The two words “But God” are coupled together in the Bible more than two hundred times. These are two words that can change our outlook on life.
In English grammar, the word “but” is a conjunction, a part of speech that makes a difference. “But” is a word that qualifies, alters, and sometimes even cancels out the original statement. For example, someone says:
“That is a good idea, but . . .” (It is likely that the idea will be abandoned altogether).
“He is a prosperous businessman, but . . .” (As a result, we hesitate to put full confidence in him).
“She is a generous friend, but . . .” (Is she a real friend? Hardly. The “but” tends to change the whole situation).
When Charles E. Hughes was Secretary of State, and attending foreign conferences, he instructed his interpreter to only give him the gist of what was being said. The interpreter was not to give a word-for-word interpretation of the long speeches—only a kind of summary of what was being said. However, Hughes told the interpreter that whenever a speaker at a Conference uses the word “but”—then he wants an exact interpretation of each word that follows the word “but.” What follows the word “but” (in a sentence) is of utmost importance.
When we sit down to read the Bible, the words “But God” appear again and again.
“I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
“We were by nature the children of wrath, even as others, but God, who is rich in mercy . . . hath quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5).
“My flesh and my heart faileth (within me), but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
There are many other similar passages. In this message, we want to look at some of the portions of Scripture where the words “but God” appear. If these are taken seriously, they can change the course of our lives.
1. God Is the Strength of My Life
The words of Psalm 73:26 are meaningful. “My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” The theme is this: In the present world, evil men prosper, while godly men are often in serious distress and need. When the Psalmist tried to comprehend this, he was overwhelmed with doubt about the goodness of God. This just didn’t seem right. The Psalmist had seen the prosperity of wicked people, and sometimes it seemed to him that his struggle to live a clean life was all in vain. He seemed to be chastened more than ungodly people were being chastened.
The writer of the Psalm had received some serious blows in life. His “heart” and his “flesh” had failed. His body and his spirit had suffered trouble. Apparently he had experienced pain in body (his flesh), and also, his spirit (his heart) was bewildered by the iniquity all around him. This was a painful dilemma for the Psalmist. Why do the wicked seem to prosper?
One day Asaph (the Psalmist) took the whole matter to the Lord. Verse 17 gives the account of what happened. He says, “I went into the sanctuary of God, then understood I their end.” In essence, the Psalmist says in Psalm 73:17-19: “One day I went into God’s house to meditate, and as I thought about the future of the wicked, I sensed the slippery path they are on. Suddenly they shall be cast down to destruction. In a moment their happiness will end and they will face a destiny of terror.” Verse 23 is a turning point. The Psalmist says, “Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou hast held me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” And then come the words we have in mind: “My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
The entire Psalm hinges on the word “but.” The ungodly do seem to be prosperous. Those who love the Lord do suffer loss sometimes because of their honesty and integrity. But God! God is with us to guide us now and He is preparing a place of glory for us in the future (Psalm 73:24). So—why should we envy the wicked? His end is an eternity of terror. Our end is an eternity of glory.
Some years ago the atheist Bob Ingersoll was parading up and down the country pouring out blasphemy against the thought of God, and ridiculing those who believed in God. On one occasion he addressed a group gathered in a large hall. He stirred them to a high pitch, and then he took out his watch and challenged God to strike him dead before the next minute was up. (Of course, God didn’t strike him dead, and so he turned to his audience and said, “See, there is no God”). But near the close of his program, a little peasant woman (with a shawl about her head) addressed the speaker and said, “Sir, I cannot answer your arguments; your wisdom is beyond me; you are an educated man; I am merely a peasant woman. I’ve been a believer in Christ for many years; I’ve rejoiced in His salvation; I’ve enjoyed reading the Bible. Will you answer this question? ‘If, when I die, I come to learn that there is no God, and that Jesus is not the Son of God, and that the Bible is not true, and there is no salvation and no Heaven—Sir, what have I lost?'”
The room was still. The audience followed the woman’s thinking. The atheist was moved by her simplicity, and in a quiet tone, he said, “Madam, you won’t stand to lose a thing.” Then the peasant woman said, “If when it comes your time to die, you discover that the Bible is true, and that there is a God, and that Heaven and Hell are real—Sir, what do you stand to lose?” The logic was clear. The atheist did not answer.
