Temptation: 1. The desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise. 2. Impulse or urge. 3. A trial that entices sin.
“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation because afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him”. (James 1:12)
I know. You are trying to be comforting. Someone has just received some more bad news: cancer, the death of a loved one, an injured child, loss of a job. Or they are facing another temptation to sin, or they have been given just one more burden to carry. So you tell them, “Don’t worry! God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I know. You are just trying to encourage that person. Give them hope and strength. Comfort them. Inspire them to keep going. I know. I say the same thing all the time. For 25 years I have been encouraging others with this verse of scripture, and even this week I have encouraged myself, that God wouldn’t give me more than I can cope with.
But it’s not truth! It’s a lie! Nowhere in the Bible did God say He wouldn’t give me more than I could handle! And here I am, going around quoting a Bible verse that doesn’t even exist! Fair enough, the motivation behind this phrase is loving and encouraging but it turns God into some sort of a evil cheerleading bystander who burdens us with a bunch of problems and then stands back to watch and see how well we will do carrying around our heavy burdens, all the while cheering us on saying: ‘Go on! You can do it!’
And God is not like that!
Instead, this “verse” is simply a popular phrase of comfort that has morphed from 1 Corinthians 10:13 that says: “Remember this: no temptation (no trial that entices sin), no matter how it comes or where it leads, has overtaken you. The wrong desires that come into your life aren’t anything new and different. The temptations that you have are the same temptations that all people have. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. But God is faithful to His Word and to His compassionate nature, and He can be trusted not to let you be tempted and tried beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it, for He has promised this and will do what He says. With temptation He will always provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful and able to endure it and bear up under it patiently.”
This verse isn’t about God not allowing more trials and suffering than I can bear, it’s about temptation! He won’t allow more temptation than I can handle.
And that’s encouraging. Because I’ve been tempted this week. Tempted to make bad decisions and unwise choices. Tempted to be an idiot. To make a fool of myself. To do something that I know is inherently wrong. Tempted to sin. And so I “encouraged” myself with this “scripture” that God wouldn’t give me more than I could handle. And I took pride in my ability that I was strong enough to endure the temptation that was thrown my direction. Unfortunately my pride-filled nature came crashing down around me when I was reminded that Paul also said “if you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
But, I told myself, “it’s okay! I can handle it. I’m strong. I won’t fall. I won’t be tempted. I won’t sin”. The problem is, this kind of thinking results in a self-centredness and belief that it’s up to me to handle my problems alone which leads to me becoming increasingly boastful of my own strengths and abilities. Thinking that I can handle temptation alone has the effect of turning my focus onto myself instead of onto God, where it ought to be. I then begin to use my own strength instead of looking to Him for strength. I become self-dependant instead of God-dependant. And once I’ve crossed that line, I unwittingly (and perhaps even unknowingly) stop thinking about, and relying on, God at all.
Sherry Hastings wrote this on her blog earlier this week, quoting from a book called “Sparkling Gems from the Greek” by Rick Renner and it explained so much to me about this issue of temptation.
The word ‘temptation’ in the Greek is ‘peirasmos’, which refers to any outside source that appeals to a weakness in your flesh. That appeal pulls you like a magnet; it lures you mentally, emotionally, and sensually; it fascinates the imagination; it entices the flesh to take a closer peek. If you don’t stop this process, it will set its hooks in your soul and haul you right snack dab into the middle of some kind of sin. There are many different types of temptations we might struggle with; from being lazy or easily offended; to thinking too lowly or too highly of yourself; to having a problem with anger or sexual temptation. Whatever your flesh responds to is what this word peirasmos refers to.
Temptation is a powerful force that pulls, provokes, lures, urges, draws and entices us into sin. Temptation itself is not sin, but it is the first step toward sin. The Bible tells me that “God tempts no one” (James 1:13). So if God isn’t tempting me, who, or what, is?
Firstly, temptation comes from the world in which I live. I am tempted to conform to the world. I am under pressure to be like everyone else in the world. But the world has a different mindset to mine. There is a different morality of the world than the morality of God. The world tells me “if it feels good, do it”. And sin usually feels good. If it didn’t, people wouldn’t sin. This is why Jesus taught us to pray “lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil”.
Temptation also comes from God’s enemy. Satan. Even Jesus was tempted by satan in the same ways that I am tempted. The difference is, He remained sinless. Okay, I admit, the appeal of the sin made me feel good – for a moment. And that’s all just part of satan’s plan. He wants temptation to momentarily satisfy the cravings, desires and thoughts of my sinful nature that I don’t even know exist. That’s why temptation is just the start. It is the invitation to sin.
This week I came to one of those forks in the road. The one where I had to decide whether to accept the invitation to sin or reject it and not allow entertainment of that sin in my mind. As I stood at this junction, I watched as two powerful forces met to play. God versus satan. And God won!
I thank God for the Holy Spirit at work in my life! He reminded me that if I think about or fantasize about committing that sin, I am well down the road to actual participation in that sin. I know the devastating, destructive and life changing consequences of sin so you would therefore assume that I had an easy choice to make. Honestly though, the decision to tear up the invitation did not happen the moment it arrived. I read over that invitation again and again and like a magnet I was pulled in as my imagination was fascinated and my flesh enticed and it took a conscious decision to focus on, crave and desire the presence of God in my life more than what was being offered.
As I grow to understand that life will give me more than I can handle and I will be tempted, it’s then that I remember God’s encouraging promise: He is faithful to meet me in my mess and in my pain. He can be trusted. As life tempts me I can find rest in the reality that God can and will handle it for me. He will provide me with a means of escape. He will supply me with a safe landing place. And He will ensure that the temptation I face doesn’t become so strong that I can’t stand up, with His strength, under it. Temptation will always be there, but by the grace of God, I can endure it because His promises are true and because His grace in offering me forgiveness provides me with another new opportunity to be faithful to Him and give Him all glory as I continue to seek Him and trust Him, day by day.
“Stay alert. Keep awake. Be cautious and watch and pray so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. Indeed the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
Do you know someone who would be encouraged by this post? Then I would love you to share it! If you like it, please “like” it or leave me a comment here or on Facebook. I cherish your words. Also, if you like what I have to say, you can sign up via email so that you never miss a post. Thanks for reading and “following” me as I journey day to day trusting God. It truly blesses me.