Last week we covered what I called possibly the most memorized verse in the Bible. Today, we are going to be discussing something of a Christian cliche. Now this is something that we often here Christians say when we are speaking Christianese to each other. You know we kinda have this other language that we have developed in our Christian circles (I call it Christianese), and we have these little sayings or cliches that we use in certain circumstances.
The cliche we are going to address today is something that we often say to someone who is going through a really bad time. Maybe a friend is experiencing the pressure of financial difficulty. Or someone we know is battling with anxiety, or work stress, and they’re complaining that they aren’t coping.
Now what are we likely to say to our friend in this situation? Well I’m sure you’ve all seen and heard someone in that scenario put their arm around their friend, maybe you, and say in their most comforting and reassuring voice: “Remember, God won’t give us more than we can handle.”
They might also say something like, “God allowed this to happen to you because He knew you can handle it.”
And people who say this have good intentions. They’re trying to encourage and comfort their friend, and give them hope that somehow, they are going to get through this. They’re telling their friend that there is hope. That they shouldn’t give up, but rather keep their chin up and keep going.
But I wonder, how many people has this saying actually helped? And while the intentions are good, is it giving our anxious friend the right kind of hope?
Let’s take a closer look into this saying and find out what the Bible says about this, shall we?
Now the obvious question is, where is this found in the Bible? And the amazing thing is, most people who I ask say that they don’t actually know where it is found in the Bible, they’ve just heard it somewhere.
And folks, this is one of the most dangerous habits of Christians in this day and age: we get too much of our Christianity from Christian T-shirts, wallpapers, and coffee cups, and not from the Bible itself. We need to get our Christianity direct from the source – and God has given that to us in the Bible.
So where is this found in the Bible? The answer is… drum roll somebody….
Now I know some of you are saying, “Oh come on Nick. It must be there somewhere, otherwise people wouldn’t be saying it!“
Actually, where people are getting it is a misreading of a passage of Scripture. And that Scripture is 1 Corinthians 10:13
Let me read it to you: Paul says:
 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)
Now what is the first thing you notice about this verse? What is Paul saying that God will not allow to happen to us?
Is he saying that God will not allow hardship to overtake us? Is he saying that God will not allow us to experience hardship beyond our ability? Well, that’s what the cliche says, but is that what Paul is saying?
Paul is not talking about hardship at all, but about temptation. He is not saying that God won’t give us more hardship than we can handle, but that we won’t be tempted beyond our ability to resist that temptation, and that He will always provide a way of escaping temptation.
If we start looking at the context, we will start to gain a better understanding of what Paul is saying here. So let’s take a step backwards now and look at the context in which Paul is saying “God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond our ability.”
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THE CONTEXT OF THE AUDIENCE
Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. Now as you read the whole letter to the Corinthians you will start to get an understanding of their circumstances and why Paul is writing to them, what issues he is addressing in the letter, etc. All these things are important to know so that we understand Paul’s letter accurately.
Now Corinth was a large city in the Roman Empire, and it was a pretty messed up place. The people there were totally immersed in paganism and idolatry. They worshiped tons of different gods, and they would engage in all kinds of festivals and celebrations to honor their gods.
It is part of our South African culture to get together and have a braai and watch the rugby with our friends. In Corinthian culture, it was very much ingrained in their culture to get together with friends, drink alcohol to excess, eat food dedicated to their gods, and engage in some kind of sexually immoral acts as some kind of ritual to the gods.
When some of these Corinthians were saved by God and became Christians, God forgave them for their involvement in those things, and set them free from condemnation. He paid for it all on the cross.
Being saved and made new, these Christians no longer wanted to take part in these sinful activities – the idol worship of those false gods, the sexual parties, etc. BUT, they still wanted to be part of the city’s social life.