The Psalmist struggled with the fact that the wicked seemed to be prosperous and happy. But when he thought seriously about the issue, he realized that the wicked were on a slippery path that leads to destruction. By way of contrast, those who served the Lord, were looking forward to being received into glory. Friends, it is my aim to stay on the Lord’s side. At times, my flesh and my heart fails, BUT GOD is the strength of my life.
2. God Calls a Covetous Man a Fool
Jesus speaks about the rich farmer who says, “And I will say to my soul . . . Thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall these things be?” (Luke 12:19-20).
The Bible has much to say about spiritual values, but the Lord also speaks about material things. There are dangers for us regarding material things, and one of the dangers to which Jesus refers is covetousness. Jesus says, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Covetousness is about the same as “greed.” It is an excessive appetite for wealth and earthly possessions. It is a feeling of always wanting more. Jesus illustrated the warning against materialism by telling about the rich farmer who planted more crops and built larger barns and then said. “I am going to eat, drink, and be merry.” BUT GOD said he was a foolish man.
The opposite of covetousness is contentment. Contentment does not come from having all our wants supplied; it comes from reducing our desires to include only the essentials of life. We read in 1 Timothy 6:8, “And having food and raiment, let us therewith be content.” The word “raiment” is plural in the original language of the New Testament, and refers to both clothing and shelter. Thus if we have food and clothing and shelter—enough to eat, and proper clothing, and a roof over our heads—we should be satisfied. But from the time we could crawl on our knees, we wanted a little red wagon, and then a tricycle with a bell, and then a host of other material things. Jesus says we should not lay up for ourselves treasures upon earth (Matthew 6:19), and yet for many persons in the Western world those words might as well not be in the Bible! At least, very few persons pay any attention to them. Certainly, as followers of Jesus, we must guard against gorging ourselves with trivial and unnecessary things.
It is, of course, proper to have a moderate desire for earthly goods. The Apostle Paul balances the matter of our attitudes toward material things, when he says in essence that “God has given us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). The Bible does not say that we should become ascetics and live in mud houses and rigorously deny ourselves of every good thing. But the Lord does expect us to avoid thinking that we must have more and more material possessions. All of us need to strive for a happy medium—trying to be thrifty without being miserly.
The writer in Proverbs 30 states the issue very eloquently: “Give me neither poverty nor riches . . . lest I be full, and deny thee . . . or lest I be poor, and steal . . .” (Proverbs 30:8-9). If one is poor, there will be a temptation to steal. If one is rich, there will be a tendency to think he can get along without God. It is best for us just to have the simple necessities of life—no more and no less. This seems to be “the golden mean” that will help each of us to avoid the dangers of prosperity, as well as the desperations of poverty.
The rich farmer (in the parable Jesus told), looked over his achievements and said, “I have an abundance of goods laid up for many years,” but God said to him, “You are a foolish man; this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall these things be?” As we plan for the days ahead, each of us must remember to take God into consideration—for He holds the keys to the door of death. He can snatch our lives away without a moment’s notice. Then whose shall these things be?
3. God Saved Us By His Mercy
We read in Ephesians 2 that in former times all of us followed the ways of the world, and we fulfilled “the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others; but God, who is rich in mercy . . . even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved)” (Ephesians 2:3-5).
The Scriptures frequently mention the spiritual riches available to God’s people. The Bible speaks of “the riches of his goodness” (Romans 2:4), and the “riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7), and the riches of “redemption through His blood.” In the early part of Ephesians 2, our spiritual poverty is described: We were dead in trespasses and sins; we were children of disobedience; we were living under the control of the devil. We followed the trends of society; we walked in the ways of Satan; we disobeyed the Lord; we were doomed for Hell—BUT GOD! God who is rich in mercy, loved us supremely and quickened us together with Christ!
I was blind, but God touched me.
I was lost, but God found me.
I was under wrath, but God loved me.
I walked in the ways of Satan, but God stopped me.
