Recently I saw a Facebook post pointing to an article. It caught my attention, and having never read that blog before I was curious as to what this post said. I decided to comment on the link, but needed a bit more space to treat this adequately - it’s an intriguing topic to me. But first, let me do a quick recap of the article:
Basically, the author thought the idea that “God will never give you more than you can handle,” was biblical and true - this reassured her, it sounded right. However, this isn’t exactly what the Bible says… she is adapting 1 Corinthians 10:13:
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. (ESV)
The focus then moves to two ideas - temptation and ability. She says that “Temptation is very different from the vast, exhaustive list in life of anything that could happen to us. God doesn’t say He won’t give us what we can’t handle. He says we won’t be tempted beyond our ability.” On ability, we are told that an exit is paired with ever temptation, and our ability is related to our maturity in Christ.
She concludes by saying that we will be given things we can not handle - she shares stories about losing children as well as the Biblical examples of Job as well as the sufferings of Paul.
I think there are some good things and bad things in this article, and the discussion surrounding it. Mainly, I want to speak to four of these - the context, defining temptation, the idea of beyond your ability, and the way of escape.
(1) The Context: This particular verse comes in a much larger chunk of scripture talking about eating meat sacrificed to idols. A lot of the Christians in Corinth came from a pagan background that was marked by sacrificing animals to idols. Therefore, those temples served as both restaurants and meat factories to make a profit from the dead carcasses. City culture revolved around these temples, then, so the Christians don’t really know what to do with them. The idols aren’t really gods, just carved pieces of wood - so can they eat the meat - or because of the symbolism should they avoid it? Paul gives some clarification. In Ch 8 he says not to eat in the temples, because a weaker Christian might see this and fall into worshiping in the temple because he saw you there and misunderstood what you were doing. Second, he shows himself of doing this in forfeiting his rights for the sanctification of others (ch 9). Finally, in ch 10 Paul warns them not to be idolaters, but if they unknowingly buy meat that was sacrificed to an idol, it’s cool to eat it unless it hinders the mission of the church (ch 10-11:1).
We also have to note that this verse is in one part of this argument talking about the example of the Exodus generation who received all the blessings of God, yet still fell to idolatry. He says twice to not be idolaters (10:7, 10:14). And he warns them, take heed because it’s when you think you are standing that you are most likely to fall. Then we get this famous verse 13. This is followed by a grand conclusion in 10:19-22
"What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (1 Corinthians 10:19-22 ESV)
So, the specific temptation that Paul has in mind is eating meat sacrificed to idols,but let’s look at this idea of temptation a little more.
(2) Temptation: I like this simple definition: “Temptation is that which moves us to sin.” From this, there are three relevant things that can be said about temptation:
First, Temptation can be part of a “test” like in Job’s case, or it can simply be the mundane aspects of life. If temptation is that which moves us to sin, specific testing can do that, but also a traffic jam, a woman writing a check in the express line, or running out of milk after you pour your cereal. These things all present the opportunity to sin. Furthermore, good things can be temptation. My education, friends, family, and possessions are really good things, but at times I have desired them more than God, which is idolatry and the root of all sin.
Second, you’re not exceptional. I know we like to say pithy stuff like “I’m a snowflake - there’s no one like me” but 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that you’re not an exception; “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” Therefore, all sin is common, you’re not in a unique situation where your temptation is somehow different. Practically, this means that God’s rules are not situational… I’m speculating here, but I’m sure there were some well-meaning Corinthians who were feasting in the pagan temples because their situation was different and they thought it wasn’t sin for them. But this is clearly not the case, all temptation is common to man.
Third, Christ has been tempted in every way as we have, but without sin. I’m pulling this from Hebrews 4:15, and the benefit of this is that we have a high priest who can sympathize with us. So, not only is your situation common to man, it is also common to Christ.
With those three points being foundational, we can move on to the two big issues here: not being tempted beyond what your ability and having provided a way of escape.
(3) Beyond your ability: Here’s where I hear this verse most often misinterpreted. It’s almost like God is in Heaven planning out each person’s day and he has John walking to Starbucks to get his morning coffee, but Susan is in line in front of him. Then the Son peeks over God’s shoulder to look at His day-planner and say “woah woah woah, this isn’t going to work. You know that Susan’s beautiful and John struggles with lust. We have to have Susan stop to buy a newspaper or something so she’s not in front of John, this is beyond John’s ability.” So God relents, and changes the plans for their days so that John will be protected from that temptation.
