Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 11:34a For who has known the mind of the Lord?
In our text, Paul is continuing his tribute of praise to the mind of God. The Lord’s wisdom and knowledge are beyond us. His judgments and ways baffle us. Why? Because no one has been able to traverse the vast expanses of God’s mind.
It behooves us all to be humble in our assessments of Providential details. Surely none of us would claim greater knowledge than Paul, and the Apostle bluntly stated we are all at a loss.
It is pure arrogance to claim infallibility with regard to the purposes behind the actions of God. Scripture and Providence are infallible, but our understanding and interpretations of these two are highly susceptible to error.
Romans 11:34b Or who has been His counselor?
Another reason our human minds fail to understand the ways of salvation is; human reasoning had no part in the inception of salvation. No confidants advised the Ancient of Days. He needed no counselor, for He is ever infinitely wise.
When Job questioned the ways of God, the Lord rebuked him by asking, “Where were you when I established the earth?” (Job 38:4). King Alphonso of Spain once blasphemously said had he been present at creation, he would have told God of improvements He should have made. Not surprisingly, foolish Alphonso the Obnoxious later lost his kingdom and died in infamy.
It is nonsense to try to prescribe to God or to tell Him how to handle His affairs. Would we advise God? It would be smarter to offer a flashlight to the sun.
Romans 11:35 Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid?
In other words, to whom is God in debt? Does He owe anything to anyone? He is not under obligation to tell His secrets. God is not beholden to us in any way.
Everything we are or have we owe to Him. Every time we breathe, our debt to God increases. Our air supply does not come from within us. We “take” a breath. It comes from God’s atmosphere. A Godly physician, Dr. James Seese, reminded me of this truth when my son took his first breath.
We need God, but He does not need us. If we were all taken away, He would still be God and be no less infinite than He is now. These are truths we need to remember whenever we are tempted to complain about His ways.
Romans 11:36a For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
In our salvation, God is all in all. It is “from Him and through Him and to Him”; “from Him” means He is its first cause; salvation was His idea and plan.
Salvation is “through Him.” He empowers and upholds. People are merely instruments, having no right to brag. A pen might boast, “I wrote the Declaration of Independence.” Poor pen! It could have done nothing at all without Jefferson’s hand to move it. Without someone’s mind behind it, a pen can’t write A, B, or C.
A sling might brag, “I slew Goliath!” Not so! Without David’s training and skill, a sling is useless. It is merely an instrument. Imagine a paintbrush boasting, “I created the Mona Lisa.” No! It was the product of a genius, of a Da Vinci. The artist could have used any one of thousands of brushes.
You and I have no ground to boast in our salvation. We are but instruments. When chosen and used, it is an honor. God could have easily found others.
Salvation is “to Him.” Our salvation will ultimately draw us back to the God who saved us in the first place. As the rivers return again (Ecclesiastes 1:7) to the ocean, God’s salvation flows forth from Himself that we might be returned to Him. He came seeking us, and will someday draw us all to Himself!
Salvation is “from Him and through Him and to Him”. He conceived our salvation, upholds us, and will eventually bring us to Himself.
Ascribe all adoration to God. Hold none back for ourselves. With regard to salvation, we offer praise to no one other than God Himself.
Romans 11:36b To Him be the glory forever.
This should be the desire of every Christian—to bring glory to God. Here we find our intended purpose. This is an important discovery to make.
We need to know what our purpose is. Authors, when writing on a particular subject, must evaluate each sentence in light of their purpose. At every juncture, the writer must reconsider the original reason for writing. A sentence that does not contribute directly to the purpose needs to be removed.
Similarly, believers must remember their purpose: to please God, and bring Him glory. Everything in our lives must be weighed in light of this. Self-evaluation must never end. Are our every word and every deed contributing to the reason for our existence, or are there things in us that need to be removed? Does anything detract from our purpose?
A man who lived with this constant self-searching attitude was Johann Sebastian Bach. He is most famous, of course, for his music. His complete works fill sixty volumes. His career is one of the wonders of music. Between sixty and seventy of his descendants also became musical composers.
However, there was something much deeper in Bach’s character than just a career. He was a devoted father who faithfully loved and supported his large family of twenty children. Bach was also deeply spiritual, a devout Lutheran who believed everything a person does ought to be weighed in light of the sacred.
Bach wanted praise ascribed to God in all his compositions. On the manuscripts of his secular works, he wrote the initials I.N.J. for the Latin words meaning “In the Name of Jesus.” At the beginning of his sacred pieces he would write J.J. for the Latin words meaning “Jesus, help me.” At the end he would write S.D.G. meaning, “To God alone be the glory.” May God grant us a similar spirit.Romans 22:36c Amen.
One of the great losses in our church services is the forgotten purpose of this word. Unfortunately, it has become little more than a talking period, a signing off word at the end of a prayer. I have even jokingly said many Baptists think the “Amen” at the end of a prayer is the Latin word for “sit down”.
Years ago, in Grenada, Mississippi, a pastor did an unwise thing. He called on a man to pray publically without first asking the man’s permission beforehand.
The poor fellow had never prayed in public before, but was too embarrassed to decline the request. He began stumbling his way through a prayer, and kept talking and kept talking and kept talking. Everyone was embarrassed. The man was halting and stammering, but refused to end his prayer.
Unknown to the congregation, the frightened man had forgotten the customary ending of a prayer. He could not, for the life of him, remember the phrase, “In Jesus’ Name. Amen.” Finally, in desperation, he ended his prayer by saying “Sincerely yours, John Smith” (name fictitious).
Mr. Smith’s forgetting to use “Amen” at the end of his prayer is not near as damaging as our forgetting the original purpose of the word. It is a Hebrew word that means “to make firm, to support.” Its purpose is to confirm, to reinforce, as in saying “so be it, let it be.”
“Amen” is much more meaningful than just a verbal punctuation mark. It is a word of affirmation and carries the weight of enthusiastic personal approval. It is a way to make what is sung, declared, or prayed, one’s own. In Christian worship it is always proper, never inappropriate. In Paul’s assessment of salvation, and his ascription of praise to God, I find something I want to make my own. I agree with what he has said and express by own consent to it with a hearty “Amen.”