Though BUT is a simple and common word, it is one of the most wonderful words in the Bible. As you remember from your grammar lessons in school the word ‘but’ serves as a conjunction in sentences. Conjunctions are words that join together other words or phrases. The two most common conjunctions in the English language are the words ‘and’ and ‘but.’ The word AND combines similar words or thoughts, like “Jim and Jack and Tom are all going to the ball game.” The word BUT, on the other hand, introduces something new, or different, or contrary, into the sentence; such as, “Jim and Jack are going to the game, BUT, Tom has to stay home because he is sick.” The word BUT signals that the sentence is about to go off into another direction.
Way back in the beginning pages of the Bible, in Genesis 15:1, God repeats to Abram a wonderful blessing he had given before. “But,” says Abram, introducing a problem, “what good are all these blessings when I don’t even have an heir? Where are all these children you have been promising me?”
“But,” the Lord replies, introducing something different, “you will have an heir,” adding that Abram should look at the stars in the sky, because that is how numerous his descendants will be. That was not only a different thought, but it was also unexpected since Abram and his wife were already middle-aged, and would be well into their old age before the child would be born.
In those few verses from the earliest chapters of the Bible we see a pattern that will repeated throughout the pages of God’s Word. First, there is a problem. The person in the text is in some kind of trouble or distress, BUT then, there is always a way out provided by God. Faith always has an answer. God never fails. So we see these ‘buts’ all over the place in the Bible, as God is always introducing something new and different and unexpected into every situation in order to bring the people through whatever situation they are in.
This is a message we all need to hear, because every person on earth is in at least one of three predicaments. There are those who are in the midst of trouble, and there are those who are just coming out of trouble, and, there are those who are on their way into trouble. Everyone falls into one of those categories, and maybe even all three at once. We’ve all been through troubles, some of you are in the midst of sorrow or trouble right now, and everyone has more trouble ahead of them.
BUT the Bible has something to say to us about our troubles. Listen to what God’s Word says in I Peter 4:12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you; BUT rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” The trouble will not last, says Peter, BUT there is a solution. There is another, better day coming, and if not in this life, then in that day when you will be with Jesus in his home, and then you will rejoice, says Peter. In I Corinthians 6:9 Paul writes, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, not the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor thieves nor the greedy nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God–which is just what some of you were,” he says. “BUT” Paul goes on, “You were washed, you were forgiven, you were justified in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.” We have all not only been in trouble, we have also caused trouble for ourselves and for others, or, as the Bible puts it, ‘we have all sinned and have fallen short’ of God’s expectations of us (Romans 3:23). BUT, the Bible also says, Jesus has died for us and forgives us and has saved us from ourselves. So in Romans 6:23 we read, “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Psalm 103 talks about how fast this life gets away on us. We are like the flowers of the field, he says, here one day, and gone the next, BUT, it says, “from everlasting to everlasting the love of the Lord is with those who fear him.”
One could go on and on with Bible verses because the Bible is filled with these kinds of ‘buts.’ This message is also in many of our best hymns. Think of that most favorite of all hymns, Amazing Grace, which begins with these words:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, BUT now am found, was blind, BUT now I see.
Think that other old favorite, How Great Thou Art. The hymn starts out singing about the awesome wonders of God– the stars, the mighty thunder, the forest glades, and the lofty mountain grandeur; and then the first word of verse three is BUT: “But when I think, that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in; that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died, to take away my sin…” God is so great and so awesome, BUT still he cares about little me and my troubles, and He has even sent his Son to die for me.
Everybody has a story to tell of trouble in their life, and everyone who keeps looking to God also has a story to tell of how God has been with them in that trouble and brought them through, or, will bring them through. These stories will frequently contain the word BUT:
“I was down in the pit of despair, BUT God brought me up…”
“I was sick and almost died, BUT God made me well…”
“I didn’t know what I would do, BUT God provided a way out for me…”
“I didn’t think I could go on, BUT God was with me and strengthened me…”
Even when our stories end in the very worst way, as they all indeed will with death, even then, with God, we can say BUT, because we believe in the resurrection from the dead. Faith prays, faith trusts, faith hopes, and then, no matter what happens, faith is always able to adjust to the new reality. No matter how bad it gets, God always has another move to make. As it says in Romans 14:8, “whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” This kind of faith is shown by Martha in John chapter 11. She had been praying that Jesus would come and make her brother well, but Jesus did not arrive in time and Lazarus died. Even then she did not give up on faith, saying to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, BUT but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” And Jesus went to the tomb and raised Lazarus from the dead. Not even death can keep us from God, or keep God from fulfilling his promises to us.
Keep the faith– and keep looking for, praying for, and waiting for the ‘buts’ in your story.
Genesis 50:19-20 — But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
II Corinthians 4:16-18 — Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Hebrews 11:13-16 — These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
“Lead us not into temptation, BUT deliver us from evil.”
–Jesus, Matthew 6:13