More than you can handle

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(This post is part of a series. For an introduction to the topic read, “How ought we read the Bible?” To see all posts in this topic, go to “Does the Bible really say that?”)  

 

God won’t give you more than you can handle. Ever heard that? I’ll bet most of us have, and we’ve probably even said it.

Do you know who said it? Or where the reference is found?

The origin of this notion is 1 Corinthians 10:13, but I think many of us are guilty of misunderstanding this. Here’s the text:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

The topic here is temptation. Temptation is a specific thing. It does not comprise all of life. Don't get me wrong; temptation is real. See, Paul was writing to a 1st century church in the city of Corinth. They were messed up. He had just finished reprimanding them for everything from disturbing sexual practices to rampant idolatry. These people were morally bankrupt. They were human. Paul was letting them know that this was not unique to them. Everyone experiences temptation, but God provides everyone the means to endure.

Flash back to the gospels for a moment. Even Jesus was tempted. He was tempted when he was alone in the desert, and he was tempted alongside his friends in the garden. He was tempted with things that are common to all of us, and he endured.

This passage is not about suffering - it is about temptation. On second thought, this passage is actually less about temptation than it is about God. It doesn't really say that much about temptation. It just says that it exists, and we're not unique for experiencing it.

This tells us that God will be faithful and protect us in times of temptation.

But there three things it does not say:

Thing #1 ...  It does not say God will keep you from encountering difficulties Thing #2 ...  It does not say that temptation can ever be used as an excuse. Thing #3 ...  It does not say God wants you to go it alone

When someone close to us dies, that's not temptation - that's pain.

When we have struggles in our relationships, it's not temptation - it's the nature of relationships.

When we have stress or anxiety, it's not temptation - it's our body telling us something is out of balance.

None of these is temptation; these are difficult situations in life. This passage says God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to endure it. We can make it through. But God does not promise to keep us from being weighed down by difficult times. In fact, he promised that they would come! God never even said that we would never feel overwhelmed.

With the best of intentions, many people force this verse to say that God will make things easier. But that's not often our experience, and that's not what Paul had in mind here. Does that mean we are helpless? Hardly. God never said to go it alone. He never said "let go and let God." He did better than that. He gave us the tools to persevere. He gave us the Holy Spirit, He gave us His word, and he gave us each other. The body of Christ (fancy word for church) is to care for its own in service to God.

If you feel like you have been given more than you can handle, you probably were. That's because life is hard and we all need help. When you are overwhelmed, turn to the church. And be on the lookout for others who look overwhelmed and let them know that God has sent you to help them with the things that they can't handle. Be the church.

 

(Note: For more thoughts on the topic, check out "The Joy of Trials", by Anthony Weber)