The God of the Adversative

June 11, 2020 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

 If you have heard my preaching for any length of time at Oak Hills, you have heard me “gush” over the adversative conjunction “but” at some point. You probably think me a little weird for my grammatical excitement (you may even be right), but permit me to gush some more. 

Let me explain why I find the adversative conjunction so exciting. This little, three-lettered word pits two opposite realities against each other. They are like two alternatives to experience, or two paths to travel. In Scripture, when these two paths are laid out with the adversative conjunction in between, the first path is utterly bleak. In fact, if that path was the only option, we would have no hope; we would be lost. 

Let’s look at some examples.

In John 16:33, Jesus flatly tells his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” That, by itself, is discouraging. 

In Romans 3:20, Paul says, “By works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight.” That, by itself, leaves us devastated. No one can be accepted before God without righteousness. 

In Acts 13:29, we hear repeated the greatest sadness of all. Jesus, the Son of God and the only one who lived a perfect left was crucified and “they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.” That is the reality the disciples endured for two days. Jesus was dead. 

In Ephesians 2:1, Paul says, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” As I once said in a sermon I preached over 20 years ago, “Dead is dead is dead.” You cannot get much bleaker than that. 

Perhaps, in the last few weeks and months, you have felt we are facing bleak and impossible situations. If the current events were the whole story, we would have no hope. This is where the adversative conjunction comes in. It tells us that there is an alternative story line, a different path to follow, a source of true hope in the midst of darkness. 

Consider the adversative conjunctions to the examples above:

Facing certain tribulation in the world, Jesus commands us, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” He doesn’t promise to remove tribulation, but he assures us that tribulation and the world will never overtake us. We are secure in him. 

When we are bankrupt before God because we have no righteousness of our own and we are dead in sin, we are reminded of God’s gracious work for us. Romans 3:21 says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” in Jesus Christ. And Ephesians 2:4 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ.” We were dead, and could do nothing about it, but God rescues us and makes us alive. 

The death of Jesus was not the end of the story, as we know. “But God raised him from the dead” (Acts 13:30). Imagine the joy of his disciples when they first saw him and touched him! 

There are so many grammatical constructions in Scripture using the adversative conjunction like these examples. I believe it highlights the gracious and powerful character of God. He delights to interrupt bleak situations and bring about the impossible. We need that now, don’t we? In Scripture, these adversative conjunctions always lead to God. He is the only source of hope. When you look at your bleak situations, where does your adversative conjunction lead you?



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