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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Big Buts

An English word we use regularly and without much thought is the word "but". It is a conjunction or preposition used to indicate something contrasting or contrary to what has already been said. "I wanted white walls, but they painted them red." The white and red are contrasted. We use the word commonly and, as such it is used quite often in Scripture. One of the uses you'll find with some frequency is the contrast between what we see and God. The phrase is "but God". And it is everywhere.

Asaph wrote, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psa 73:26). There are solemn warnings, like when Paul warns the Thessalonians, "God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you" (1 Thess 4:7-8). There are a bit scary ones, like Jesus's words to the Pharisees when He said, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). You'll find encouraging ones like "Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise" (1 Cor 1:26-27) and Joseph's powerful, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20). We like happy ones like, "Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him" (Phil 2:27) and triumphant ones like "Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His'" (2 Tim 2:17-19).

There are all sorts of "buts" in Scripture in regards to God, contrasting who He is with who we are and what He does with what we see. They encourage and warn us. There are, however, a couple of really big ones.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person -- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -- but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:7-8).

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience -- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- 6 and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:1-7).
In the first, the contrast is between the normal possibility of whom a righteous person might die for and who Christ died for. A righteous person might die for a good person, but God shows His love when Christ died for sinners. That's a really big contrast.

The other is huge. Paul spends several verses explaining our natural condition. We were dead in sin, walking according to Satan, carrying out our own desires, by nature children of wrath. This is not a small problem. It is really big. So when we come to verse 4, that is a gigantic "but". In massive contrast to our own condition ("but"), God made us alive together with Christ. Huge! Dead people made alive! Mercy for those pursuing their own pleasures. Love for those who were angry with God. Beyond that, He "raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" as a display of His grace which is immeasurable, offered in kindness.

The word is a small one and often goes mostly unnoticed, but sometimes there are some really, really big "buts" in Scripture which can provide us with reason to glorify God. These are some really great "buts".

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