Pillar 5: God's Purpose In Ministry
Passage: Romans 11:33–11:36
The Seven Pillars of Ministry
Pillar Five – God’s Purpose in Ministry
Dr. Wayne Barber
Text: Romans 11:33-36
Turn with me to Romans 11:33-36. We are on Pillar number five, “God’s Purpose in Ministry.” And what is that purpose in ministry? That He gets the glory. That God gets the glory for His ministry. That’s pillar number five. God gets the glory. We just sang, “Lord, be magnified.” That’s exactly what we’re talking about. Lord, be reflected in our life. God, you get the glory for that which you call ministry here on this earth.
That’s important today, as we approach this pillar talking about the glory that should go to God never to us, that we understand the word glory. The word glory is the word doxa in the Greek, that has the predominate meaning of bringing proper recognition to someone. When someone is glorified is when their nature, their true worth, has been so revealed that everyone around them can see it. You can’t glorify someone if you don’t know it. That’s why the emphasis has been not on ministry, but on knowing Him, of the intimacy we can have of walking with Him. If you are not saying yes to Him, if you are not living that kind of life, then you don’t really know Him.
You know Him though the word by faith and obedience to the word. As you know Him, then you understand why it is that proper recognition and glory go back to Him. God’s pattern of ministry is that He gives us the gifts, the ministry and even the effects of that ministry, as pillar number one told us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7. Since God’s power in ministry is that whatever He initiates—the gift, the ministry and the effect—He anoints with His divine enablement; He carries it out. He gives the power for it as we saw in pillar number two in Isaiah 6. Since God’s platform for ministry is that it is received from God, ministry is not achieved for God. We don’t do for Him, but we join Him in what He’s doing, as we saw in pillar number three in John 11. God’s priority in ministry is not that we fleshly commit to doing our best, but that we surrender to Him, as we saw in Romans 15:17-18 in pillar number four. It stands to reason that pillar number five would be that His purpose in ministry is that He receives all the glory for His ministry that He does through us.
When we have come this far in the Pillars, when we are living what these pillars are saying, then really—and I hate to use this term, because sometimes it sounds sort of trite—but it’s a no-brainer. My wife doesn’t like that term. But, for whatever reason, it explains what I’m trying to say. You shouldn’t have to convince somebody to give glory to God when he’s living a surrendered life and he’s experiencing Him daily, letting Jesus be Jesus in and through him. Now His true worth, His true nature must be seen in all ministry because it is not about us, it’s all about Him.
It is so exciting to know the message of grace, to know that Christianity is not about us trying to live like Christ; but it is about allowing Jesus to be Jesus in and through us. When we are allowing Him to do that, we’re saying yes to Him. You see, the believer has Christ living in Him. Christ came to live in us to work through us. When we’re living that way, I call that “Living Grace.” “Let Jesus be Jesus in me, no longer me, but Thee, Resurrection Power, fill me this hour, Jesus be Jesus in me.” When we are living that way, ministry takes care of itself. Ministry flows out of that kind of lifestyle.
I was talking with a gentleman last night and he said to me “I heard your message 30 years ago. The man who shared it with me was a chaplain for the Washington Redskins. He said to me, the Christian life is Jesus coming to live in you, so that He can do His work through you with no help from you.” Boy, I like that. That’s exactly right, it says it so beautifully. I love phrases like that. That helps turn the key in our understanding.
Now this truth, that all glory must go back to Christ, not to us, and I’ll tell you, it’s not easy for our flesh to receive. Why? Because we want the recognition. That’s what religion does. Religion gives you a system that you can measure. We want to see the recognition; we want to claim it for ourselves. We’re good for God. We like that. Our flesh does.
Giving glory to God is difficult for the flesh; but giving glory to God for what He alone can do is what our text is going to address this morning. I mean, it is as clearly as you have ever heard it in Romans 11:33-36. Let me read the verses to you, “Oh the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways. For who has known the mind of the Lord? Who became his counselor?” verse 35: “who has first given to him that it might be paid back to him again? For from him, through him, and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” This is the greatest doxology you’ll ever find in scripture. It is after the theology of Romans chapter 1, 2, and 3, which talks about man’s sin; the theology of Romans chapter 4 and 5 which talks about salvation; the theology of Romans chapter 6 through 8 which talks about sanctification, about Jesus coming to live in us to do through us what we could never do; it follows the theology of Romans chapter 9 through 11 where he talks about the sovereignty of God, especially when it comes to salvation. You can understand why Paul says “to him, be the glory forever. Amen,”
Doxology always follows theology. One of the reasons people have difficulty in praise is that they have no theology. They are not overwhelmed by theology of what the word teaches us of who God is and of His marvelous plan and design He has for you and for me. The way we glorify God, the way we reflect His worth, the way we reflect His divine nature which we partook of, as Peter told us, when we became a believer is, once again, by allowing Him to live His life in and through us. When we yield to Him, when we allow Him to do this; then it is His nature, His power that is reflected in and through our lives. But when we do things for Him in the energy of sincere flesh, then we are the ones being recognized, not Him. Religion glorifies man, but Christianity glorifies Christ and His true worth.
