processes that heal and destroy: cancer, AIDS, malaria, flu, and all the workings of antibiotics and a thousand healing medicines.
  • He is supreme over all countries and all governments and all armies;
  • over Al Qaeda and all terrorists and kidnappings and suicide bombings and beheadings;
  • over bin Ladin and al-Zarqawi;
  • over all nuclear threats from Iran or Russia or North Korea.
  • He is supreme over all politics and elections;
  • over all media and news and entertainment and sports and leisure;
  • and over all education and universities and scholarship and science and research;
  • and over all business and finance and industry and manufacturing and transportation; and over all the internet and information systems.

As Abraham Kuyper used to say, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
Sermon manuscript available at: http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/04/092604.html

It’s all His! That’s what Romans 11:36 tells us!

So, what’s our response! We put a hand over our mouth and bow before His majesty! And when we’re finally able to speak, we speak of His greatness!

5 comments

  1. Outstanding post. Jesus said His worshippers must worship Him in “spirit and in truth”. So many have “spirit” but no truth. Many of our kind have truth but no spirit. What a blessing it becomes when we reach a balance of the two.

    P.S. “Symphony of Praise” is one of my favorite songs.

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