A Most Amazing Word

but

 

If someone were to ask “what is the most amazing word in the Bible?” there could be lots of answers and many of them would be good. Most of us would probably suggest something like loveGospel, Kingdom, or even the word God. But often the most amazing words are those that are the most humble.

One of the most humble words is “but”.  That’s right, “but”.  Used mostly as a conjunction it finds its way into many sentences but we probably don’t take much notice.  “But” is not a word that preachers will spend time explaining the root of or studying in depth. But it is not the meaning of “but” that is so amazing but its function. As a conjunction it represents contrast with what goes before it; a 180 degree turnaround. Things are going one way, but… they now go this way. That turn around is at the heart of the Gospel.

Watch how it is used:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart…. (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28)

We may assume that it is relatively easy to obey God’s law, be a good person, or live a righteous life.  Then Jesus comes along and with one little word – “but” – shows us that it is far worse than we can ever imagine. It is not merely what we do which keeps us from God, but the source of our actions that has gone wrong. Our hearts are wrong.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…  (Ephesians 2:4)

It really is bad.  Then God accomplishes a complete turn from where we are and have been heading. We’re dead in trespasses, “but God…”  There is that “but” again.  We are completely prone to what Jesus wants us about “but” God, out of his mercy and love, reaches out to us. The entire Gospel is described in that turning point.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  (1st Corinthians 6:11)

Another amazing “but”. In every type of sin, Christians are no better than anyone. “But” there is washing and cleansing from that past life. Not just changed “but” transformed into a new kind of life. The entire Gospel of a transformed life is expressed in that tiny conjunction.

 

There are many amazing words in the Bible. Often the smallest and most humble carry far more significance than first appears.

Advertisements

Here’s 3 ‘million dollar words’ (Jude in July)

JUDE in JULYIn my most recent sermon, the first from Jude’s Letter, I dropped what I called 3 ‘million dollar words’.  No one should feel silly not knowing them, many well-trod Christians don’t know them even if they intuitively feel the concepts. Words are important, however, and so these 3 should work their way into our consciousness.  The Apostle Jude is concerned with people being led away from true belief in Jesus by those who have crept in. Christians need to stick with what they’ve been given.  But in order they need to know what they’ve been given. Jude implies that Christianity is received, authoritative, and shared with all Christians.

Here’s where our 3 words come in (they’re each worth $1,000,000 and so pay attention! I paid a lot of money to learn them in seminary but I’m giving them for free today)

1) Jude says that the Christian Faith was once for all delivered to the saints (v3).  This means there is a body of beliefs (about God, Christ, human nature, salvation, etc…) that has been received as a package deal.  If something is a gift than we can’t just mess with it, or choose which parts we like and which we don’t.  This includes both belief and behaviour apparently, as Jude’s opponents get both wrong (v4). The Faith is a received gift and the word that this applies to is: Orthodoxy (adjective is orthodox).  Literally meaning “right belief and/or thought”, to be orthodox refers to be faithful to what has been handed down, respecting how it all fits together.

2) From whom do we receive it, though?  That leads to the question of authority – whose authority do we trust to teach us the truth about Jesus? Jude’s opponents, relying on their own dreams and rejecting authority (v8). Jude warns that their authority to teach spiritual truth is no good.  The authority we need to trust in is that of the apostles.  They were with Jesus, chosen by Him, and to reject them is to reject Him. Any wisdom or revelation must be tested against authority on which Faith is based, that of the apostles.  The word for this is Apostolicity (adj. apostolic). And where is this apostolic authority?  It’s in what they wrote, their accounts and teachings about Jesus in the Scriptures.  Their writing is what is authoritative for us.

3) Our third million dollar refers to the fact that we share our Christian Faith with others.  Jude points out that our salvation is a “common” one (v3). In such a self-centred, self-determining age it is humbling to know Christianity is not our possession.  We share globally with so many different types of believers and historically with so many previous generations.  This is important because we have so many cultural blind spots that other ages and cultures don’t have. It keeps us faithful when we allow them to check us.  The word for this is Catholicity (adj. catholic – notice the small ‘c’). We may think of the Roman church being “Catholic” but all catholic (small ‘c’) means is universal and undivided. To our RC friends we may have to say that we’re “too catholic to be Catholic” (thanks to Peter Leithart for the line!)  Tragically, there is Christian division but we really do share the Faith with many others even as we disagree.

orthodox, apostolic, (c)atholic – a received, authoritative, and shared faith – this is what Jude is promoting and encouraging his people to stay faithful to.  And so must we in the face of pressures and teachings from all directions.

Now you’re a millionaire.