Paul praises God’s sovereignty and power in a poem (hymn/prayer) of praise at the end of Romans chapter 11. The apostle addresses problems that troubled him and continue to discourage some who study the nature of God. Paul prayed often because of his distress that many of his fellow Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Even as they rejected Jesus, many Gentiles accepted Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The churches in Rome included Jewish and Gentile Christians. The previous three chapters of Roman probably reflect controversy between these disciples as well as Paul’s own concern. Paul’s answer is that God keeps his promises and God is in control. The praise hymn/prayer functions as a transition to a section that addresses moral and congregational problems for the Roman disciples of Jesus. It links the glory of God to our response to him. Paul confesses that we cannot understand all that God thinks or does because his nature and ways exceed our capacity to understand. He writes,
“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 him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
We don’t instruct God. He owes us nothing. As creator and sustainer of life, he teaches us and deserves our worship. Yet, despite his power and our weakness, he has compassion on us. The verses immediately following this passage have a strong ethical content. They begin with the word “Therefore.” Paul’s views his instructions for living and worship in chapter 12 as the logical consequence of the chapter 11’s closing praise hymn/prayer:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be willing to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2).
When we admit God’s power and submit ourselves to his leadership, then we gain ability to identify God’s purposes and his plan for us. First, however, we must be able to live for him in ways that may defy cultural trends. Culture does not determine Christian practice or morals. The Christian’s cultural orientation is transformed through submission and obedience to God.
When we say the last paragraph of Romans 11 as a prayer, we gain an appreciation of why we praise him and why we pray to him, but also why we must obey him:
O Lord, how deep are the riches of your wisdom and knowledge! We cannot search your judgments; we cannot trace your paths. Who among us has known your mind? Who has been your instructor? Who has ever given to you, O God, that you should repay him? For from you and through you and to you are all things. To you be the glory forever. Amen!