‘But God . . . ’
Howard A. Barnes, Bromborough, Merseyside
There are over twenty occasions in the New Testament where statements about the thoughts, actions and condition of men are immediately contrasted with those of God, in expressions beginning "Bur God . . ."; (interestingly nearly half of these are found in 1 Corinthians). These statements have a lot to teach us about the nature of the divine mind in relation to our own, and they help us to appreciate God's purposes in a clearer way, so that we can adjust our lives accordingly.
In Luke chapter 16 the Lord Jesus comments on the apparent success of the Pharisees in convincing people of the Tightness of their lives, even though they were covetous; "But God", said He, "knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God", v. 15. Not only does God look on the human heart, He also condemns it outright even though some men have managed to convince their fellows otherwise. Often, however, we are unable to convince each other that we are righteous or good, and so are unable to attract even human self-sacrifice, "But God commendeth (i.e. demonstrates) his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us", Rom. 5. 8. This is indeed a wonderful definition of love, for "Herein is love, not that we loved God, But that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins", 1 John 4. 10. The sinful life we were living rendered us spiritually dead, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us", Eph. 2. 4, 5.
Divine knowledge brought the truth to light about our sinful condition and its consequences, and divine love brought in an eternal salvation to deal with these! This salvation was unobtainable by human effort, "But God gave it to Abraham by promise", Gal. 3.18, and in the same way we too received it.
The person who is saved enjoys a new life, and can say with the apostle Paul, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, But Christ liveth in me", Gal. 2. 20. Divine power has entered his life and changes many things that otherwise men thought impossible. This power is the same as that at work at the resurrection, for when "they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre", men thought that they had seen the last of the Lord Jesus, "But God raised him from the dead: and he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem", Acts 13. 29-31. That same power was at work for Epaphroditus, who "was sick nigh unto death: Bui Gon had mercy on him" and he recovered completely, Phil. 2, 27.
Human wisdom has ordained that the mighty and the noble should attract attention and be associated with the best ideas, "But God" on the other hand "hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty", 1 Cor. 1. 27, so "that no flesh should glory in his presence", v. 29. In the spiritual realm, not only is man's judgment of things different from God's, it is entirely wrong, and thus man deserves nothing in the way of credit. Similarly, the natural man's appreciation of the plan of God is non-existent, for "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit", 2. 9-10. Divine revelation gives the believer an otherwise unobtainable description of many of the things prepared for us in heaven, but even then "the half was not told me"!
The believer's privilege is to work for and with God, and in this context many different forms of service are undertaken; for instance, a Paul might plant while an Apollos might water, "But God gave the increase", 1 Cor. 3. 6. What a salutary lesson for an assembly that had largely lined itself up under the various names of those whom they thought to be the best expression of their own particular slant or interest. The real situation was that "neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; But God that giveth the increase", v. 7 is the true object of appreciation.
Not only did the Corinthians and their like attach too much significance to men, they also paid undue attention to their diet, forgetting that although some said "meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: Bur God shall destroy both it and them", 6. 13.
In terms of the regulation of marriage, many might suggest that the apostle Paul was merely proffering a personal opinion; however he puts the matter straight when he says "unto the married I command, yet not I, Bur the Lord, Let not the wife depart (separate) from her husband", 7. 10. This and the other elements of teaching on the subject are binding upon us just as much today, for they are the commandments of the Lord. In this context, that is marriage stability in a mixed marriage (entered into before conversion),we are reminded that God would have there to be peace between the partners by the unbelieving one being saved, as shown in the expression "But God hath called us to (or in) peace", v. 15. While considering the subject of marriage relationships, we must never forget that God places it in a very honourable position, and will judge any violation of it by those who hold it lightly in contradiction to His standard, as Hebrews 13. 4 clearly states: "Marriage is honourable in (to) all, and the bed undefiled: But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge".
The problems encountered by the believer are manifold, and he will soon come to the conclusion that he is not immune from any kind of problem at all, for "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man". He might therefore feel despondent, "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", 1 Cor. 10. 13. So although we suffer all kinds of trial, each one comes accompanied by its appropriate way of escape.
The ideas of the Corinthians relative to the church and the resurrection body were deficient. In the first case the apostle Paul pointed out that they treated various parts of their bodies as something special compared with others, "But God" (in relation to the assembly, that which has the characteristics of the body of Christ) "hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked", 12. 24. How different is our appreciation of a fellow-saint to that of God's appreciation of him or her. Then in the context of the resurrection body, their speculation was idle, for they failed to grasp
the truth summed up in the express ion, "But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him", 15. 38, and not according to their ideas.
The apostle Paul knew that the saints at Philippi had given sacrificially in their gift to him; "Bur my God shall supply all your need", Phil. 4.19, was the reassurance that he was able to give them, because God is no man's debtor, and anyone giving to the servant of God can be certain of a divine supply of any subsequent need of his or her own.
In the world we live in, we know that "all men have not faith", and are therefore liable to act in an unreasonable way towards us, "But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from evil", 2 Thess. 3. 3. God's faithfulness towers over man's unfaithfulness, however dark the day may be.
To finish our study, we may remind ourselves of the words of Peter. After warning of the ceaseless activity of our adversary the devil, by way of complete contrast he states, "But the God of all grace . . . make you perfect, stab-lish, strengthen, settle you", 1 Pet. 5. 10. Set over against the enemy's attack intended to shake our faith is the work of God which can not only counteract this effect, but can take us further along the path of maturity.
Our study has shown that the thoughts and activities of God are in complete contrast to those of the natural and carnal man, demonstrating once again the truth of God's word when He said, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways", Isa. 55. 8. However, let us seek to know more of "His blessed ways", and seek by His power to adjust our thoughts and actions so that we might be "followers (Hi. imitators) of God", Eph. 5. 1.