And those words are really but a prelude to the doxology of Romans 11:33-36:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[a] 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?”[b]
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”[c]
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “these issues are deeply personal to me, I’ve raised some issues that I may not even be able to answer, so let’s all stand and praise the Lord because he’s the one who is in charge of how it all pans out anyway!”
I love the Romans doxololgy, as any conversation about doctrine should inexorably move to worship.
And then, as even casual students of Romans know, the letter changes tone completely. “Therefore,” Paul says in 12:1, “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.”
What flows from there is four chapters worth of admonitions on Christian living, including such echoes of Jesus as “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14) and “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”
So the beauty of the doxology followed by the abruptness of the transition makes me wonder exactly how the early church used this part of Romans. Remember: the first churches did not have multiple copies of Scripture that individuals could read. Instead, there was likely a single scroll containing a community-owned copy of the the letter. Church leaders then read the document out loud — and some scholars have suggested that different readers played different “parts” in the dialog, particularly in asking and answering the rhetorical questions that frame the book (3:1, 3:9, 4:1, 6:1, and 6:15 for example).
Anyway, the end of chapter 11 sounds very much like the conclusion of one worship service. God is great, his answers are beyond our deepest imagining, so let’s all rise to your feet as you’re able and we’ll sing “How Great Thou Art” together. OK, “How Great” didn’t appear until 1953, but you get the point.
Then the church caught its breath, broke for a covered dish supper, fell asleep while watching a Panthers game, and returned later for a Sunday evening teaching service. What our Baptist friends used to call BTU — Baptist Training Union! That separate gathering then dug into the practicalities of Romans 12-16.
Or maybe the doxology of 11:33-36 finished worship for one Sunday and the church rested an entire week — you might have to after wrestling with the heaviness of Romans — and chapter 12 was where they started the next Sunday.
This is all conjecture, of course. But the pondering helps me visualize the different ways the first Christians might have used the decidedly different sections of the incomparable book of Romans.
To him be glory forever indeed. Amen.