Volume 8, No. 10 (October 2013)
5. PAUL AS THEOLOGIAN AND WORSHIPER (Romans 11:33-36)
Paul’s explanation of the ramifications of the fall (1:18-32; see last month’s Worship Notes) and the ensuing blackness of sin that has engulfed the human race (3:9-18,23) makes the gospel shine all the more brightly as he expounds on it in the ensuing chapters. He shows how the gospel is indeed “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16), for through it God has showered upon believers:
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (3:22; 5:19)
justification by His grace as a gift (3:24,26; 4:5; 5:1)
peace with God (5:1)
grace (5:2; 5:15)
salvation as a free gift (5:17; 6:23)
eternal life (5:21)
newness of life (6:4)
resurrection life (6:5)
deliverance from condemnation (8:1)
life in the Spirit (8:1-11)
Paul then expounds in chapters 9–11 on the mystery of God’s purposes for Israel and the Gentiles, and how His grace, mercy and sovereignty infuse these purposes.
After this profound theological treatise in chapters 1–11 on the gospel and God’s work in the world (and before turning to practical applications in chapters 12–16), Paul bursts forth in praise to the wise and utterly sovereign God whose ways he has been privileged to plumb so profoundly:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (11:33-36)
Paul turns from theology to doxology, and shows us the intimate and necessary connection between the two. As the late John Stott eloquently put it:
It is important to note from Romans 1-11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated. On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology. It is not possible to worship an unknown god. All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who he is and what he has done. It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1–11 which provoked Paul’s outburst of praise in verses 33-36 of chapter 11. The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God.
On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God. God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation. No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship, as it did Paul. Our place is on our faces before him in adoration.
As I believe Bishop Handley Moule said at the end of the last century, we must “beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion.”(John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World, 311-12)
Geoffrey Wainwright agrees:
The ascription of praise with which a Chrysostom, an Augustine, or a Calvin ended their sermons was no mere formality: It indicated the intention of the sermon itself and its aim of bringing others also to the praise of God on account of what had been proclaimed in Scripture and sermon. (Geoffrey Wainwright, “The Praise of God in the Theological Reflection of the Church,” Interpretation 39 , p. 38)
And elsewhere Wainwright points out:
The second-order activity of theology is therefore, at its own level, properly doxological: the theologian is truly theologian when, in his very theologizing, he is listening for the “echo of a voice” and is contributing, even if indirectly, to the human praise of God. (Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life: A Systematic Theology, 21)
But of course there is nothing indirect about Paul’s approach!
Isaac Watts’ Trinitarian hymn “We Give Immortal Praise” ends like this:
Almighty God, to Thee
Be endless honours done,
The undivided Three,
And the mysterious One.
Where reason fails, with all her powers,
There faith prevails, and love adores.
After the most profound theological exposition ever written, Paul necessarily comes to the end of himself, and his reason falters before the vastness of God’s glory: there he bows the knee in faith and love, and breathlessly exclaims that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory! Amen.”