Is God Grateful for All We Do?
A sermon on Romans 11:35-12:1 by by Coty Pinckney, Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel, 11/23/01
A few days ago one of my boys thought he heard a friend singing the song we sang earlier: “O Lord, I am very, very grateful, for all you have done for me.” But then he realized some of the words were changed. Instead of those words, the friend was singing:
“O Lord, You are very, very grateful for all I have done for you.”
What’s wrong with that? Is God grateful for what we do for Him? Should He be?
Maybe that’s easy to answer. But let me ask a similar question that is more subtle:
Doesn’t God tell us He will reward us for what we give up? And so, have you earned a reward from God? Listen to these verses:
"But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:13-14)
So does this mean I can earn a reward from God by inviting those of you who are poor, along with Julius, Paul, and Lucy [blind students at the seminary] to a reception at my house?
Consider also Hebrews 11:6
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Frequently looking at the original language helps us to answer such problems, but in this case the Greek makes the problem more severe: more literally, the last phrase reads, “must believe that He exists and that He is a wage-payer to those who earnestly seek him.”
So do we earn wages from God? Should we sing, “O Lord, you are very, very grateful for all I have done for you”?
The answer is NO!
But if the answer is no, in what sense does God reward us? What do Luke 14 and Hebrews 11 mean?
We’ll answer that question this morning by looking at one of the greatest texts in the entire Bible, Romans 11:35-12:1. Now, Charles Spurgeon said of Romans 11:36, “There is no man living who can preach from my text a sermon worthy of it,” and surely in our few minutes together we can only begin to tap its riches. But I pray that we will, at least, be able to answer the questions we have raised so far, and that God will use these verses greatly for His glory in our lives.
Let us begin reading with verse 33:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? 35 Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
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. (NIV)
We’ll examine this text under three headings:
All is from God!
All is unto God!
So Give Yourself to God!
In 11:35, Paul quotes Job 41:11. Remember the setting: Job had lost everything – his riches, his children, his health – and his three “friends” gather around and tell him, “This suffering is God’s justice; He is paying you back for all your sins. So admit it!” Job argues that he has a clear conscience before God, and asks for the opportunity to go before God, to present his case before Him. Much to Job’s surprise, God Himself appears at the beginning of chapter 38, saying:
2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. (NIV)
After showing Job the great difference between any man and Himself, God says in chapter 41:
“Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.” (Job 41:10b-11 NAU)
This is what Paul quotes in Romans 11. God emphasizes that He created everything, and that everything belongs to Him.
Note that the text does not imply that we give nothing to God. We do give things to God. But these verses clearly state that, in giving to God, we never create an obligation on His part to pay us back. Why not?
Because God created all things. God owns all things. So, whatever we have that we give to God already belongs to Him! How can we create an obligation in God by giving Him something that already belongs to Him?
Imagine that my six-year-old, Joel, approaches me on my birthday, saying, “Daddy, could you please give me 1,000 francs?” I ask, “What for, Joel?” He says, “I want to buy you a present!” So I give him the money, and later he returns, giving me a big bottle of D’Jino and a Mambo bar [a Cameroonian soda and candy bar]. Now, while I would be pleased that he remembered my birthday and wanted to give me something, is it possible that his present would put me in his debt? Do I need to pay him back for this present? My own money bought the present!
Just so between us and God. Whatever we give to him – money, time, our whole lives – already is in His Hands. He made us. We are His. We live today only by His mercy and grace. “From Him . . . are all things.”
David understood this after one of the greatest offerings to God of all time: the donations for the building of the temple. In 1 Chronicles 29 David prays,
11 "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. 12 "Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. 13 "Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name. 14 "But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. (NAU)
David acknowledges that riches and honor come from God, and that he did not deserve the great wealth that he and his people were able to give. He understands that the entire offering was in God’s hand, and he and the Israelites have only given back to God what was already His. God doesn’t need to repay them for what they have given. Just the opposite: the Israelites are indebted to God for enabling them to give so generously!
