The Wondrous Wealth, Wisdom, And Knowledge Of God
Re-Translated In March 2000
Faith And Conceitedness1
1. Here Paul is addressing [his audience] as "brothers." They are Gentile Christians. He says to them, "I would have you to know ... so that you would not be conceited of yourselves as wise." If they were thinking of themselves as wise, who were they [wiser than]? Judging from the flow of his speech to this point, they must have been comparing [themselves] to the Jews.
2. Please recall that in chapter two of this epistle the text said, "So, o person who condemns all people." In that text it was clearly the Jews who Paul had specifically pictured in his mind as "the person who condemns people." Who were the Jews condemning? It is believed that the Gentiles were the particular targets of their [condemnation]. The Gentiles did not have the law of God. The Gentiles did not know the will of God. Therefore, the Gentiles would soon be condemned and destroyed by God. The Jews were condemning the Gentiles as that type of people.
3. However, in the various churches which were produced under the early preaching days, the situation had been completely reversed. It was not the Jews but the Gentiles who made up the overwhelming majority. Many of the Jews would not accept the gospel. If seen from the perspective of Gentile Christians, just like it said over and over in the Old Testament, the Jews were still as yet a stubborn people with no true understanding. So, it was easy for them to compare the Jews with themselves, and there emerged a "conceitedness," thinking as if they themselves were wise. They supposed themselves wise and started judging others as foolish.
4. The Jews condemned the Gentiles and the Gentile Christians looked down on the Jews. People have always done this kind of thing. Everyone wants to think of himself or herself as wise. [Everyone] wants to keep [his or her] pride that "I'm no fool." For that reason, at times, people consider others as fools, talk bad about them, scorn, and even look [totally] down on them. But, if we give it some thought, this kind of pride is often times only the facade to an inferiority complex.
5. I would guess that perhaps the mentality of the Gentiles in the early period was much the same. The Gentiles who first became Christians mainly frequented the synagogues of the Jews and were called "godfearers, those who honor God." They knew quite well that Gentiles were condemned by the Jews and held in contempt. Also, they were truly no match for the Jews in their ethical heights or in their knowledge in the scriptures. How could they not help but have an inferiority complex? But then, since these persons like they were knew the truth of salvation in Christ and the darker side of their inferiority complex came out just as it was, it would not be unreasonable even if they became boastful over the Jews and showed it. It could happen well enough. What's more, actually in the missions of the church whenever they encountered the dogged resistance and rejection by the Jews for the gospel, it would bolster these kinds of feelings even more. "They may be well versed in the scriptures, but they don't really know the great truth of salvation. They are an obstinate and ignorant people. We are so much wiser!" Next thing they're engaging in condemning [the Jews].
6. Thus, even matters of faith wind up becoming a source for unbearable high mindedness and cockiness. Paul knew this particular sinfulness of humanity. So, he says, "I want you to know without fail." There were [some] things they had to know so as not to fall into this kind of conceit. Of course, this must be something we ought to hear and we ought to know, too.
The Hidden Plan We Should Know
7. Well, what is it that we should know? Paul calls it "the hidden plan." There are also Bibles which translate this as "mystery, secret." When they say the word "mystery," they don't mean inaudible like an enlightenment which only a very special person is able to obtain. What Paul is saying here is not something one can comprehend by human effort or mystical experience. It is not something which has had a veil over it to this day or something we take great pains to get a glimpse into. If that were the case, knowing such a secret, I would suppose, would only cause one to plunge further and further into vanity. But, that isn't the way it is and Paul says that "he wants them to know" the secret which has already had its veil removed. It had been hidden, but it is a matter that has been made plain by God himself. He calls this a revelation of God. God himself has taken off the cover and made a disclosure or unveiling.
8. So, how was the cover removed? The cover was removed because God spoke. But, it was not when God spoke his messages through the prophets of old. [The removal of the cover] came by God's having spoken conclusively and definitively through one life-giving individual and through his death and resurrection in particular. It goes without saying, but [the unveiling has to do with] the coming of Jesus Christ, his cross and resurrection. This very Christ indeed is none other than the revelation of God.
9. Under this revelation, human sin has been made plain. Under the cross, the reality of humanity at enmity with God has been made evident. However, even the sin of humanity at enmity against God could not keep lying beyond God's powerful hands. God made use of the hands of sinners who opposed him and erected the cross of redemption. Also, God raised Christ from the dead and made the victory over human sin evident. He made clear that it is not death and sin which will ultimately rule but it is the righteousness of God and it is life, [which will rule at the end].
10. If seen from under this light of Christ, the plan of God for Israel, who [as a people] are now [still] stubbornly resistant, would become clear. The plan which used to be hidden was made plain even there [in Israel's obstinacy]. In the eyes of the flesh, the disobedience of Israel looks like their final posture. But, when seen under the light of Christ, Israel will not be done for and destroyed for its sin. Obstinacy is not their final posture. Paul says that it is until the Gentiles are saved. God will not let them stay stubborn. Because sin is not the ultimate winner, God is. Consequently, salvation will ultimately extend to all of Israel. God's salvation will surely reach its final goal.