Paul, after showing the Ephesians believers whose they were in chapters 1, 2 and 3; and after showing them how to be strengthened in the inner man, in chapter 3:16 and his prayer that he is praying in verse 17, he says in verse 21: “to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen.” You see, God shares His glory with no man. How many times we have sought—I’ve done it—to usurp His glory by taking credit for something that’s happened down here on earth that is divine? In Isaiah 42:8 God says, “I am the Lord that is my name. I will not give my glory to another nor my praise to graven images.’ In Isaiah 48:11, “For my own sake I will act, for how can my name be profaned, and my glory I will not give to another.”
Our text today shows us once again why it is that God, and only God should be the one to receive the glory for all that’s going on down here on this earth, for all that He’s doing on this earth. We are going to look at the wonder of God, the wonder of who He is. I love this passage, if you can’t tell. I love this passage of scripture. As we said, Romans 9-11 deals with the marvelous sovereignty of God, but particularly in salvation and particularly to Israel. It talks about God’s marvelous love for the nation of Israel, and how He is going to bring them back; how He is going to save Israel one day.
So many people talk about—they are replacement theologians—and they say, “God is through with Israel.” No, God is not. God made a promise to Israel. He said, “When the moon stops shining at night, then my promise is no longer valid.” And, I don’t know about you, but last night the moon was out. God continues to honor the nation of Israel. He will bring them back into salvation.
Romans 11:17, he addresses the Gentiles as wild olive branches. When you get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “Good morning, wild olive branch.” Verse 17 of chapter 11 says, “But some of the branches were broken off and you, being a wild olive [speaking to the Gentiles], were grafted in among them and became partaker of them of the rich root of the olive tree.” What he taking about are these broken off branches. You see, it started with Abraham; He singled him out and gave him a covenant, the everlasting covenant. He ratified that to Isaac and passed it on to Jacob, not Esau. And Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and Israel had 12 sons. But the nation of Israel disobeyed God. They went after idolatry and God withdrew the fire from the temple in the book of Malachi.
But what He’s saying here is God can bring them back. If we, being sinful Gentiles, can be grafted into the Tree of Life, when we were not even a part of it, then certainly the broken branches can be brought back. That’s chapter 9, 10 and 11. God is the initiator of salvation for the Gentile but also for the Jew.
Now it is in this mindset, in the marvelous understanding that salvation is God’s business that we come in to Romans 11:33-36. Salvation is such an awesome subject. The world’s theological libraries attest to the restless intellect of believers of all ages who have tried to probe the depths of salvation, to understand it, to put it in some kind of theological box. Man has tried for centuries to understand salvation both for the Gentile and for the Jew. But in our text today, the apostle Paul pops their intellectual bubble and he says the wisdom and knowledge of God, particularly when it comes to salvation, is so far beyond man’s capability to understand it isn’t even funny. This is what he is talking about.
God loves all mankind. This is difficult for men to understand. Spurgeon was asked by a woman in his church, “How could God ever hate Esau?” I love Spurgeon; I can’t wait to get to Heaven and meet him. He just seems like a cool guy. Spurgeon answered back, “That never bothered me. How come it bothers you?” and she says, “Well, how come it doesn’t bother you?” He says, “I’ve never worried about how He could hate Esau. I’ve always wondered how in the world He could love Jacob.” Now you haven’t got it yet, you think a little more on that. Look in the mirror in the morning and ask, “How in the world could God ever love me?” It’s a mystery beyond anything we could ever understand; but He did.
The psalmist said, “what is man that thou art mindful of him?” See, the mystery of how God loves you and me is what salvation is all about. Not only about being birthed into the kingdom, but in the life that follows after that birth. All of this is about His love for you and , and men cannot comprehend this truth. That’s why the glory, the recognition should never come to man. We are so unworthy. But it ought to go to Him who is worthy.
There are three things that Paul brings out in this as to why the glory always ought to go back to Him. First of all, God’s wisdom is unsearchable. Verse 33, “Oh, the depths,” Paul says, “both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God.” The word “depth” there refers to the extreme depth of something. He’s not talking about an eight-foot deep lake; he’s talking about something that is extremely deep.