They felt that, because of their freedom in Jesus, they were free to take part in the social activities of their culture as long as they didn’t give in to the temptation to actually join in on the immoral activities
That would be the same as wanting to go to a massive party with all your friends at a nightclub where you know there is going to be a lot of alcohol being consumed, where things can often get out of hand, and much worse could potentially take place. As Christians, we don’t want to take part in any of the sinful actions and talk that goes on at some parties like that, but because those people are our friends and we still want to have a social life, we feel that it is OK for us to go to the party. We tell ourselves that Jesus has set us free from condemnation, and we will just resist the temptation to take part in the wrong stuff happening around us.
Now I’m not suggesting at all that it is always sinful or wrong to attend a party with your friends, but there are some dangers that we need to take into consideration when deciding if we should go to one of these parties – especially if you have in the past been a person who habitually got involved in some of the sinful things that can take place at parties.
In chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians, then, Paul writes to address our freedom in Christ.
THE CONTEXT OF THE SURROUNDING CHAPTERS
First, Paul give the Corinthian Christians a strong warning that their freedom in Christ is not a license to engage in activities that can cause others to sin.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:9
 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9, ESV)
In this case Paul was talking about eating foods that were dedicated to the false gods. Paul says it’s fine for the Christians to eat that food because they’ve been set free from the false gods by Jesus, and they know that the idols that the food has been dedicated to don’t exist.
However, Paul is saying it would not be wise to eat the food with or in the presence of other weaker Christians who are still being tempted by the sins of their past to take part in the sinful practices associated with eating that food. By doing so, you would become a stumbling block to your friend and tempt them back into sin.
Many Christians who have not had a history of alcohol abuse, still enjoy the odd alcoholic drink. They don’t drink to excess, and they feel they have freedom in Christ to enjoy the odd beer. However, if they are entertaining friends who are new Christians with a history of alcohol abuse, it would be very unwise to drink alcohol with them. You would be tempting them with their old habits, and become a stumbling block.
Then in Chapter 9, Paul talks about his own example. As an apostle and missionary, he had every right to be supported financially by the churches. But Paul didn’t exercise that right or ask for a salary from the churches he planted and served. Instead, he worked bi-vocationally as a tent maker to meet his own financial needs.
The reason Paul did that, was because he didn’t want to tempt the Christians into seeing Christian ministry as something you do for money. So in order to not be a stumbling block to them and tempt them with sin, Paul did not exercise his right to financial support, but earned his own money instead.
But the Christians in Corinth were not as humble as Paul. They thought that they could push the boundaries of their freedom in Christ and flirt with the sins of their past, because they felt they were mature enough and strong enough to resist the temptations to fall back into sin.
THE CONTEXT OF THE CHAPTER
Now let’s look at chapter 10, where Paul uses some Old Testament examples to show how Israel constantly fell into sin.
In verses 1-4, Paul reminds the Christians about Israel and the amazing experiences they had of God. They were rescued in style out of Egypt, literally walked through the Nile river, and were surrounded by the presence of God in a cloud as they walked in the desert.
And yet they still fell into temptation and worshiped idols. Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 commandments from God, and what was Israel doing? Making and worshiping a golden calf. And they were being led by their priest and worship leader, Aaron!
In verse 6, Paul says that these things happened as an example to us, so that we would learn the lesson and not repeat the same mistakes Israel made.
Then in verse 7-10, he warns the church in Corinth not to:
- be idol worshipers like Israel was
- engage in immorality like Israel did
- put Jesus to the test like they did
- grumble and complain like they did
Israel did these things, and they were punished severely by God for doing them. Again, Paul reminds us in verse 11 that these things were written down for our instruction, so that we would learn from them.
And then in verse 12 Paul warns:
 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12, ESV)
The warnings in chapter 10 are real clear and easy to understand. Israel had wonderful and amazing experiences of God. They witnessed powerful miracles and amazing works of God. If anyone was strong enough in their own strength to resist temptation and sin, it should have been them. And yet they fell time and time again into temptation and sinned, and were punished. And Paul then uses their example and says that we ought to learn the lesson from that. And the lesson is, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
If you think you can flirt with sin and that you are strong enough to resist temptation, you are most in danger of stumbling and falling.