I don’t believe this is quite right, though. Sure, God does supernaturally ordain our days and interactions, but perhaps this is not meant by “beyond your ability.” If I was never tempted beyond my ability, then I would never sin, right? If I took a math test where no questions were beyond my skill and intelligence, I’d get them all correct. So what does this “beyond your ability” mean. I think there are two essential words implied, “In Christ.” Romans 6 says we are either a slave to righteousness or a slave to sin. Bob Dylan says “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” I think what Paul is really getting at here is that we will never have a temptation come along that we absolutely must give in to - we will never be salves to sin if we are in Christ. Look what my dawg John Calvin says regarding this:
“He exhorts them, however, to look to the Lord, because a temptation, however slight it may be, will straightway overcome us, and all will be over with us, if we rely upon our own strength. He speaks of the Lord, as faithful, not merely as being true to his promises, but as though he had said: The Lord is the sure guardian of his people, under whose protection you are safe, for he never leaves his people destitute. Accordingly, when he has received you under his protection, you have no cause to fear, provided you depend entirely upon him.”
In the next paragraph, Calvin does say that Paul also has in mind limiting temptation that comes. So, in a sense, that wrong interpretation is half right… In God’s sovereign rule, He has the power and authority to limit temptation. However, this doesn’t mean more than we can handle on our own or else we would never sin. He will never let us drown under the weight of temptation, but as Americans we want this verse to mean that we will never feel the sting of water in our lungs.
One more mess to clean up before I move on. As a culture who loves to quote scriptures such as “God helps those who help themselves,” “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” and “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” we often quote 1 Corinthians 10:13 as “God will never give us more than we can handle.” This was what the blog post that inspired this blog post was about. In all actuality, God is being merciful to us in giving us more than we can handle on our own. By doing this, He shows us our need for Him, that we are small failures and He is perfect and strong. How awful would it be to have an easy life where you never saw a need for God, then wake up in hell one day? This is the curse of Romans 1 - I would much rather have a hard life that showed me my need for God, leading to an eternity with Him through Christ’s sacrifice.
Now that that tangent’s over, let’s finish up this verse… “But with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
(4) The way of escape: Which Bible personality illustrates this point in every sermon? Joseph with Potiphar’s wife when he runs away naked. And then the preacher says that whenever we feel we are trapped by sin, there is always a way of escape. Like with the idea of “beyond our ability” this is true, but I don’t believe it’s the whole truth.
First, the truth is that there is a way out. For the Corinthians, there would never be a situation in which they were forced to sin by eating the sacrificed meat. They could always go hungry or hit Taco Bell down the street. The same is true for us, we will never be put in a catch-22 where their only option is sin. There is always a righteous path to take. With each temptation, He will also provide the way of escape.
What we don’t like is that this path of escape is never the path of least resistance. This path involves Joseph streaking, the Corinthians going hungry, Paul being beaten and imprisoned, and all the disciples dying a martyr’s death. It’s not a simple blue or red pill choice; the path of righteousness is difficult and the path of sin is easy - but the difficulty is worth it.
Now here’s where I think we get it wrong, and that comes with the word “endure.” Fleeing like Joseph is not enduring (As a side not, scripture says to fight temptation but always says to flee sexual temptation. I’m not sure what the significance of this is exactly, but it’s interesting). So, if we are enduring we are not escaping, which makes me think that perhaps this way out is not something we find but something Christ has already provided. Christ has to be our refuge when we are tempted; only He is the way of escape. Apart from him we are salves to the temptation and slaves to sin. He is our way out.
Both people who read my blog probably see this as a “duh” statement, I do as well, but we so often forget it. If we look for purely human ways of escape, we miss the point of this verse; Christ has to be our escape. When we try to run away from a sin in our own strength another sin will capture us on our course. But the question still remains of how is Christ our escape? First, I think it has to do with a reminder that God is now our master. When we flee to Christ, He reminds us that we are bought with a price and no longer our own. This makes us see sin for what it is, deliberate disobedience to our creator, redeemer, sustainer, and master. Second, it has to do with our affections. When you look at the beauty of Christ and His gospel, sin begins to lose it’s appeal. Naturally, your affections turn to Him rather than the sin. Third, through the indwelling Spirit Christ actually gives us strength. When we feel we have nothing left to fight with, Christ fights for us. This is the provided way of escape.
(Conclusion) So what does this mean for us? While doing some research on this topic I noticed a couple responses in my life. First, it inspired me to step up my game in fighting sin - as John Owen said “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” The simple reminder of Christ’s dominion of sin is inspiration to fight. Second, I began looking for the paths of escape. Personally, I fall on the side of the spectrum that focuses so much on the sovereignty of God that I forget about the responsibility of man. Looking at my responsibility made me examine the options to avoid sin in my own life. Third, I was drawn to Christ, my high priest, in mourning over my sins. I hope this post gives you similar reactions and many more. If you disagree with what I said, have other comments, or are bored, lets get some comments rolling. I never get comments on my blog.
[Sources: ESV Study Bible, Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Cor, Articles on Desiring God]