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 love, Gospel, 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.