by Roger McCay
5 January 2020
Sermon Passage: 1 Corinthians 10:9-14
Link to Audio Version
You have heard it said, “God will not give you more than you can handle.”
A dear woman I had the privilege to know for a few years, who was a member of the chapel I was pastoring at the time, once asked me a question. She had been suffering from illness for many years—decades, even. She had survived cancer, but she had so many different problems plaguing her that she lived a life of misery. She was a constant prayer request in chapel, for she was often in the hospital. Indeed, her suffering was so constant that it was just a regular aspect of our congregation. Her walker, as she trudged along with great labor, and the breathing machine, that had become a part of her, these were disturbing to many along with her hunched form and her pitiful state. Often, she would grab my arm or the arm of another chaplain, desperate for prayer concerning the terrible pain, the physical and mental suffering she was enduring. And we would pray with her right there. And then she would go home. Yet, her cancer returned on top of all the other ills she endured. And it was too much. So, one day, as we sat together in her home, she asked me, while weeping, “Why do I suffer so much? What did I ever do to deserve this? What did I do?” She had completely broken—worn down to where she had no internal strength whatsoever, and her misery defies words.
What a horrible sin it would have been to lie to this broken woman, and tell her, “Don’t worry, God will not give you more than you can handle.”
I’ve heard this statement, this false hope, repeated in various forums and locations from Christians with all sorts of backgrounds. It has become so engrained as a staple of conventional wisdom, that people actually believe that it is a Bible verse; or that, at least, the Bible teaches it.
However, it is not a Bible verse. It is a dangerous, terrible saying—a distortion of the true promise of the Scriptures. It is a lie. Its focus is all wrong. And among its many problematic assumptions, it tells us that we must rely on our own strength to get us through. This plays into our sinful tendency towards prideful self-reliance. For there is a tendency to rely on our own strength, not only in times of trouble, but also, when it comes to living in obedience of faith, as we follow Christ. Yet, this prideful, pull ourselves up by our bootstrap approach sets us up for a terrible fall.
The passage generally considered to be the one that has been so evilly twisted is 1 Cor. 10:13. Here it again:
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.
Taking a single verse out of context has led to many a heresy. So, we must consider the context of the statement. The context is that the passage occurs in the midst of Paul’s harangue against those in the Corinthian church who would wilfully eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. He goes on about this issue staring in ch. 8 all the way through ch. 11 v. 1. The problem was that these people had so much confidence in their own knowledge and sufficiency, in their being part of the church, and in their partaking of the sacraments, that they confidently flirted with idolatry expecting all to be just fine. After all, they had partaken of the spiritual blessings of Christ,so why would they fear of the power of idols?
Therefore, Paul removes this delusion from them in no uncertain terms, warning them that they risked God’s wrath in their hubris. Paul’s statement in v. 12 warns against the self-sufficient arrogance of the Corinthians, stating:
12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Paul’s point is that it is foolish to knowingly and deliberately flirt with idolatry or engage in sin. Such hubris, arrogance before God, risks destruction as the consequence of sin.
Now, the problem for the Corinthians was that if they heeded Paul’s warning, hence, refusing to eat of the meat sacrificed to idols, great difficulties would likely fall upon them in the idolatrous society of Corinth. Without going into all the details, it is safe to say that avoiding any overt association with idols would invite hostility, possible financial loss, social ostracism, and even hatred from friends, neighbors, and family. This put tremendous pressure upon them, and it made the temptation to flirt with idolatry and its trappings all that more difficult.