We lived over in Reno almost three years. We lived 25 miles from Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe. At Lake Tahoe, you know, people used to say, “It doesn’t have a bottom. They’ve never been able to find it.” Well, now with sonar they’ve been able to do that. It’s about 1600, 1700 feet deep. It’s a real deep lake.
When the apostle Paul says nobody knows the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God, he said there is not a man on earth who can probe the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God. God’s wisdom, contextually again, is salvation, and particularly of the Jews and how He brings them back someday. That is what chapters 9, 10 and 11 are trying to get across. There is no way the human mind could ever probe the depths of that; for instance, the way that God revealed His purpose in Christ to not only deliver us from the penalty of sin, but to come to live in us and deliver us daily from the power of sin. That’s a mystery that people are still trying to understand. It’s a mystery.
Paul is a saved Jewish man, and now he can vouch for the fact that it had to be revealed. He was as sincere a religionist that ever lived, but God had to reveal to him His plan. He says in Ephesians 3:1, “For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles, if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you, that by revelation was made known to me the mystery as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this when you read, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.” In other words, it had to be revealed to me; I’m not smart. I’m not an intellect. God reveals this to my heart, Paul says.
And then he says in verse 5, “Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of man and it has now been revealed to the apostles and prophets in the spirit.” In fact, Paul, one of those apostles now, who had been given this revelation, is now assigned to preach what God has revealed to his heart to others. He says in 3-10, “to me the very least of all saints this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which was for ages hidden in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
Now just think for a second about the marvelous wisdom and knowledge of God to come up with the plan of salvation. To come up that for mankind who He knew would sin in the garden. Yet Jesus already stood in the portals of Heaven and said, “Lord, let me be the Lamb that will be sacrificed for them.” All of this wisdom, all of this knowledge somehow finds it centerpiece in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It says in Colossians 2:3, speaking of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” You see, folks, it is just unsearchable. That’s why it has to be revealed. No man can just sit down and figure it out. God has to reveal it to the human heart. Man, in his arrogance, has not only acted as if he has figured out salvation, but also in his arrogance, by his lifestyle, thinks that he can handle it from there. “God, don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Don’t we love to boast in what we can do for God, as if we have a clue? Don’t we love to boast in what God has given to us as if we have a clue? Jeremiah 9:23 says men love to boast in what they know and they love to boast in what they can do. And that has entered into salvation and you’ve got people thinking they can understand something, the depths of which man cannot even begin to probe.
The mystery of salvation not only refers to our being birthed into the family, as I said earlier, but also refers to the life and the work and the ministry that He performs through us after that. That is part of the divine plan. That’s part of the whole concept that God had for mankind. And He, and He alone, deserves the glory for that plan. He and He alone, deserves the glory when it comes to ministry. He’s designed the church, not to function as an organization but to function as an organism. We are going to see that next week as we follow the context in 12:1-9. God’s wisdom and knowledge in the way He designed the church to function and all that He wants to do through us in this time for centuries causes us to say, “He deserves the glory, we cannot take it.” I’m awed every day even that God has saved me. Are you that way? Every time I sin, every time I yield to my flesh, I think, “God, why do you even put up with me?” If God was a God like you and me, I’d have been dead years ago, because He’d have taken me out of here. But by His grace, by His goodness, how can I take any glory for salvation? How can a church talk about what they’ve done for God? How can we begin to approach a subject like that? God deserves the glory; it’s not about us, it’s all about Him. The wisdom and knowledge of God are beyond understanding. And, therefore, it beckons us to give all glory unto God.
Not only that, secondly, His ways are untraceable. You see, not only did He come up with the concept of salvation, but also the way He worked it out, it will blow your mind. His ways are untraceable. We cannot probe the depths of His wisdom, and understanding, we cannot even begin to explore His ways, we can’t figure them out. God doesn’t work the way that men do. The whole concept is beyond us. Paul continues in verse 33, as he goes from the concept to the working out of that concept, “Oh, the depths of the riches of both the wisdom and the knowledge of God, How unsearchable His judgments and how unfathomable His ways.” His judgments are unsearchable. Now what is he talking about? The word for judgments is krima. Krima means a decision that is made. The ma on the end refers to the actual choices God made to bring about this awesome salvation that you and I have, both the Gentile and the Jew. God’s plan involving the decisions that He made to bring about salvation—they’re unsearchable.
