1 Corinthians 10:11-17
“I know it seems like you are at the end of your rope but don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I wonder how many times we have heard that one. Perhaps we have said this to someone as a comfort and it may in fact provide comfort and a measure of hope for someone going through some enormous trial. As part of our continuing sermon series based on Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths”, today we are exploring this half-truth: God won’t give you more than you can handle.
The problem with this half-truth comes from the biblical context of the scripture that was read for us from the book of 1 Corinthians. When we look at the issues facing this church, (and let me tell you the church in Corinth was messed up!) we find a different understanding of what the apostle Paul was referring to in his letter. First, we need to understand what was happening in Corinth around A.D. 51 to see that Paul was referring to temptation, not trials or hardships, when he provided these words of assurance to the church in Corinth.
Corinth was a large port city with multicultural influences. It was extremely diverse; hence numerous pagan gods were represented throughout the city. As part of the worshipping practices toward these pagan gods, sexual immorality and animal sacrifices were commonplace. Temples existed on every street corner. Temptation abounded without a doubt. When we sit down to a meal today, for those of us who are not vegetarian or vegan, meat is a staple at most meals. However in Paul’s time meat was quite a luxury. If folks purchased meat at the local market, chances are it was from an animal sacrificed in a pagan ritual. Paul’s message to the church facing these daily temptations was this half-truth: God won’t give you more than you can handle. Paul was specifically referring to temptation and God always providing a way for us to overcome and endure our temptations. Paul in fact was not referring to the trials and hardships of everyday life.
Just recently I went up to Pennsylvania to help my mother. I fixed breakfast for us that morning, and I therefore had full control of what we ate. At this time I am back on my restrictive diet that does not allow me to eat any starches. Remember I am the one preparing breakfast – I notice Mom had a can of Pillsbury biscuits in her fridge and of course I suggested we have some. My biggest weakness after chocolate is bread of any kind. I had a choice and in fact heard the nudging of God to not give in to this temptation but I chose not to listen. God provided me with a way out of my temptation yet God also allows us the freedom of choice. God isn’t the one to tempt us – we can pretty much handle that one on our own! If I had just left the biscuits in the refrigerator!!! James 1:3 puts it this way, “God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does God tempt anyone.”
Every week we recite the Lord’s Prayer and some may argue that the words of the Lord’s Prayer directly contradict this line of thinking. The phrase in question is, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” It would appear that God is tempting us. However, Hamilton suggests an emphasis on the term ‘lead us.’ We are asking God to lead us, not into the area of temptation where we are perfectly capable of leading ourselves, but to the right path that will keep us from evil. I have no problem leading myself into temptation – I do this all the time. What I need God’s help with is showing me the way that is always there to overcome temptation. I need God’s strength in my times of weakness. “The problem isn’t that God fails to provide a way out of temptation; it’s that when a way appears, we usually don’t pursue it” (Hamilton, p. 86.)
Some of you might recall a comedian named Flip Wilson. One of his famous sayings was, “the devil made me do it!” The apostle Paul provides us the reassurance that the devil cannot make you do anything. Resistance is not futile as God provides us with the strength and path to overcome our temptations. There is no doubt we will be tempted, for the evil one comes to destroy and to steal and to kill. But God provides us with light and life, strength and courage to overcome evil.
This half-truth completely misses the mark when we consider the hardships we encounter. When we tell people that God will not give them any more suffering than they can handle, this may provide some hope; yet there are many who would challenge this. Have we not felt at one time or another that we have just endured too much? I remember a breaking point I had reached when I was facing my fifth surgery to correct a detached retina. If I truly believed that God was giving me this physical ailment, I had had enough. The problem with the statement “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is that it credits God with all the suffering we endure every day. We talked about this when we discussed the first half-truth in this series, “Everything happens for a reason.” I believe in my heart that God does not cause the suffering and pain we face, but God does walk with us, providing comfort and strength often through the help of others.
I believe there are times when we cannot handle the hardships we have to face. That is when Christian community becomes so important. We need God and we need each other to share our burdens when they become too hard for us to bear alone. Psalm 23 states it this way, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.” God assures us that when we face the trials and difficulties of life that God will not abandon us or leave us without hope. God provides the way to overcome our trials through God’s unconditional grace and unending love for us.
In the face of the aftermath of the Orlando shootings this past week, many provided a message from Mr. Rogers of how his mother always told him that when tragedy strikes, look for the helpers. There are always those who step in and provide a measure of hope and comfort in the most trying times. It is my prayer that we will be the helpers, the glimmer of hope reflecting the love of God in all ways. The scripture from Colossians 3:12-14 seems to sum this up nicely:
“Therefore … clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
We need God, and we need each other.
This week we also celebrate Father’s Day. This celebration came to fruition as Ms. Sonora Smart-Dodd saw the incredible love and sacrifice from her own father who raised 5 children on his own after his wife died in childbirth delivering child number 5. Ms. Dodd witnessed first-hand God’s provision of help in times of trial and she wanted to honor her father for all he had done for her and her siblings in the midst of great difficulty. Father’s Day has become a day to not only honor our fathers, but all men who act as father figures. Stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, and adult male friends are all honored on Father’s day. I want to thank all the men here who have stepped into the role of father at one time or another. But my thanks goes beyond my appreciation for those serving as provider or mentor, caregiver or disciplinarian. I want to thank each of you who are serving as Christian role models for our children and young people. I thank each of you who recognize the importance of developing your spiritual health and choosing to live that out in your daily lives. I thank you for helping this church raise up the next generation of believers.
Our world is a bit scary right now. Yet history has taught us that only love can wipe out hate. We are to fight chaos with peace, need with assurance, and hatred with the love of Jesus Christ, who overcame all evil by his death and resurrection. The one who understands our suffering will never leave or forsake us, even in times of hardship and trial. God is with us, now and always. Amen.