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God Knows What He's Doing

God is worthy to be praised because he knows what he's doing, even when we don't.


There is a pattern in the New Testament Epistles of Paul. He begins by explaining doctrine and then exhorts us to duty, reminding us that doctrine and duty go together in the Christian life. Christianity is not religious activism disconnected from biblical doctrine, nor is it intellectual assent disconnected from personal devotion. Christianity marries belief to behavior. To be a disciple of Christ is to think and act biblically. We must be on guard against un-devotional theology and un-theological devotion. Paul wisely begins his letters by laying a doctrinal foundation. Then he builds on it a call to live out the life of the teachings of our faith. So it is with the book of Romans.

Romans 11:33-36 is a bridge between these two major sections of doctrine and duty. After teaching the doctrine of justification by faith alone and before exhorting his readers to live as sacrifices for God, Paul writes a doxology in praise to God.

This doxology rebukes our overemphasis on practical Christianity. For many, the most important question about faith is, does it work? But Paul was not in haste to make faith practical. First, Paul pauses to dance to the truth of the gospel. In so doing, he teaches us that sound doctrine begins and ends with doxology. R. Kent Hughes said it well: "Our study of God and his ways among us should turn our hearts to music." This is what happens here to Paul. In Romans 1-11, he climbs as high as he can to the summit of truth. Yet he is still a long way from the peak. Unable to climb any higher, Paul prostrates himself to worship the incomprehensibility of God. He rejoices in the fact that God knows what he's doing, even when we don't.

William Carey had to overcome many obstacles to take the gospel to India. He finally found himself aboard the Oxford, bound for Asia. Before the ship lifted anchor, its captain received an anonymous letter against Carey and deposited him back on land. In response, Carey wrote to his friend Andrew Fuller: "All I can say in this affair is that, however mysterious the leadings of Providence are, I have no doubt but they are superintended by an infinitely wise God."

This is a God-centered perspective of life and ministry. There are times when the leadings of providence are mysterious: when life does not make sense, when you are forced to live with unanswered questions, when you do not know what God is doing in your life. But God is worthy to be praised because God knows what he is doing, even when we don't. How should you respond to the marvelous truth that God knows what he is doing?

Celebrate the wonder of God's greatness.

Verse 36 says, "Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" This verse is filled with theologically loaded words. But the most important word is the first: "Oh." It is a sigh or groan or cry of an enraptured heart. In Romans 1-11, Paul gives the clearest explanation of the gospel anywhere. A. T. Robertson writes, "Paul's argument concerning God's elective grace and goodness has carried him to the heights, and now he pauses on the edge of the precipice as he contemplates God's wisdom and knowledge, fully conscious of his inability to sound the bottom with the plummet of human reason and words." Paul's mind is now empty, but his heart is full. And with a sense of wonder, he celebrates the God who is too deep and too high to be figured out.

God is too deep to figure out. The truth of God is shallow enough for a child to drink from it without the fear of drowning. Yet it is so deep that scholars can dive in and never reach the bottom. The deeper you go in the ocean, the darker the water becomes. And there is high-pressure depth where no human can survive. This breaking point is where God resides.

God's riches are deep. What does it mean to be rich? It is to be independent, self-sufficient, and without need. By this standard, no one is truly rich. The wealthiest people are dependent on others in countless ways. Ultimately, only God is rich.

Some of the richest men in the world have agreed to give half their wealth to charity. That's impressive, until you consider that all of God's riches are spent for the benefit of others. Romans 2:4 says, "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" Romans 9:22-24 says, "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy?" Romans 10:12-13 says, "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." There is no need to live in sin, guilt, worry, doubt, or fear. According to Philippians 4:19, "God shall supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

God's wisdom is deep. Knowledge is what you know. Wisdom is what you do with what you know; it's the right implementation of knowledge. In Scripture, wisdom is spiritual, not intellectual. It is moral goodness. To be wise is to pursue the proper end by the proper means.