And that is when we get to our verse, verse 13. And this is where Paul changes gears from warning to encouragement.
Paul says firstly that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” I promise you, you are not the first and you will definitely not be the last to experience times of intense temptation. It can be temptation to go back to the sins of your past, or to indulge in sinful things that your friends are doing because you want to be social and not seen as a stiff. Others before you have also experienced temptation. Look at how they overcame. Look especially at Jesus – the Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, and yet He never sinned. So the best place to look when you are struggling with temptation and feel weak, is to look to Jesus.
And then here’s Paul’s promise and to what will happen if we look to Jesus in our moments of temptation: “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 promise we can hold onto is that God is faithful, even when we are not. He will keep His promises to us, even when we fail to keep our promises to Him. And He will not allow the temptation that we experience in this world to be too intense and strong for us to cope with, if we are looking to Him and trusting in Him. Look at what Paul says there in verse 13: “God will provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Notice that Paul is not saying that God will give us a way to be able to flirt with temptation and then resist it. He is saying God will give us a way to escape. Friends, learn the lesson from Israel. Don’t flirt with temptation. Run from it. Run to Jesus in prayer, and He will free you from that temptation.
Upon closer examination, this verse is not actually saying that God won’t give us more hardship or more stress than we can handle. It is saying that God won’t allow us to be tempted more than we can handle, if we look to Jesus and run from temptation.
Jesus is the safe harbor to whom we can and must turn when we are struggling. Most people, when they are struggling with sin and backsliding, they run away from Jesus and hide their faces from Him. They stop praying and go quiet. That doesn’t solve anything, and it just makes us feel worse. Jesus set us free from the curse and condemnation of sin on the cross so that we can run to Him in times of need and find rest and peace.
But hold on a minute. I still think we need to address what is being said in this cliche: “God won’t give us more than we can handle”.
Now sure, we have seen that 1 Corinthians 10:13 isn’t talking about hardship and stress but about temptation. But, is it necessarily wrong to say that God won’t give us more than we can handle? I mean the intentions are good, and isn’t it actually true?
Well, let’s think about it. When we are telling someone who is stressed out and anxious that God won’t give them more than they can handle, what are we actually saying?
We are saying that they can handle it.
So to be plain, we are trying to encourage and comfort someone who is stressed out by telling them to “just handle it”. You’re strong buddy. You can do this. Stop stressing. Just handle it. God gave you the ability to handle this on your own. So just knuckle down and push through.
Is that really helpful? Does that help you right now if you’re stressed?
Is it even true?
I am declaring today that it is not true. God does give us more than we can handle at times. And I’m going to prove it to you by looking at an example from Scripture. Look at Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 6.
As a missionary taking the gospel to far away and hostile places, Paul and other Christians experienced terrible hardships. Just to mention a few, Paul says that he experienced:
- Hard labour
- Sleepless nights
Paul definitely experienced more hardship than any of us could handle. Now I can hear some of you thinking, “Yeah but Paul was strong, maybe he could handle it.”
But look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9, ESV)
- Paul was most definitely burdened and experienced hardship beyond his strength
- God allowed him to face hardship beyond his strength in order to make Paul not rely on himself, but on God.
You see folks, cliches like the one we are talking about today make us think we have to rely on ourselves and on our own strength. But in truth, God does give us much more than we can handle, and he allows us to experience hardships, and He does it for this reason: to make us rely not on ourselves, but on HIM.
God doesn’t want us to be self-sufficient Christans, who flirt with temptation and try to make it through this life’s trials and hardships on our own. God wants us to rely on God. God is sufficient, His grace is sufficient, and we need to learn from those who have gone before us to rely on God to carry us through life’s trials.
I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions or comments, or requests for passages of Scripture that you would like me to cover, please feel free to leave a comment below.
You can listen to the audio recording of this podcast or download it here.