This morning in our series on the character of God we come to a praiseworthy God. How appropriate that is at the start of this Giving for Growth Gift Week. When we consider who God is, his work of creation, what he has done in giving his only Son that we might not perish but have eternal life, in giving the growth here at JPC and in providing us with the opportunity to buy 3 Osborne Road for his work and for his glory, how can we not praise and worship him and give him the glory, as Paul does here, at the end of Romans 11 after considering our sinfulness and God's amazing grace and mercy and as Paul does at the start of his letter to the Ephesians:
'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For, he chose us in him before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.'
In response how can we not give generously and cheerfully to his work in the form of 3 Osborne Road? 'Your generosity', says Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:11, 'will result in thanksgiving to God.' It will bring praise and glory to God.
He is praiseworthy. Yet how often we forget that. 'Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits', writes King David in Psalm 103. 'Sing to the Lord, praise his name, proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples,' says Psalm 96, 'for great is the Lord and most worthy of praise'.
All one needs to do to share Paul's overwhelming awe of God in Romans 11, is to contemplate the awful sinfulness of man (Romans 1-3) and the incredible plan of salvation (Romans 3-5) that enables God to declare rebellious sinners not guilty without compromising his justice. 'There is no-one righteous, not even one', writes Paul in Romans 3 but just a few verses further on we read the amazing truth that sinful people can be justified freely, as a gift, by God's grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Oh the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God!
Peter Buehler, who helped to lead John and Charles Wesley to faith in Christ, once said, "If I had a thousand tongues, I'd praise Christ with them all." Charles Wesley went on to expand this stray comment into lines that became the hymn "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing."
Even at this time of war, when we should be praying for a swift end to the conflict and for a just peace, the Lord's name is to be praised. He is worthy. In Psalm 103 King David says, "He has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all." Psalm 96 exhorts us to proclaim this truth: 'Say among the nations, "The Lord reigns."' He is in control. He is sovereign -not Bush or Blair. Isaiah 40:23 states that: 'He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.' Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.
In the Bible praise to God is frequently commanded from people as a duty and therefore is not meant to depend on our mood, feelings or circumstances. Job, on hearing of the deaths of his sons and daughters, tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground in worship and said (1:21):
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."
Even when we're really struggling and going through what some have called 'the dark night of the soul' the psalmist says we will praise God. He will bring us through as we put our hope in him. Psalm 42:5:
"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God."
I know that to be true, I've been there.
You see we were created to glorify God and to rejoice in his works. One of the marks of the people of God is praise. 1 Peter 2:9 says:
"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
Some of you know that Joan Parker and I have just been visiting our partners in the gospel at Mburi in Kenya. One of the things that struck me was their praise of God and their dependence on him in prayer. Their praising in song comes very naturally to them and yet some of their faces also show that praise and worship are part of their lives in spite of hardship and loss. One of the most radiant members of the church had lost her husband only very shortly into their marriage. Yes there were and will be tears but also praise.
Are our lives marked by praise and worship to God? Or are our minds, hearts and wills still in love with this world? The Christian life is meant to be a love affair with God and so we are to give glory and worship to him and live lives that are pleasing to him. Romans 12:1-2, which follows straight on from Paul's outburst of praise in chapter 11, says what this will mean practically:
"Therefore, I urge you, 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 able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
So glorifying God is the way of supreme fulfilment for our humanness. And giving glory and worship to our lover - God - will bring us joy and inner contentment as Paul's letter to the Philippians shows. Phil 4:4 - 'Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice', wrote Paul from prison. Phil 1:21 -'For me to live is Christ, to die is gain!' And giving God glory for what we see of his glory will be the life of heaven (Revelation 19:1-10). So what should we be doing here on earth? Practising. We should be practising for the life of heaven here on earth. Indeed it should be the central activity of our life. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, 'the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.'
As we've seen the Apostle Paul was a praising man and giving God the glory was his aim, which brings us to our short passage from Romans 11 where Paul breaks out into a short but profound doxology. Have a look at what he says:
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 counsellor?
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.
Up to this point in his letter to the Romans Paul has been outlining in depth the glorious gospel of God. He has shown how God has revealed his way of putting sinners right with himself, how Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification, how we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, how the Christian life is lived not under the law but in the Spirit and how God's plan of salvation encompasses both Jew and Gentile. Now he stops as if out of breath to praise God and to give him the glory. It should be our response too to those fabulous truths. So let's learn more from these verses why God is praiseworthy and how we are to glorify him. So first v33
1) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Verse 33a should read: 'Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God!' Paul is praising God for 'the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience' (2:4), for the 'riches of his glory' (9:23), for the riches which the Lord Jesus bestows on all who call on him (10:12), for the fact that God is rich in mercy (Eph 2:4) and for Christ's inexhaustible riches (Eph 3:8). He is praising God for the fact that salvation is a gift from God's riches and that it enriches those to whom it is given. Those of you here this morning who have called on the name of the Lord and been saved, you have been enriched from the depth of God's riches when you didn't deserve a penny. In fact you deserved judgement!