How does one become wise? James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." True wisdom comes from God, who always accomplishes the proper end through the proper means.

The cross of Jesus is proof. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 says

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wise than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The cross of Jesus is the wisdom of God at work.

God's knowledge is deep. On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washing D.C. The fallout led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. It is the first and only time the president has resigned. This second-rate burglary erupted into a national scandal by the persistence of investigative reporters with two questions: What did the President know? When did he know it?

Let's ask these questions of God. What does God know? God is omniscient; He knows all things. God knows all things known, unknown, and knowable; all things past, present, and future; and all things actual, potential, and theoretical. God knows all things in heaven, on earth, and in hell.

When did God know it? God's perfect knowledge is eternal. He has never learned anything. In eternity past, God knew all things. And when this hiccup-of-eternity called time is consummated, God will not know one thing in eternity future that he did not know in eternity past.

God is also too high for you to figure out. Verse 33 says, "Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" This exclamation declares that the God who is infinitely deep is also transcendently high. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Paul continues, saying God's judgments are unsearchable. Judgment is a judicial term, which is often used to refer to the condemnation and punishment of sin. Yet the context here speaks of the judgments of God in a broader sense: to God's decrees or decisions. In the ancient world, the ruler was also the judge. So it is with God. And his judgments are unsearchable. Isaiah 40:28 says, "Have you now known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable."

We do not know what God is up to when he seems to punish a person. When Jesus and his disciples passed a man who was born blind, the disciples assumed he was afflicted because of some wrongdoing. Jesus said, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3). God's punitive judgments are unsearchable. But we also do not know what God is up to when he seems to bless a person. There is no reason to be jealous when others experience favor. And there is no room for pride when we experience favor. God's gracious judgments are unsearchable.

Judgments refer to God's decrees. Ways refer to God's activity. God's ways are the path or road he travels to accomplish his judgments. And they are inscrutable, which means untrackable. They are unfathomable. They are past finding out. Psalm 77:19 says, "Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen." God is real, alive, moving. God is going somewhere. He always reaches his intended destination, but leaves no footprints as he travels. God leaves no fingerprints as he works. God leaves no DNA evidence for you to trace. His ways are inscrutable.

Psalm 103:7 says, "He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel." Israel witnessed God's mighty acts, but they did not know why God did what he did. God only made his ways known to Moses. Yet Moses still didn't "get it." He was disqualified from leading Israel into Canaan when his anger dishonored the Lord and he took matters into his own hands.

Embrace the truth of God's greatness.

The attributes of God are categorized two ways: communicable attributes and incommunicable attributes. Communicable attributes are those we can share with God, as creatures made in his image. For instance, the attributes mentioned in verse 33-wisdom and knowledge—are communicable attributes. But incommunicable attributes belong to God alone. Verses 34-35 declare these incommunicable attributes. They confront us with the fact that God is God and we are not. God is so great that he does not need our advice or our assistance.

God does not need our advice. Verse 34 says, "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" These rhetorical questions assume a negative answer.

No one knows the mind of God. This is a paradox. There is a sense in which we can know the mind of God through God's word. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." We can know the mind of God through God's Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:12 says, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God." Yet we cannot know the mind of God directly or as he does.

I am sensitive about criticizing motives. Words, deeds, and choices are fair game, but motives should be off limit. A person can do the right thing for the wrong reason or a person can do the wrong thing with good intentions. It's hard to tell the difference. We cannot know what is in another person's heart and mind. For that matter, you are not fully in touch with your own motivations. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Who, then, can know the mind of God? Jesus Christ is the only person who knows the mind of the Lord. John 1:18 says, "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known." Jesus is the exegesis of God. Christ alones reveals the mind of God to us.

1 Corinthians 2:16 says, "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ."

No one has been the Lord's counselor.Isaiah 40:13 says, "Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel?" We sometimes act as if we are qualified to be God's counselor, but we are not. Job learned this the hard way. By satanic initiation and divine permission, Job suffered more than any human being has ever suffered, except Jesus. Job's misguided friends assumed Job suffered because he had done wrong. But there was no hidden, un-confessed sin in Job's life that brought down the wrath of God on him. Job suffered because he had done what was right, not because he had done wrong.

