It All Comes From God
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.—Romans 11:33-36
Here in the United States this is the Sunday and the week after Thanksgiving. It’s a time of the year when it can be so easy to forget that what we are eating and enjoying is what God has given us, for every good and perfect gift is from above…(James 1:17). Here in the U.S. we just experienced Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving, a day when many people are off work and flood the shopping malls, trying to get a head start on Christmas shopping.
Another year of Christmas hype is in full swing. It’s a time when Christmas decorations, advertisements, and promotions urge us to buy and spend, and during such a time it’s so easy to forget that anything and everything we have —physically or spiritually—is from God.
In his book, Jesus: The Man Who Lives, Malcom Muggeridge commented on the Christmas shopping season, saying that it is “a mighty exercise in salesmanship, a gala occasion in the great contemporary cult of consumerism, an act of worship directed toward our latest deity—the Gross National Product.”
Many Bibles describe Romans 11:33-36 as a doxology. What’s a doxology, you may ask? The word doxology is one of those five-dollar theological terms that have been used for many centuries—doxology is based on the Greek word doxa, which means “glory.”
Some of the early Christians started to identify biblical passages that seemed to particularly praise God as doxologies. Luke 2:14 was one of the first passages labeled as a doxology—as you may recall it is the song the heavenly host of angels performed for the shepherds in the field, announcing the birth of Jesus. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
Some early doxologies were hymns, based on biblical passages. The interest early Christians had in doxologies can be noted by comparing the 1611 Authorized King James Version of what we call The Lord’s Prayer with another more modern version. The King James Version concludes Matthew 6:13 with a doxology, which most of us remember: For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Those words are still part of The Lord’s Prayer we sing today, but modern translations omit the words of this doxology as scholarship has determined that these words were probably not the words of Jesus. Scholars have concluded that early Christians, out of a sincere desire to praise God, added this doxology at the end of this prayer given by Jesus to teach us to pray.
With that said, let’s get back to taking a look at Paul’s doxology at the end of the 11th chapter of Romans. What he is saying here in verses 33-36 seems to be concluding remarks, perhaps something like a closing prayer at the end of a sermon or a book—or a concluding hymn—summarizing everything that had been said in the first 11 chapters of Romans.
The book of Romans is a work of art—a masterfully written explanation of God’s grace, crafted by Paul, the apostle of grace, a wordsmith-craftsman of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The doxology we are studying is part of one of the most important books in the entire Bible.
Many of the letters of Paul are written in two succinct portions—first the theological part, and second the practical part. The book of Romans is no exception to this pattern. Romans chapter 1-11 is theological—philosophical and theoretical, if you like. And then chapters 12-16 follow with practical applications and ethical teachings. Paul concludes the masterful, magnificent explanation of God’s amazing grace in the first 11 chapters of the book of Romans with the four verses of this doxology:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33).
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34).
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” (Romans 11:35)
For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36).
In verse 33 Paul gives thanks for the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The wisdom and knowledge of God have only been revealed in part to humans, because our minds are incapable of grasping the totality of his majesty and glory. The deeper things are beyond human comprehension, as Paul says, they are beyond tracing out.
In verses 34 and 35 Paul asks three rhetorical questions —as you probably know, a rhetorical question is one whose answer is obvious, or at least should be.
• Who has known the mind of the Lord?
• Who has been his counselor?
• Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?
The implied and obvious answers to these questions all center on the perfection and holiness of God and the unfathomable depths of his love. The answer to these questions concerns the unreserved and undeserved grace of God. God owes no one anything. God’s favor and grace is never compensation for human behavior. Human merit and works place no constraints upon God’s love. For all of this and more—we praise, thank and glorify God.
If Paul had been writing a symphony, we would think of verse 36 as his grand, triumphant conclusion—truly these words direct our attention to our awesome God! We’re considering this doxology, and its majestic concluding remarks of verse 36 during an annual time of thankfulness and gratitude in which festive meals play such a central role. One of the ways the Bible speaks of God’s riches and favor being made available to all mankind is through the use of images of banquets and weddings, to which God says we are all invited. The Bible is filled with stories and images of festive meals.
These examples all bring our focus back to the generosity of God, as illustrated in lavish meals (both physical and spiritual) he provides for us. It All Comes From God.
If you are a farmer, your land may produce and you may be blessed, but your reliance on the land and rain constantly reminds you that you really don’t make anything grow—It All Comes From God. Most of us are not farmers, of course, but whatever our professions may be, we are well advised to give thanks to God. Anything we are able to do as we work is a gift of God. We can’t name one ability or talent we possess that cannot be traced back to God. It All Comes From God.
Farming comes to my mind somewhat easily, as both my wife Karen and I have our roots in the soil. Karen, however, is the daughter of a farmer. She actually grew up in or on or near farms—in Nebraska, Brazil and Colorado. For my part, my grandparents were farmers, and many of their children were, and therefore I have visited and even lived for short periods of my younger life on farms. But for the vast majority of my life I have been what some farmers call a “city slicker.”
For the first few years of our marriage we didn’t live in a home or environment that was conducive to having a garden. But once we settled down (we have lived in our current home for over 35 years) Karen has enjoyed a garden. During each of those years Karen has planted, weeded and harvested beans, corn, peas, lettuce and tomatoes—among other things. She has planted berry and grape vines, and fruit trees.
Our young children were involved in this little agricultural project going on in our backyard, and when they had children of their own, Karen couldn’t wait to have the grandchildren over to help plant seeds and then later see what those seeds would produce.
I can’t remember exactly how the story goes, or precisely which of our five grandchildren was involved, but I remember Karen being excited to show them the garden and involve them, in some small way, in planting and cultivating. Like many family stories, this story may have taken on a life of its own over the years, but when it came time to harvest some of the produce, I recall one of our grandchildren coming by our house and being impressed with the fruit and vegetables, but also saying, something to the effect, “Nana, don’t you know you can buy this in the grocery store?”
Karen wanted to help teach our grandchildren lessons like the fact that corn and tomatoes and apricots and blackberries and peaches and lettuce don’t ultimately come from the grocery store and that milk doesn’t come from a container. She wanted to do her part in teaching them that the farmer, the pickers, the farm workers, the truckers, the processors, the factories and the grocery stores are all involved in producing and making food available. But most of all, she wanted to engrain the lesson that no matter what we might do, food ultimately comes to us from God—It All Comes From God. The fundamental truth that It All Comes From God is at the heart of thanksgiving. Our relationship with God is based on our dependence upon him.
Sadly, humans will go to great lengths, as does Christ-less religion, to become dependent on anything and anyone other than God. Independence from God does not lead to thanksgiving and gratitude—whereas the truth of our dependence upon him for everything leads to thanksgiving and gratitude.
Most of all, of course, as Christians we are thankful for what God, in Christ, has done for us. We are thankful for the cross of Christ and his resurrection—and the cross and the resurrection all started with God, in the person of Jesus, voluntarily humbling himself and becoming one of us. The birth of Jesus is therefore central to the entire plan of God’s love for you and me—and the entire world. We are thankful for God, who has come to us in the person of Jesus, for, as Paul says: For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:36)