An Old Phrase or A Misinterpreted Truth

(By Diego Cuartas)

Recently someone asked me what my thoughts were concerning a common phrase we often use in our Christian circles. The phrase: “God will not give you more than what you can bear”. This is not exactly what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians more than 2,000 years ago, but the phrase is rooted in the first letter he wrote to them. Paul said: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (10:13, NAS).

If I were to go by human experience, I would have to emphatically say that God does allow me to experience realities that honestly go beyond myself. I have often found those realities unmanageable or out of my control for the most part. And so in that sense they are more than what I can bear or handle. So, this common phrase is one that deserves careful thought or it has the risk of having the same misunderstood popularity as the phrase “God helps those who help themselves”--if it hasn't already. My hope is that you would be inspired to do diligent study of the truth expressed through the Apostle Paul and arrive to more concise, biblical conclusions rather than be left to lean on a common phrase that may represent a misinterpreted truth. Can I give you another motivator? The truth Paul is expressing in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is one we need to apply to our lives as a sail is to a boat on a daily basis. It is a truth that can set the direction of your heart as you face testing or temptation.

First observation: the word used in the beginning of verse 13, peirasmos, denotes testing or temptation.  What Paul has in mind is not only temptation but different testing we experience in life. The testing or temptation is described as what is “common to man,” so in this sense it would not be appropriate to believe that what we may be facing is somehow the result of being singled out by God—others are experiencing similar testing or temptation.

Second observation: this truth is given to us in the context of a warning against testing Christ through our responses to testing or temptation. Through the example of how Israel, the people of God, tested him, we are warned about not doing the same thing. The warning is followed by an exhortation to examine ourselves regarding how we stand before our present difficulties. Paul desires for us to hold on to the fact that God will be faithful to help us in our time of need. Though testing and temptation are common to man, your experience or suffering in it is not generic, it requires specific grace only God can offer to you.

Third observation: there is an illustration elsewhere from Paul's life that shows that we are indeed tested or tempted, at times, beyond our abilities. In 2 Corinthians 1:8 Paul reported: “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.” Notice that Paul very clearly states that the pressures he and others were facing were “far beyond [their] ability to endure” and that experience led them to despair.

My conclusion, contrary to the old phrase or misinterpreted truth, is that this verse is not saying that you will only experience testing or temptation within your abilities to handle. Ready for the encouraging news? I believe what this verse is saying is that the reason you will not be tested or tempted beyond your abilities is because God promises to provide you with the way to escape or the grace to be able to bear patiently what you are facing. And somewhere in between, as John Calvin believed, God “sets limits to the temptation” (Calvin's Commentary on the Bible,  What is happening here is that the emphasis is on God's grace made available to you, not how much you are able to bear.

Friend, at times you will, like Paul, celebrate the fact that you have been rescued from difficult times or given the way out to escape as it was reported in 2 Timothy 3:10-11. At other times, like in the case of slaves who believed in Christ, the Apostle Peter would encourage them and commend them because they were bearing up “under the pain of unjust suffering because they [were] conscious of God” (1 Peter 2:19). The point is whether you are being rescued or given the help to endure, God will be faithful to you in your situation.

A few further truths/questions to meditate on...

You will be tested.(2 Timothy 3:12)
You will learn to decrease as you trust in God in the midst of tests and temptations. (2 Corinthians 1:9)
God will deliver, you can hope in Him. (2 Corinthians 1:10)
Sowing through prayer you and others will reap a harvest of thanksgiving. (2 Corinthians 1:11)

In what ways are you being stretch beyond your abilities?
How is God helping you escape testing/temptation in your life?
How is God helping you endure testing/temptation in your life?

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