When I first returned to the Church I found a reading schedule which allowed me to read through the Bible in one year. I had never read through the Bible so I decided to challenge myself to complete this task. While involved in this pursuit I would make notes of certain verses or thoughts I had while reading. When I read 1 Corinthians 10:13 I stopped, reread it two or three times, and was thoroughly astounded at how much it applied to me in my life at that precise time. I chose that particular verse of scripture to be my verse. I even carefully wrote it out on a piece of paper and taped it to the inside cover of a notebook I carried with me to work.
Over the years I have gone back to that verse on many occasions and allowed God to once again work within me. You see, we are all subject to temptations or testing. Satan tempts us continually to bow before him and to seek his way of living. God does not tempt us, but He will test us through trials in our lives. We can tell a temptation from a test by considering the end results. Temptation is always evil and from Satan. If we submit to these temptations, they will without doubt lead us down the road of destruction. However, God will allow us to be tested. These tests will always lead to a growth experience.
For example, let us say our spouse or a very dear friend dies suddenly; it does not matter if from disease or in an accident. The tragedy is the loss of that person dear to us. Often persons in such situations will question God’s motives or even blame God for the death. At this time, when we are the most vulnerable, Satan will do his evil best to tempt us to turn our backs upon God. Following the destruction of Job’s family and wealth his wife said, “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die.” Scripture tells of the pain and suffering of Job, but let us remember these were also the children of his wife, and the fortune lost was her livelihood too. So, she had reason to be angry with God, to want to blame someone for these great losses. The temptation is to blame God, ignore Him, and live our lives destructively. However, if we look at this same circumstance from God’s viewpoint, it is a perfect time for Him to test our faithfulness. Are we willing to accept this tragedy as part of the living process, glorify God because we were able to share time in our life with that person, and then continue on with our faith in a loving, omniscient God? How did Job respond to his wife’s outburst? “You speak as a foolish woman speaks, should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” Job’s wife was being tempted by Satan and sought the path of destruction; Job was being tested by God and experienced growth from his ordeal. God will use trials and temptations to test our faithfulness.
Let us now take this particular verse apart and examine it. First Paul tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity.” Since we are human we will be subjected to constant temptations. Therefore, neither of us should feel as if the temptations we are subjected to are any different than those of our neighbors, friends, or even our pastors. Being Christian does not remove us from temptations. Just because we have accepted Jesus into our lives in no way insures us against the vices of temptation. We may assume that since we partake of the LORD’s Supper, somehow we become immune to the evils of temptation, selfishness, and fleshly desires. Jesus was God’s Son and even He was tempted; so we should not be disheartened when we face temptation. Here Paul is calling us to reflect soberly upon our baptism and participation in the LORD’s Supper and not to develop a false sense of security. The temptations are there; the consequence is how we react to them.
Now here is some good news. “God is faithful.” Well, there is nothing really earth-shattering about that. We know God is faithful. Listen to the rest of this phrase, “…and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” We may find ourselves elbow deep in temptations and shake our heads in bewilderment, wondering how we are going to get out. One noteworthy feature of this phrase, as well as the other parts of this, is that the “you” used is a plural form in the original Greek. In this sense Paul is telling us the experience of the temptations and our efforts at handling it are never presumed to be borne by an individual alone. His assumption is that any temptations are never experienced in isolation. After all what did he say just prior to this? “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity.” From this we are to assume we will not be tempted beyond what we are able to bear together. This is only one of the benefits of being a member of the body of Christ. We are never alone. When a temptation arises, we can be sure someone else has also experienced it and several have overcome it. We must depend upon each other to help work through the temptations of the world. However, our tendency is to privatize these experiences, to try to keep them to ourselves and handle them in our own way.
Jesus said, “Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.” With Jesus among us, how can we continue to pursue these temptations? Satan is a deceiver, and will tell us there is nothing wrong with the temptations he places before us. God is truth, and instructs us through His Son, if we pray together the temptations will be removed. Humankind is filled with falsities, as is the world which surrounds us; but God is faithful, our strength and security must be placed in Him alone. God will keep His covenant and will never disappoint the hope and trust of us, His children.
“…but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it.” God is wise, as well as faithful, and will proportion our burdens to our strength. He knows what we are able to bear. He knows our threshold of surrender and in His almighty wisdom will either proportion our temptations to our strength or increase our strength to be more able to bear up under the weight of the temptations. If we will place our trust in God’s power and remain resolute in our faith to Him, then He will “provide a way of escape”. Theologian Matthew Henry said it like this, “There is no valley so dark but He can find a way through it, no affliction so grievous but He can prevent, or remove, or enable us to support it, and in the end overrule it to our advantage.”
These statements about turning from temptations are easy to make, but do we truly believe them? If we need more proof, then let’s go back to the first four verses of this chapter. “Now I want you to know…our fathers were all under the cloud, passed through the sea, and…baptized into Moses…They all ate the same spiritual food...the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.” Paul was reminding the Corinthians of the exodus of God’s people Israel from slavery in Egypt. God was faithful and provided deliverance for Israel; He will also provide deliverance from our temptations and trials. Israel was indeed in dire straits and suffering excruciating trials at the hands of the Egyptians, yet God provided them “a way of escape”.
With every test, our faithful, dependable God will make sure it is something we can collectively handle, or He will provide us an exodus, just as He did Israel. Just a word of watchfulness concerning how we may perceive our exodus. In the wonders of retelling it, the exodus story has become an all-glorious event, much as the shame and distress of the Cross have given way to a jeweled object of beauty. However the biblical narratives show the persons experiencing the exodus, found it problematic in the extreme when they were undergoing it. This is made evident by Paul’s reflection of their grumbling in the wilderness, “Nor should we complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyers.”
We may not always agree with the way God provides our way of escape. It is only fair to suggest that most exoduses are not wholeheartedly accepted when they are happening and most exoduses are recognized as deliverances only in retrospect. So the promise of “a way of escape” may in fact be perceived as very troublesome at the time it is happening. It is up to us to recognize this and allow ourselves to submit to the ways of God. Every worship service we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” are we really serious about that “deliver us” part?
We should consider it a great joy when we experience temptations and trials, because we realize these will test our faith and produce endurance. David the psalmist said, “Search me, God and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” Only through trials by fire will we really know how well we can withstand the temptations of this world and at the same time remain faithful to our God.
This season of Lent is a time for penitence and prayer, we are prompted to think both of the temptations which plague each of us and of the confident hope from God which strengthens us and enables us to stand firm. In one sense this particular scripture is a warning; but before it ends it becomes a solid reassurance, inviting us to penitence and a trust in God who is faithful. Even if we are unfaithful, God is not.
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT…AMEN.