Inevitably, it has happen to each of us. Something difficult occurs; a close friend or relative dies, we lose our job, our spouse or girl friend leaves us. It is dramatic, it is real and if you are around Christian friends, they will reach out trying to encourage with words of wisdom.
It’s a comment that’s effect meant to be a word of encouragement. The road gets rough, and sure enough someone steps in with good intentions and says, “Remember, God promised he would never give us more than we can handle.” But somehow that doesn’t always lighten the load. In fact, it is fair to question if it’s even true, and secondly, where it’s found.
The apostle Paul had a lot of difficult times. As a pioneer missionary who often traveled into hotel territory, he spoke readily about his sufferings for Christ. Paul used some pretty hefty words in 2 Corinthians 6 to describe the seriousness of this suffering: afflictions, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonment, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, sorrow, mistreatment, having nothing, and so on…
4 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. 7 We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. 8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. – 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 NLT
Was it more than he could handle? Listen to what Paul says at the beginning of this very small letter:
8 We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NLT
Ah, so this is why God allowed Paul to be “burdened beyond his strength.” The Lord was teaching Paul not to rely upon his own strength but rather to rely upon the strength but rather to rely upon the strength that comes from God – the same strength and power God exerted when he raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19:20)
Have you ever been put into a situation that you could not handle on your own? Where you had to turn to your only one, true, higher power?
So the popular notion that “God will never give us more than we can handle” is in reality a blatant falsehood – a lie. He will give us more than we can handle, and thus for the express purpose of bringing us to the end or ourselves so that we realize our very life, breath, and sustaining power comes only from God all the time. Jesus clearly said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)
So where does this well-intentioned idea come from anyway? My suspicion is that it is a spin-off of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians:
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. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV
If you look closer at the text, it has a specific nuance that is worthy of note. Paul is not talking about the general circumstances and hardships of life. He is talking specifically about temptation.
The setting is that Paul is warning the Corinthian Christians about the dangers of being arrogant and overly confident in their ability to resist temptation. Before they came to faith in Christ many of the Corinthians worshipped idols. They attended popular feasts and festivals that were celebrated in the temples of pagan gods. They ate and drank to excess, and participated in all the revelry and immorality that was a part of Corinth’s social world.
Now that they were Christians, they no longer worshiped idols, but they apparently still wanted to be a part of the city’s social life. So they began to rationalize. They felt that as long as they had the proper perspective on idols, the idols were in fact meaningless. They could give themselves the absolute freedom to participate in these social activities so long as they didn’t succumb to temptation.
I too had a time after I came to Christ where I went to bars all the time with the idea that I will share the gospel and be the answer to so many hurting souls. But this, however, was like playing with fire, and Paul knew it as well. 1 Corinthians 8-10 was his answer to their “freedom in Christ.” as well as ours.
Paul first delivered a stern warning that even through they did indeed have freedom in Christ, they must be very careful with it and not use it as a license that could somehow cause someone else to fall into sin. It would not be a good idea to exercise that freedom in front of other Christians who were not strong enough to rests temptation. That would be extremely unloving and selfish, and therefore Paul wanted them to be willing to limit their freedom for the sake of the “weaker brethren.”
Then he uses his own life as an example of self-limitation for the sake of others. Paul often renounced his own rights and freedoms for the sake of others. Paul often renounced his own rights and freedoms for the sake of the gospel. For example, even though he had every right as an apostle to receive financial support from the church (1 Corinthians 9:14), he nevertheless forsook that right and worded bi-vocationally as a tentmaker just to avoid the criticism of some of the Corinthians who may have felt that he was only preaching for money.
Have you had a situation where you had to be self-limiting so not to cause a scene with others?
So Paul limited his freedom and the exercise of his own rights in order to prevent his ministry form being misunderstood and criticized (and there were other reasons as well), and he did this all to win more people to Christ. Anyone who has been a missionary or has gone on short-term missions trips knows that there are times when you may have to limit your own freedoms for the sake of winning over the hearts of your intended audience who have many cultural restrictions and convictions of their own. That’s what Paul did.
But the Corinthians were not like Paul. They were a little puffed up and not so careful. They were willing to push their freedom to extremes and flirt with disaster because they thought they were “mature” enough to resist the temptation to fall back into their old ways.
After using some Old Testament illustrations about how Israel constantly fell into temptation, Paul warns the Corinthians about having overconfidence in their own ability to resist it, and tells them they should “take heed lest [they] fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
But then Paul turns the corner and talks about temptation in general. He goes from a warning to a word of encouragement and insight. And this is where our verse comes in. He begins by talking about the normal human experience and commonality of temptations that everyone endures from time to time. In other words, we all face it, without exception. No one should ever say, “Well, my temptation is different, and no one else has ever been tempted quite like this.” One writer has correctly point out: “Circumstances differ but basic temptations do not”A
Temptation is a universal experience. And as a side note, please know that it is not wrong to be tempted, but it is wrong to give in to it. But Paul gives us some good news. We don’t have to give in to temptation, because God will always supply a way out of it. Again, Paul says:
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. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV
So here is where God will not allow you to have more than you can handle. It is with respect to temptation. Paul pictures God looking into your situation and sympathizing with it, extending a hand to help get you out (see also Hebrews 4:!5). Therefore, no one should ever say that they had no choice but to sin because the temptation was too great and there was no way to escape it.
God knows a person’s limits with regard to temptation, and he will not allow any temptation to supersede a person’s ability to resist it. He will provide the spiritual resources necessary for us to sufficiently endure it. Furthermore, when we are tempted, we should also be looking for the God-ordained way out of it. When the smoke of temptation is thick and the fire is raging, we should be looking for the clearly marked exit signs that lead us to the fresh air and safety.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jeuss is our aid in this situation:
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:18 ESV
In other words, we have an advocate and a helper in Jesus Christ, who opens the door of escape for us. Taking cues from Jesus’ own temptations in the wilderness, our best weapon against temptation is none other than the Word of God itself – or as Paul calls it, “The sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). Each time Satan went after Jesus and attacked him head-on, Jesus remembered and recited a verse and with that weapon resisted the onslaught and sharp arrow of the Adversary.
This is why it is so important to memorize Scripture. The “ability to endure” has everything to do with how well our souls have been shaped and fortified by the Word of God. It should reside deep within us. It has been the experience of many Christians (including myself) that the spirit of God has a way of bringing Scripture to mind at just the right moment whenever temptations arrives on the scene. What a gift of God! It is a source of power that enables us to stand firm (along with prayer – Mark 14:38)
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38 ESV
Do you have some verses that you have memorized or paraphrased to assist you in difficult times?
What Paul is saying then is good news for us. This is the area where God will not allow us to be broadsided with more than we can handle – temptation. But when it comes to life’s hardships and difficulties, we should be prepared to receive more than we can handle so that we learn to rely on God and not ourselves. Either way, whether it is in great trials or in moments of great temptation, looking to and leaning on God is the answer. He is faithful.
The lesson this week is from the book: “The Most Misused verses in the Bible” by Eric J. Bargerhuff
- A Allen P. Ross, “Proverbs” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.
- Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.