God: Inexhaustibly Wise
Passage: Romans 11:33–11:36
God: Inexhaustibly Wise
September 23rd, 2007
Way of Grace Church
I. The Wise Man on the Mountain
Do you remember the comic strip called B.C. by Johnny Hart? I'm thinking specifically of the ones where the main caveman character would climb up a tall mountain in order to seek the advice of a wise man who was perched on top.
I don't know about you, but did you ever wonder who that guy was and how he got up there? He looked pretty wise, didn't he? Long, flowing white beard.
But how did a guy with a beard sitting on a mountaintop become an accepted image of wisdom? Why would someone expend so much energy on a treacherous mountain to get counsel from that guy?
I guess what I'm asking is when you and I turn to the sources of wisdom that are being offered to us today, what is about those sources that makes them reputable? Expertise? Experience? Results?
This morning, I'd like to continue talking about wisdom as we come back to that question we've been exploring this month, "How Big is Your God?"
Turn with me to Romans 11:33-36. (Page 947 in the blue Bibles).
II. The Passage: Responding to the Greatness of God (11:33-36)
Before we read these verses, let me mention that these verses are positioned at the very end of the first half of this letter. Once Paul gets into chapter 12, his focus shifts from more of an explanation of God‘s grace to more of an application of God's grace.
So these verses in 11:33-36 are inspired by what Paul has been explaining to the Romans about God's grace revealed in the Good News, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. Listen to what he proclaims:
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 glory forever. Amen.
It's almost as if you can hear the passion and emotion and awe exploding in Paul's voice here.
This kind of acclamation is what is called a doxology; it's a formal expression of praise to God.
Now, not only does Paul mention wisdom here, but in some sense, most of what he says in this passage can be talked about under the heading of God's wisdom. Let me point out three things we learn from this doxology about God's wisdom:
First, Paul tells us here that the depth of God's wisdom cannot be measured. Look at how he puts it here: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
The riches he mentions here are the riches of grace that Paul has already talked about in this letter. He connects this with wisdom and knowledge.
But notice that Paul is not simply saying here that God's wisdom is hard to understand or get your mind around. He's saying that it's impossible. His judgments are unsearchable. His ways are inscrutable. There's no way to quantify the wisdom of God.
Obviously, because of this, it would make sense that, Second, Paul goes on to emphasize that God's wisdom is far above human wisdom.
As Paul expresses it in verses 34 and 35: "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?"
You see, every wise man or woman throughout history received at least some of their wisdom from someone else. They all had teachers. But God doesn't need a teacher or a counselor.
How silly it is for us to think that somehow we've got God figured out. God does not need us. He does not owe us anything. His wisdom is so superior to human wisdom, no one could be he's counselor.
And third, Paul reminds us that God's wisdom stands alone because He alone is Creator.
We see that expressed in the last line, verse 36: God owes no one anything, no one can be his counselor because, ...from him and through him and to him are all things.
Of course God is the wisest of the wise. He made everything, He upholds everything, He has a purpose for everything.
But when we talk about God's wisdom in such superlative terms, with such exalted language, what are we really saying? What impact should these truths have on us?
III. Wisdom and Mystery
Well, I think we need to clarify this word ‘wisdom'.
It's a common mistake to confuse two of the terms Paul mentions here in verse 33: wisdom and knowledge. But as most of us know, sometimes the smartest people, the ones with the most knowledge have very little wisdom. And at other times, some of the wisest people would hardly be described as intellectuals or geniuses.
Even though wisdom and knowledge are related in God's word, they are also distinguished.
If we want to understand how they are different, we might put it this way. Knowledge is about knowing, but wisdom is about knowing what's best.
Think about the old TV show, "Father Knows Best". Now, in that show, the dad was not portrayed as some kind of rocket scientist. The word "knows" in the title did not refer to his "book smarts". No, his knowledge was related to life, to making good decisions; he possessed skill in living.
Wisdom is about knowing what's best.
But even here we still need to clarify in light of this passage. When Paul talks about the depth of God's wisdom, he does not necessarily have in mind an everyday kind of wisdom, or what we might call a "Proverbs" kind of wisdom.
Certainly, the fact that "pride comes before destruction" or that "a soft answer turns away wrath", certainly these are examples of God's wisdom. But Paul is not responding here to these kinds of examples of God's wisdom.
I think too many people today are seeking and/or being offered this kind of wisdom as the totality of God's wisdom. What I mean is that when God's wisdom is talked about, when people are seeking God's wisdom, they are usually looking for techniques or principles that will help them solve this or that problem in their life.
God's wisdom in regard to relationships. God's wisdom in regard to leadership. God's wisdom in regard to parenting. God's wisdom in regard to emotional struggles.
And of course, God has things to teach us in all of these areas. These are not unimportant things. But again, this is not the wisdom that Paul has in mind here at the end of Romans 11.
So how can discover what Paul has in mind here when he talks about wisdom? We have to do what we should always do when we want to figure something out in God's word: we have to look at this passage in its context.
What is it that drives Paul to burst out like this? Well, if move back a few lines earlier, we start to get an idea of why Paul is declaring the depth of God's riches and wisdom and knowledge. Look at verses 30 through 32:
30 Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Now what in the world is Paul talking about here? Well this discussion actually begins back at the beginning of chapter 9. The "you" and "they" that Paul is referring to here are the Gentiles and the Jews.
