Oh, the depth 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, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever (Rom 11:33-36).That's what Paul wrote. And we like that. It's good stuff. In fact, it's as if Paul has lost all hope of expressing what he was trying to get across. "Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?" It's as if he ran out of words. "I'm sorry, guys, this is just way too big for me to express." Really good stuff.
It's such good stuff, however, that it's easy to miss what Paul said there. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things." There is a complete picture there ... and it's not the picture we normally hold in our heads.
Picture, with me, a water system. There is the spigot, a source. There is a garden, the target, something that requires what the source has. And there is a hose, a conduit through which the source will provide what the garden needs. Now, which of these, in the scheme of things, are we? Many consider us the source. Wise Christians know better. We're the conduit. You know, like we're the ones who take the Gospel (whose source is God) to unbelievers (the target). That's common. But that's not what Paul says here. Paul says here that God is the entire system. He is the source ("from Him"), the conduit ("through Him"), and the target ("for Him"). God is the complete picture.
We are not naturally prone to see things that way. We are the source of what we do. Certainly we are the ones who do it. We are most often the target of what we do. You know, like "I will be like the Most High." That's Natural Man. The Christian operates in a different mode. We know, for instance, that Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). That makes Him the source. You know, "Apart from Me you can do nothing." The source. Good start. And if we're careful, we remember Soli Deo Gloria; we remember "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). This one is harder for us to remember, but it's there. God is the target. Jesus isn't only "the reason for the season". God is the reason for all we do. His glory is our aim. Thus, we are to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). But surely, surely we are the ones who do them. Certainly we are the ones who obey, who abide, who do good works. While God is the source and God is the target, obviously we're the conduit, right?
The biblical perspective to that question is "Yes!" ... and "No." Yes, we obey. Yes, we work. Yes, we are conduits. But none of that would happen if God wasn't doing it. Clearly you are to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12), but you must not forget that "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Thus, God is the source, the conduit, and the target. Us? We just get to be a part. We get to do what God tells us to and enables us to for His glory. For that, He rewards us, first with "lightweight" rewards like crowns and "Well done, good and faithful servant" and then, ultimately, with His eternal glory and presence. It is in this light that we can start to see what Jesus meant when He said both "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt 16:24) and "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matt 11:30).
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen (Rom 11:36).