11. After that Paul quotes the scriptures. "The Saving One will come from Zion and put unbelief far away from Jacob. This, indeed, is my covenant that I am making with them, that I will remove their sin." It's not written entirely in that exact manner in the scriptures. It is a quote from Isaiah and Jeremiah. The reason he is quoting this is to show forth the hidden plan of God which has been made plain in Christ. The point of emphasis is crystal clear. It is that God himself is the one who will put their unbelief far away. God will take away their sin.
12. When he looked at their situation, the Jews were going against God. Paul felt pain in his heart as he thought of the sin of their disobedience. But, were these who went against God the enemies of God? Was God also going against them? Paul says, no. He boldly says that "They are loved by God!" The promises given to them are alive. He says, "thanks to your forefathers." These forefathers are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. God had once said to them, "I am setting up a covenant between you and with your descendants who follow afterwards and I am making it an eternal covenant. And, I will be your [God] and your descendants' God," (Genesis 17:7). How could God be true to this promise despite Israel's sin? Well, God's truthfulness is displayed perfectly in Jesus Christ. That's why Paul says with all confidence that "The gifts of God and his call are not things which get canceled out," (verse twenty-nine).
By Mercy Alone
13. Now, if God still loves even those against him, it can only be described as stemming from God's mercy because there is no reason at all on their part for them to be loved. Therefore, the word "mercy" is repeatedly used later in verses thirty and following. But, when he speaks in regards to this mercy Paul does not limit his speech to Israel. He begins to say to the Gentile Christians that "You used to be disobedient to God at one time, but now you are receiving mercy by their disobedience," (verse thirty).
14. That's right. It was not only the Israelites who were disobedient to God and had gone against Him. Now, the Gentile Christians, who were believing in Christ, were the same [as Israel]. If they were loved by God, we could not help but say that it stemmed after all from God's mercy. By the disobedience of the Israelites, the gospel sprung out of the Jewish world. So, those who had originally not known the scriptures and were not anticipating the messiah had come to take part in this grace. But, it was not because they were better. The only thing going for them was the mercy of God alone.
15. So when you think about this, they should not have been able to judge the Jews who had so obstinately denied the gospel. They must understand them as persons under God's mercy the same as us and not have the habit of scorning them as ignorant or looking down on them as stubborn. He says to the Gentile Christians, "In the same way as that, in the mercy you have now received they were disobedient, but it is for the purpose of their receiving mercy now. God has concluded everyone in a state of disobedience, but it has been for the purpose of showing mercy to everyone," (verses thirty-one and thirty-two). Paul wanted them to know this more than anything else.
16. We too have got to know this. [We got to know] the disobedience that locks up both the Jewish world and the Gentile world. [We have got to know] the hostility and the resistance towards God. Things are no different in modern times. However, we must see the mercy of God embracing ever so much the more these worlds of disobedience. We have got to turn our eyes on the mercy of God who wants to have mercy on everyone. So, in spite of the history of disobedience by these [Jewish and Gentile] people, no wait, it is because of their history of disobedience that we must know that the mercy of God was evident throughout and there is a plan of God's salvation that is still heading for a definite completion. This very thing is the hidden plan of God, made clear by the events of the messiah's death on the cross and his resurrection which completely confronts the wisdom of this world.
Oh, How Deep It Is!
17. So now, Paul, who wrote this, raises a cry of wonder with "oh!." As he had his verbal statements dictated into this epistle, he must have actually cried out with an "oh!" in a loud voice. When a person knows God's mercy, it gets to be where one can't help but praise God. One has to but extol and worship God. "Oh, how deep is the wealth, and the wisdom, and the knowledge of God! Who can make an end of studying out God's provisions or completely understand God's ways?," (verse thirty-three).
18. By "riches" it means the overwhelming abundance of God's mercy which has been enunciated so far. Also, God embraces this world, this history, and us in the riches of his mercy with awesome wisdom and knowledge. No one can fathom this wisdom and knowledge with [his or her] humanly shallow wisdom and knowledge. Humanity can only praise the miracle of God's salvation which is based on this wisdom and knowledge.
19. "Who in the world has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been the Lord's consultant?" From the very beginning God has not been in need of doing anything according to our wisdom or by means of receiving our shallow knowledge. "Who has given to the Lord in the first place [and] has received payment for it?" God has never done anything by following [advice] he has received from us. The mercy of God has been right there ahead of everything. Therefore, Paul says the following [as] he summarizes his statements since chapter nine, "Every thing comes from God, is kept by God and is going to God. Glory be to God for ever. Amen."
20. In a praise truly born of an awe for God's mercy, there is no room to allow in [our] insignificant pride over [our] self-achievements. In a worship born out of an awe for the depth of God's wisdom and knowledge, there is no room to allow for a conceitedness (or anything else like it) wherein one considers oneself as wise and looks totally down on others. In other words, this kind of true praise and worship is really the thing that sets a person free from his or her wretched pride which is really the flip side of a person's inferiority complex. I would like for us, like Paul did, to turn our attention with an awe on the riches of God's mercy and the depths of [his] wisdom and knowledge and to offer praise together for Him. [Let's praise Him together, praising,] "Oh, how deep is the wealth and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! Glory be to God for ever! Amen." My prayer is that may our very lives be of true worship born of awe for the mercy of God.
1 "Unubore" means "pretension, conceit, flattery, overconfidence, pride, self-flattery, self-esteem, self-exaltation, vanity, vainglory, self-love, self-opinion, cockiness, etc."