Because the Jewish people, for the most part, rejected Jesus as the Messiah (what Paul calls their "disobedience"), the gospel was then taken to the Gentiles, non-Jewish people. But through the Gentiles, at some point, in some way, God will ultimately redeem the Jewish people. So, as Paul describes in verse 32, God has allowed both Jews and Gentiles to become convicted or indicted because of their disobedience, so that He might, according to his timing, according to his purposes, have mercy on all, that is, both Jews and Gentiles.
Now, what I want us to see here is not necessarily the specifics of God's work with both the Jewish people and non-Jewish people. What I hope we can see in those verses is the wisdom of God at work in a massive way; the big picture!
God is working through our disobedience, our failure to honor him as God; he is using that, not to bring about justice, which we deserve, but in order to work among Jews and Gentiles for their forgiveness and restoration.
You see, what Paul is really struggling here as he writes to the Christians in Rome is the fact that, for the most part, the Jewish people had not turned to their own Messiah, just as it still is today. How can that be? How could they have crucified Him? How can they remain so defiant? And how could God possibly use all this for their good and our good?
He can because is judgments are unsearchable and his ways inscrutable. He can because His wisdom is inexhaustible. God knows best.
Listen, this final doxology sits, not just at the end of chapters 9-11. It sits at the conclusion of the entire explanation that began in Romans 1:18. For almost eleven chapters Paul has been explaining the good news that God has accomplished a way of grace for all people.
And when you read all of that, and begin to understand even a sliver of the incredible purposes of God, you have to respond like Paul does here. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
It's amazing. It's incredible. It's mind-boggling. It's ingenious! It defies understanding.
Let me give you an example of what Paul is responding to here. Listen to what Paul writes in Romans 8: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Did you hear that? If you love God, then Paul reveals to us that He is using everything in your life for your good to accomplish his perfect purposes?
Now, does that make sense to you? Remember, Paul said all things. That means in sickness God works for your good. That means in failure God works for your good. That means in broken relationships God works for your good; in tragedy God works for your good; in loneliness God works for your good. In poverty God works for your good. In hopelessness, in frustration, in persecution, in rejection, in injury, in insult...God is working for your good.
Does that make sense to you?
Just yesterday, someone told me about a student at one of the Christian schools here in the Valley who, just last week, ended his own life. Will God use that for good in the lives of those family members and friends who love Him? Yes. How? I don't know. It is a mystery to us. But he will!
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! God knows what is best. He is accomplishing his perfect will. Can we figure this out? No. What wisdom!
The reality of God's inexhaustible wisdom is about more than just tips and techniques for better living. It is about faith in the fact that God knows best, even when life is at its worst.
When you and I really live for God according to what He has revealed in his word, there will be times when we will ask, "God, what are you doing? I don't understand why is this happening? I don't understand why you want me to do this? Why are you calling me to speak to those who won't listen? Why are you calling me to love those who don't care? Why are you calling me to step out when there's nothing in front of me? Why are you calling me to bless when I'm cursed, to rejoice when rebuked, to stay when all hope seems lost, to give when I have nothing left?"
How big is your God? How wise is your God? Does God know best? Do you trust him?
We are so often tempted to listen to the wisdom of wise men on mountaintops, to people peddling wisdom in books or on infomercials, to corporate gurus or counselors or clinicians or, yes, even preachers. Sometimes we're simply listening to our own wisdom, to what seems right to us.
And sometimes we can find helpful advice. But we must always begin by trusting God's wisdom above everything else.
Why? Because from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. It's all His. Like the author of a book, the story line was conceived of by Him, it plays out according to His designs, and it will end on the last page just as He has determined.
Yes. God knows best. Oh, the depth of His wisdom. Do you trust Him? Do you have a sense of the greatness of His wisdom? If you do, then Paul's words in Romans 11:33-36 will be your words.
IV. Where God's Wisdom is Hidden
But how, how can we trust in a wisdom that we can't even understand? How is God's mercy available to us? How is God's perfect plan accomplished in our lives?
Listen what to Paul teaches us, in another of his letters, about where we can discover God's hidden wisdom:
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1-3)
Did you see there our three terms from Romans 11:33? Riches or treasure, wisdom, and knowledge! All of them are hidden in Jesus Christ!
Why is that? Well, look at what Paul writes in the previous chapter of his letter to the Colossian Christians.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
Who is he talking about here? He's talking about Jesus Christ...with language that is strikingly similar to what we heard about God in Romans 11.
God's wisdom in fulfilling his perfect plan in all things happens through Jesus Christ.
Paul tells us this about him in Ephesians 1: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
The way in which God can have mercy on all (Romans 11:32), the only way that all things can work together for our good, is through faith in Jesus Christ.
God became a man, and was exalted through his shame, in order that we might die to live through our faith, which is in fact, a gift of God, so that in the end, he might receive all the credit, all the glory. That is the wisdom of God. And it's all hidden in Jesus Christ.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
Brothers and sisters, don't get drawn away by wise men on mountaintops. Look to Jesus Christ, in all things. Remember him. Consider him. Listen to him. Follow him. Trust him. Love him. Worship him.
God knows best. And in His inexhaustible wisdom, God sent Jesus Christ to be our wisdom. Do you trust Him?