Now you think about it. Look at the Old Testament. Can you figure that out? How He drew Abram out of the land of the Chaldeans; he was a pagan, and brought him out of that. He said, “I want a nation for myself.” Israel was not a nation. He made that nation. And then He gave a covenant to him, as we said earlier, and passed it on to Isaac, then to Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. There were 12 tribes of Israel. Then you follow through the Old Testament how God was so patient with Israel when they split; ten tribes went to the north and two tribes went to the south. The Assyrians took over Israel, the Northern tribes, and finally the Babylonians took Judah into captivity. Yet God continued to love His people and you see that plan working out, and the ways that God worked through that. Malachi, the fire was taken out of the Temple; 400 years a period of darkness, and then finally, in the fullness of time, Jesus came and God spoke finally through His son.
You look at this and say, “Who could have figured this out?” Who in the world could have come up with anything like this? You cannot trace God’s ways. His plan is unable to be explored. I want to tell you, until you get a handle on that, until I get a handle on that, we’re not going to understand what true ministry is. His judgments are unsearchable. We cannot in any way grasp it with our feeble minds. In fact, Paul adds, “and unfathomable His ways.” His ways relate to His carrying out of His plans, as we’ve said, for our awesome salvation.
The word for ways is an interesting word. It’s the word that refers to a road that is heavily traveled, a beaten down path. Most of the roads of that day were that way. They did not have many roads, they had one or two roads and everybody walked on it. You could blindfold somebody and they could get home on those roads because they were well walked, well-beaten. But he says God’s ways are not well-beaten paths. God didn’t give us a map, He gave us the guide. Because His paths, not only in effecting salvation, but once we are saved and the way that we walk in that relationship, they are not beaten-down paths. He gave us a guide, He didn’t give us a map. That’s why we have to know Him. That’s why we have to walk in intimacy with Him. We don’t know where He’s taking us, we just know He’s taking us. He’s in control.
You know, at different times I’ve mentioned things similar to this, but when I traveled all the time, every time I’d rent a car. They started putting these little things, on the car where it tells you how to get there. You all know what I’m talking about? That was really neat. I love it; she says, “Take a right turn in 1.2 miles.” And then she would say, “Take a right turn on 0.7 miles.” Then she’d say, “Take a right turn in 0.3 miles, then in 0.1 miles.” I loved that, because I didn’t know where I was, and I needed a guide. God’s paths are not well-beaten. You think you know where God’s taking the church? Would you mind telling me, because I don’t know. All we know is that He is the guide and we better get in touch with Him as quickly as we possibly can. Because where He takes us, it’ll be good, I promise you that. But it won’t be the direction you think He’s going to take us.
Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts. Nor are my ways your ways declares the Lord.” I don’t have well-beaten paths; there are no landmarks. You have to listen to me, if you are going to walk with me. You see, folks, that’s why we have to join Him in what He’s doing. He’s already busy. If He doesn’t have us working with Him, that’s fine; He’ll still get the job done. The beautiful thing is that we can join Him in what He is doing. He has the design. He knows has the way, we don’t.
To stress this point, Paul brings out some quotes from the Old Testament. In verse 34, “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Who became His counselor?” We live sometime as if God is seeking our advice. We get together in our times together and we say, “Oh, what do we need to do? Let’s see, I’ll tell you what, ‘God, we’ve got some great suggestions.’” And God says, ‘Oh, thank you, because I just didn’t know what to do. Thank you so much because I depend upon you everyday to give me advice”? The apostle Paul quotes out of Isaiah and says, “Who in the world does he ask?’ We’re not His counselor. You see, folks, that’s why it is so important. What Paul is doing here is amazing. He’s taking away the arrogance of some people who think they can actually do something and ask God to bless it. Can you imagine the arrogance of somebody who comes up with a ministry and then asks God to bless it when God’s paths are not well-beaten paths? Can you imagine that?
Well, I can, I’ve done it many times in my life. If you don’t want to be honest, I will be. Thank God, He’s showing me, “Don’t you dare bring anything before me. You come before me open and empty-handed, and I’ll show you what you need to do, because you don’t have a clue what’s going on. I’m the one; I’m the one.”
Prayer is a verbal expression of our trusting God. You’ve got to have people burdened to pray. But prayer is not a compartment you add; it’s not an add-on. It’s not as if we do this and this and this and then, oh, yes, by the way, we have prayer. No, prayer is the carpet that should undergird every single thing that we do. When we have a committee meeting we don’t need me to sit there and figure things out. We need men to get on their face before God and say, “Oh, God, what do you want us to do? Oh, God, give us divine leadership.” When we have an Elder Meeting, we don’t need people’s wisdom to bring to the table. We need God’s wisdom at that table. When we have a staff meeting, we need prayer to be the carpet that undergirds what we’re doing. Prayer is the carpet that undergirds everything that we do—or if it doesn’t, it’s all about us and not about Him.