When Job subpoenaed God for a deposition, God showed up in a whirlwind, with his own list of questions. Job wanted to know where God was when his life fell apart. God wanted to know where Job was when he created the heavens and the earth. In Job 42:1-6, Job responded:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not now. "Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me." I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

God does not need your assistance. Verse 35 says, "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" This is a quotation of Job 41:11, where God asked Job, "Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine." This is the first principle of Christian stewardship: Everything belongs to God. Psalm 24:1-2 says, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers." God made everything and he owns everything. We can never place God under obligation by what we give to him. God can finance his own undertakings!

David desired to build a temple. But God would not allow David to build him a house, because David was a bloody man of war. Instead, God appointed David's son, Solomon, to build the temple. God permitted David to receive an offering for the project. The people of Israel gave generously, sacrificially, and joyfully. In 1 Chronicles 29:14, David prayed, "But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you."

You cannot give anything to the God who has everything. You don't have a right to get angry when God does not give you what you want or takes away what you possess. Job rightly said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:20-21).

In Luke 17:7, Jesus asked his disciples, "Will any of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at one and recline at table?'" No. In verse 8, He asked, "Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'?" Yes. In verse 9, he asked, "Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?" No. In Luke 17:10 Jesus concludes, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty.'"

When you have done all God has commanded you to do, God still owes you nothing. You have only done your duty. This is even more true since we have failed to do all God has commanded us to do! We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, God will always be operating in the red with us. Whatever favor he bestows upon us is because of his grace, not our goodness; his mercy, not our merit; his kindness, not our credit. 1 Corinthians 4:7 asks three big questions, "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"

Affirm the scope of God's greatness.

Verse 36 says, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." This is a perfect summary of the Christian worldview. Secular humanism inevitably fails to understand the meaning of life because it does not accept the bottom-line of our existence: It's not about you! Jeremiah 9:23-24 says,

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares, the Lord.

God is in control of all things and God deserves the glory at all times.

God is in control of all things. Verse 36 says, "For from him and through him and to him are all things." This statement affirms the sovereignty of God: he has unimpeachable jurisdiction over all things. To say that God is sovereign is to say that God is God. R.C. Sproul writes, "If there were one maverick molecule in this universe running loose outside the scope of God's sovereign control, God would not be sovereign, and if he were not sovereign, he would not be God." What is it that makes God, God? Verse 36 answers, "For from him and through him and to him are all things." Here is the unfolding of history, the way of salvation, and the story of your life in one sentence. God is the first cause, the effective cause, and the final cause of all things.

God deserves the glory at all times. In his comments on this passage, William Barclay asks, "If a man can say that all things come from God, that all things have their being through him, and that all things end in him, what more is left to say?" Barclay is right and wrong. The fact that God is in control of all things ends the argument. But there is one more thing that must be said. It is the final ascription of this doxology: "To him be glory forever."

Scripture speaks of the glory of God in two ways. There is the inherent glory of God that is essential to his nature. It is the weight of his being, the brilliance of his presence, the sum total of his attributes. In a real sense, the glory of God is God. In Exodus 33:18, Moses pleaded, "Please show me your glory." God answered, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live" (Ex. 33:19-20).

There is also the ascribed glory of God. Ascribed glory is when we recognize the inherent glory of God and give credit where credit is due. When we ascribe glory to God, we are not making God greater than he is. We only recognize and respond to who God is and what God has done for us through the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Paul calls us to do in this doxology. Psalm 115:1 says, "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness." 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Revelation 4:11 says, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." God deserves the glory forever, no matter when it is or what is going on or where you find yourself. Amen!

H.B. Charles, Jr. is the Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Celebrate the wonder of God's greatness.

II. Embrace the truth of God's greatness.

III. Affirm the scope of God's greatness.