So all is from God! Any interpretation of the statements about rewards in Hebrews 11 and Luke 14 must take into account that we cannot give anything to God which is not already His.
So all things are from God, but also all things are unto God. Verse 36: “To Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever!”
God is not only the creator and thus the owner of all things; He also created all things for a purpose: To bring glory to His name. And all the history of the universe, all the history of mankind is working together to bring about that result. In Habakkuk 2:14, God says,
The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
How do the waters cover the sea? They fill every nook and cranny, seeping into every tiny hole, so that water is everywhere. Just so, God promises that the knowledge of His glory will fill the entire world – every plant, every rock, every human being will know of God’s glory, and will sing out praises to Him.
This is the end to which all things point: Filling the earth with the knowledge of God’s glory. And it will happen! It is certain to happen!
Verse 1 of chapter 12 flows immediately from these statements (indeed, I along with many others do not believe there should be a chapter division at this point Romans):
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.
If you are reading from the NIV, pay attention to the textual note that says the word translated “spiritual” can also be translated “reasonable” – “this is your reasonable worship.” Indeed, the word Paul uses is the Greek root for our word “logical.” “This is the logical way to worship.” Or, “Given Who God is, the only logical thing to do is to offer your body to Him.”
Now, this might sound strange. If we can’t incur an obligation on God’s part, if we already belong to God, why offer ourselves to God?
In effect, Paul says: “Recognize who you are! Recognize who God is! See the true nature of reality. You are not an autonomous, independent agent. You are not a self-made man. Whoever you are, whatever you have, if there is any good at all in you – God is the source of it all. In Him you live and move and have your being. And all creation is moving toward the end of bringing great glory to Him. So recognize that, and respond to it. You are His, you are meant for Him – So give yourself to God!”
That’s logical, isn’t it? Paul says it is in our own interest to acknowledge the true nature of reality and respond accordingly.
The following analogy might help: Imagine that you are a slave, but the slave of a wise, loving, kind, powerful, and generous master. And imagine that your master has a clear right to own you (this, of course, is the difficulty; no man can have a right to own you. But bear with me). This master even says that he intends eventually to adopt you as his son, and to make you together with his son the heir of all his property.
How should you respond to such a master? Should you fight and rebel, saying, “I’m my own man! I’ll make my own decisions! I’m out of here!” That choice makes no sense, for it leads to your own misery and destruction. Or should you say, “I know what I’ll do; I’ll do some great work for my master, so that he will owe me everything!” This choice also makes no sense, for he has already offered you everything he owns; you are already the heir of all that he has.
So what is the logical thing to do? Love that Master will all your heart; give yourself completely to Him. Slavery to such a master is freedom indeed.
When the Master is God Himself, how much stronger is the logic behind that decision! All things are from Him, through Him, and to Him, so let us offer ourselves to Him – not as an attempt to pay him ahead of time and incur an obligation, not as an attempt to pay Him back for what he has done – but because it is the logical thing to do in response to One Who is so kind, loving, merciful, mighty, and sovereign.
So in light of Rom 11:35-12:1, what do the promises of reward mean?
I want to leave you with two brief answers:
Jesus says this explicitly in Matthew 5:44-45: “Love your enemies .. . so that you might be sons of your father in heaven.” In loving your enemies – and in other acts of obedience – we act out His character. We are acting in a holy manner, as He Himself is holy. This is our reward: Christlikeness.
So my friends, God has no obligation to you to pay you back for anything you give. God is not in your debt; there is no reason for God to be grateful to you.
Preached at Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel, Ndu, Cameroon, 11/23/01. The Spurgeon quote is from his sermon number 572 on Romans 11:36, “Laus Deo,” preached 29 May 1864.
Copyright © 2001, Thomas C. Pinckney. You may copy this text for distribution to others, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All such copies of this text must contain this copyright notice. You may also use brief excerpts in sermons, reviews, or articles. Other than these exceptions, this text may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, firstname.lastname@example.org, c/o Community Bible Church, 160 Bridges Rd, Williamstown, MA 01267, USA.