Your loved one is lying there, helpless, struggling in pain. In the sterility of the hospital room, you sit by the bedside—praying, seeking God, wanting desperately to offer an encouragement of assurance or a glimmer of hope. As you agonizingly watch the face of your loved one, you suddenly notice the sluggishly opening eyes; and as they fall on you, you sense the inner urging to speak that word of comfort, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It is a loving word—a compassionate word—and it is spoken with the best of intentions. But sadly, the endurance of life’s trials are not quite that simple… and unfortunately, that’s not what the Scriptures say.
This often-cited modern proverb—though well-meaning and intended to strengthen one’s faith in a time of crisis—appears to be an abbreviated misquote of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says,
No way of testing has taken hold of you, except that which is human, and God—who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able—is faithful. And with the way of testing, He will also make the way out, for being able to bear it. (mjlt)
So despite the misperception, Paul’s exhortation here is actually not about enduring crises at all, but about persevering through testing and temptation.
Paul is teaching us about a “way of testing” that is “human”—part of our natural, in-the-flesh existence—and it is unavoidable. However, “God… is faithful,” and despite the fact that temptation is an ever-present part of life, God “will not allow [us] to be tempted above what [we] are able” to overcome. In His faithfulness, He makes a “way out” of our temptation, and makes us “able to bear it.”
This is the plain and true meaning of the passage.
So then, when we assert that “God won’t give you more than you can handle”—which puts all the onus of providing relief on God—we tend to ignore the true message of this passage, and fail to realize our own personal responsibility where temptation is concerned.
Again, Paul teaches us that God will not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to overcome, that He provides a way out, and that He gives us the ability to bear it. There is a vital message here that we must grasp—and not gloss over—if we are to live a life worthy of the Messiah: for every single temptation that comes our way, God’s faithfulness goes before us—protecting us, providing for us, and making a way for us to avoid giving in to that temptation to the point of sin. This means that for every single temptation that we entertain and ultimately give in to, we have willfully removed ourselves from God’s protection, eschewed his provision, and made our own way, leading ourselves into sin.
The encouragement of Paul’s words, then, are in this: you may be feeling overwhelming temptation; your thoughts may be consumed with the compulsion and obsession for the object of your desire… but regardless of how you feel or what you think, God “will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able—[He] is faithful”!
This means that whenever you give in to temptation, it’s not God’s fault—it’s yours. Regardless of what thoughts are filling your head, or how helpless you might feel in the moment to not give in, you actually have the ability to bear that temptation and find the way out, because God knows your limits! The Good News is that despite your unfaithfulness to God, you can still rest assured that He has remained faithful to you—God is actually keeping the unbearable temptation far from you. Your job, then, is to trust in God’s faithfulness, and choose not to sin.
As we navigate the twists and turns of life—especially when we are overwhelmed, under hardship, and in grave crisis—we must also not give in to the temptation to lose sight of (or lose trust in) God. Though we may be tempted to blame God and turn away from Him, that “way out” is still there. You are able—because He made you able—to overcome that temptation, too. Let us ready ourselves, then, for the unexpectedness of life by daily practicing putting all our trust in Him—the perfect, and perfectly faithful, God.
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