Without this intervention on the part of God, we would have no hope, and could face the future only with total despair. The two words, BUT GOD, make it possible for us to continue on, to move ahead, to face the future knowing that we have been reconciled with our Creator. I confess that the whole concept of an innocent Saviour suffering for a guilty sinner—staggers the imagination. But is not this what the Bible teaches?
Salvation is a marvelous gift from God, and we should often sing the words of the chorus: “Thank you Lord for saving my soul; thank you Lord for making me whole.”
4. God Knows Our Limit of Endurance
The words of 1 Corinthians 10:13 are helpful: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
We are sometimes inclined to believe that trials and hard places are peculiar to us, and that certain other Christians don’t know what it is like to be tested. But all of us have difficulties and dilemmas. For some, distress goes deeper than others. For some, trials come more suddenly and seem to last longer. Yet all of us have difficulties and trials and frustrations. However, there is a limit to human endurance. The Lord knows how much we can bear.
Sometimes we plead earnestly to God for deliverance, but immediate help does not seem to come. Conditions get worse; misunderstandings increase; friends don’t seem to understand. BUT GOD! God is faithful and compassionate, and will not let us be tried and assailed beyond our power to endure. He knows our boundaries of bewilderment. And what is more—He will even provide a way out! The Apostle Paul faced many difficulties as he traveled from place to place preaching the Gospel. He said to Timothy, “You have fully known (the) . . . persecutions and afflictions which came to me at Antioch, and Iconium, and Lystra . . . but out of them all the Lord delivered me” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Paul does not say he was kept from troubles, but he was delivered out of them. There will be a way of escape—not from difficulties so that we can dodge them, but out of trials so that we can bear them.
One day, long ago, in a print shop in London—a pair of little arms were stretched out (in his father’s print shop), while the boy’s dad piled up books for his small son to carry to the other end of the building. As the wee lad stood—his arms already well loaded—he waited for more books. An onlooker said to him, “Your arms are full; you can’t manage any more.” The little fellow looked up, and with a sparkle in his eye, he said, “Father knows how much I can carry.” And that is what the Scripture says about our heavenly Father. God knows the limits of our endurance. God is faithful and will not allow us to be tested above what we are able to bear.
5. God Was With Joseph in Egypt
Another “but God” phrase is found in Acts 7:9. “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt; but God was with him.” It seemed that everyone and everything was against Joseph. His own brothers hated him and wanted to take his life. He was sold to traveling merchants and taken down to Egypt. There, he was maligned and misrepresented by Potiphar’s wife, and cast into prison. Others had shown him envy and hatred and ingratitude and just plain meanness, yet Genesis 39:21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy.” And Stephen in the New Testament says that his brothers were moved with envy, and “sold Joseph into Egypt, BUT GOD was with him.”
Most of us would agree that one of the hardest of all crosses to bear, is the cross of being misunderstood and misinterpreted. Others try and judge our motives and sometimes accuse falsely. The disciples of Jesus misinterpreted the woman’s actions when she bathed Jesus’ feet with ointment and tears, and dried them with her hair. The Chaldeans misunderstood Daniel. They thought he was a fanatic who quibbled about eating the king’s food. The family misunderstood Joseph’s dreams. His brothers thought he was a “softie” (a favorite son). They changed their minds when they learned he was prime minister down in Egypt, and they needed grain in order to survive.
There are times when all of us are misunderstood and misinterpreted. But if our motives are pure, we simply have to remind ourselves from time to time that God understands. People gave Joseph a hard time—BUT GOD! God was with him! That little nugget of truth can change your life.
The words BUT GOD are two words which indeed make a difference. As we look back over life’s experiences, we can thank God for many unnumbered times when everything else failed—but God came to the rescue. Health failed—but God renewed our strength. Friends disappointed us, but God saw us through the disappointment. Loved ones passed away, but God poured in comfort. As we face the days ahead, and think about the path that may lie before us, we feel a sense of apprehension. The world political situation is shaky. The economy is not always healthy. Wickedness abounds on every hand. There is some uncertainty—but God is still behind the scenes—and He is in absolute control. “My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my life, and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).