In response to God's mercy are you living a life of praise and worship to God? Are you offering your lives and all that you have to him and for his glory? Are you, through Jesus, continually offering to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name (Heb 13:15), meaning publicly confessing God's name and character both in regular public worship with other believers and also to unbelievers? Are there still folks you could invite to this evening's Easter Music for example? Saying grace before meals is important and is a witness when we're having a meal in a public place.
'The wages of sin is death', says Romans 6:23, 'but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.' Who this morning needs to call on the name of the Lord Jesus for the first time and receive God's free gift of salvation? There is no other way to heaven. 'No-one comes to the Father except through me', says Jesus in John 14:6. 'We are saved [from hell] by grace [in other words by God's Riches At Christ's Expense] through faith in Jesus and not by works.' (Eph 2:8,9)
Then there is the depth of God's wisdom. God's wisdom, the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18f, was displayed on the cross where Christ died in our place so that we might live. So the wisdom of God planned salvation and the riches or wealth of God bestow salvation. Praise God for the depth of his wealth and wisdom. And God's wealth and wisdom are not only deep, they are actually unfathomable - 'How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out'. Paul is saying that God's decisions are unsearchable and his ways inscrutable. In Isaiah 55:8-9 God declares that:
"my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
How could finite and fallen creatures like us ever imagine that we could penetrate into the infinite mind of God? One comedian has said: "Do you ever wonder why?
You tell a man there are 400 billion stars and he'll believe you, but tell him a bench has wet paint and he has to touch it? Why? Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle? Why isn't there mouse-flavoured cat food? Why are there five syllables in the word monosyllabic? If the black box flight recorder is never damaged during a plane crash, why isn't the whole airplane made out of that stuff?
Why? Probably the most asked and least-answered question in the English language.
At human birth the brain weighs, on average, 14 ounces. It usually reaches its maximum size at age 15 (proving the size of the brain has nothing to do with intelligence level). At its maximum size, the brain weighs an average of 46 ounces, slightly less than three pounds. And we think that with our tiny brains we're going to comprehend the infinite and that we're going to answer all the questions? Right!
Isn't it logically impossible that we as finite creatures could ever fully understand the infinite?"
Praise God that his ways are not our ways. So how do we glorify God? Well beyond everything else God is glorified when finite man realizes that God possesses infinite wisdom and knowledge, and, instead of rejecting that wisdom and knowledge, or arguing with it, simply bows in unqualified worship and praise. Secondly v34&35:
2) 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
Of course the answer to both these rhetorical questions in the light of v33 is 'Nobody!' As John Stott writes: 'We are not God's counsellor; he is ours. We are not God's creditor; he is ours.' Nothing we do or give to God, no amount of generous donation, whether £20 or £20,000, will alter our status before God. God will not have his arm twisted. God chooses to bless us and does so as we cooperate with him in his plans but we can't earn his favour. It is he who is the giver and in charge. We depend entirely on him to teach and to save us. The initiative in both revelation and redemption lies in his grace. Praise God! The attempt to reverse roles would be to dethrone God and to deify ourselves. That leads to disaster and eternal death. Thirdly v36a
3) 'For from him and through him and to him are all things.'
God is the creator, sustainer and heir of everything, its source, means and goal. He is the Alpha and the Omega. Therefore we are dependent on him. Where do all things come from - both material and new creation? The answer is from God. How did all things come into being and remain in being? The answer is through God. Why did everything come into being and where is everything going? The answer is for and to God. So fourthly v36b
4) 'To him be the glory forever! Amen'
Because all things are from, through and to God then the glory must be his alone. Therefore human pride is absolutely offensive. Pride is behaving as if we were God Almighty, acting as if we owned this place called earth, not acknowledging our dependence on him, pretending that all things depend on us and taking the glory that belongs to God alone. We need to repent of our pride, depend on him and give him the glory he alone deserves. Our salvation is from, through and to God. To him be the glory alone and forever! 3 Osborne Road is from, through and to God. To him be the glory alone and forever!
So in conclusion we return to where we started. "What is the chief end of man?" "To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." When eventually we stand in God's presence, we will no doubt be given a tour of human history and we will be shown in one event after another how God was at work in world events, in our national affairs, and in our own personal lives. What appears today as confusing and haphazard, both in theology and in personal experience, will then turn out to be a beautiful mosaic. To see this will be the greatest possible stimulus to worship and praise. There will be such affirmation of His wisdom and knowledge, His grace and mercy, His holiness and justice, that all the angels of Heaven will be needed to join us in a universal choir in order to adequately express the wonder and glory of God. Here is what it will sound like, only with beautiful music and myriads of voices accompanying (Revelation 4:11 & 5:12):
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come ... You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being ... Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! ... To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!"
In the meantime, however, those of us who understand in some measure the wisdom and knowledge of God as displayed in the great plan of salvation and have put our faith in Christ, need to take every opportunity to express our praise to God, and, not only express it but also show it through the very lives we live. For the omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent God of the universe is also a gentle shepherd who has revealed to dumb sheep all they need to know in order to find safety in eternity's fold.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.