You see, Paul by referring to these Old Testament passages is getting rid of the arrogance in the Church, even then in Rome, of anybody thinking they can make ministry happen. What we see today called ministry, folks, would sicken the heart of God. God is the only one who can make ministry happen. It is not about us. Paul is also eliminating the arrogance of people who think that God owes them something. You know, sometime prayer is that way. We think God owes us something. Verse 35 says, “For who has first given to him that it might be paid back to him again.” In other words, He is no man’s debtor. Ministry is all about God; it’s not about us. God owes us nothing. God gave us everything. He alone is worthy of all glory. His wisdom is unsearchable. God’s ways are untraceable. You cannot trace them. They are not well-beaten paths.
Why is all of that? Because God’s worth is unimaginable. “From Him, and through Him and to Him are all things,” Paul says. Verse 36, “to Him be the glory forever. Amen.” God is the source of all things. For “from Him” that little word is ek, which means out of His very being they come from. He’s the divine author and originator of all things. But it also says He’s the sustainer of all things. “And through Him” The little word dia, which means the means. God is the means by which all things happen and He’s the goal of all things. It says “and to Him.” The little word, eis is used there which means motion into something. It describes a beautiful picture here. What God has originated—listen carefully—what God has originated is on a divine path back to Himself. Everything He originates has got to return to Him or it didn’t come from Him to begin with. Like a boomerang.
I was down in Australia years ago to Perth. One of the things they have down there is a boomerang. Isn’t it neat? It’s on a divine course to do what? Return right back to its sender. That’s exactly what he saying here. What God does has got to return back to Him with the glory that we give to Him. You realize when we shortcut that, when we usurp the glory for ourselves? If we step in the process and stop the boomerang from going back to Him, we take the glory; as if we are anybody. If we are not reflecting Him and if we are not reflecting the glory that He deserves, then we have stood in the gap and stopped the process. And that, my friend, is sin before God. It’s got to go back to Him.
When we realize that His wisdom is unsearchable, and His ways are untraceable and His worth is unimaginable, then this should evoke a response in every one of us. Nobody can praise unless they are worshiping God by their walk, and bringing glory to Him. But you see, the apostle Paul is overwhelmed. You’re talking about a doxology, a praise; he’s overwhelmed that God even revealed anything to him, much less what he just taught for 11 chapters. And he says, “To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” The psalmist said in 86:12 a very similar thing. He was caught up in the same way. He understood what it was all about. It overwhelmed him that he was even included. The psalmist said, “I will give thanks to you, Lord, my God, with all my heart and will glorify your name forever.”
This should be the cry of every adoring heart. Do you wake up in the morning like this? “Oh, God, somehow reflect Yourself in me today. Lord, I’m a mess. I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve salvation. Lord, I’ve tried to figure out why You love me and I can’t figure it out. Your wisdom is unsearchable. I’ve tried to trace the way in which You entered into my life and how You beckoned me to Yourself; I can’t figure it out. I can’t even explore it, there’s not even a well-beaten path. I realize Your worth, Oh, Lord, is unimaginable I can’t hardly stand it, Lord, because I’m so awed that You love me.”
See that’s a cry of an adoring heart. The purpose of our lives as believers, the purpose of all ministry, is to bring glory to Him. Never, ever do we praise man, never. Yes, we can appreciate man, but we never praise him. Our praise goes to the one who works in him.
We’re all about us, aren’t we? The world revolves around us, doesn’t it? But I’ll tell you what, when you start experiencing Jesus to be Jesus in your life, it won’t revolve around you any more. It will revolve around Him. All you can do is bring glory back to Him. You know what the word “amen” means in the last part of verse 36? It means “let it always be so, and don’t you dare think about changing it.” Hey, I didn’t write that. I just have to live it, like you do.
Well, in closing, on March 23rd 1743, when The Messiah was first performed in London, the King was present in that great audience. It was reported that all were so deeply moved by the Hallelujah Chorus that, with those impressive words—and you’ve heard them sung many times—“for the Lord God omnipotent reigns,” the whole audience, including the king, sprang to their feet and remained standing through the entire chorus. From that time to this, it has always been the custom to stand before the chorus is performed. With spontaneous joy the soul stands to salute Him who comes in the name of the Lord. He is King of kings and He is Lord of lords. To Him we pledge our allegiance. To God be the glory, for great things He has done.