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)
Life is tough. There is stress from studies and exams, as well as delicate relationships and conflicts that can leave us feeling misunderstood and alone, the list goes on… and all these on top of a worldwide pandemic that we still have no solution for! Sometimes, it feels like more than we can bear.
A verse that is often used to encourage us in times of stress is 1 Corinthians 10:13. The first part of it 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…” This is often interpreted to mean that the trials that we go through are not unique to us, and God will never give us more than we can handle!
In the past, whenever I faced a difficult and stressful period in my life, I sought comfort in this verse. Believing that God would not give me more than I could handle, I would tell myself that I just needed to grit my teeth and go through it. So, I would tell myself, even if you are going through a difficult time, it can’t be THAT bad. You should be able to handle it. Don’t give up.
But sometimes, things wouldn’t get better for a long time. Doubt would creep in. Am I weak? Why is it so difficult? Does God really know what I can bear? Didn’t He promise…? Why am I going through this?
There are at least three problems with this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13. First, if God only gives us what we can bear on our own, then we won’t need God. If all we experience in life is manageable by human strength and wisdom, then we could go through life without needing to turn to God for help.
Second, our lived experience tells us that God does give us more than we can bear! The interpretation that God does not give us more
than we can bear offers merely a contrived sense of comfort to people going through deep personal grief or extreme challenges in life.
IF GOD ONLY GIVES US WHAT WE CAN BEAR, THEN WE WON’T NEED GOD.
Last, but not least, the Bible affirms our lived experience as it gives us multiple examples of people given more than they could bear. Joseph was a victim of human trafficking by his own brothers and faced many difficult trials because of that (Gen 37–40). Daniel was maligned and abandoned to a den of ravenous lions (Dan 6). Job lost all his possessions and his children, and was struck with loathsome sores all over his body (Job 1–2). Surely these are more than any human being could bear!
The misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 10:13 arises from the belief that the word for temptation can also mean trial or testing. This belief is, in fact, true. The same Greek word peirasmos that is translated as “temptation” in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is often translated as “trial” in Galatians 4:14, as Paul speaks of his bodily ailment being a trial. In the context of his letter to the Galatians, Paul is clearly using the Greek word to refer to a trial or testing — a challenging and difficult situation.
But just because the Greek word for “temptation” could also mean trial or testing doesn’t mean that it must always mean trial or testing. We need to look at the context to determine what exactly is meant in the verse. First Corinthians is Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth to address the problems that they were struggling with, including divisions in the church (1:10–17), moral issues (5:1–6:20), and problems with how they were conducting the Lord’s supper (11:17–34). And, here in chapter 10, Paul starts with the negative example of Israel in the wilderness to warn the Corinthian Christians not to be like them — don’t “desire evil” (v. 6), don’t be “idolaters” (v. 7), don’t “indulge in sexual immorality” (v. 8), and don’t “put Christ to the test” (v. 9) or “grumble” (v. 10).
This leads to Paul telling the Corinthians in verse 12 not to be complacent: If you think you are standing, be careful that you don’t fall! It is in this context that verse 13 then begins with “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” This verse gives the reason why the Corinthians should not be complacent — it is because the temptation that they faced was a common one!
But what is this common temptation? It is the temptation to sin. Or, as Paul has explained, the temptation to desire evil, to worship idols, to indulge in sexual immorality, to put Christ to the test, and to grumble.
Reading verse 13 in context, we see that “temptation” here refers not to trials or testing, but to temptations to sin. Paul is telling the Corinthians that they too face the same temptations that the Israelites faced in the wilderness.
Then what is the promise in the verse? It is not about being able to bear the suffering that we experience. Rather, the promise is that our faithful God gives us the ability to resist temptation. This is reiterated in the next part of the verse, that “with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Also, 1 Corinthians 10:14 only makes sense if we interpret verse 13 correctly. Since Paul is warning the Corinthians about the temptation to sin, it makes sense for him to conclude with a call to action: “Therefore … flee from idolatry.” If instead he has been assuring them that God would not give them trials that are more than they can bear, why would he then ask the Corinthians to flee from idolatry?
RATHER, THE PROMISE IS THAT OUR FAITHFUL GOD GIVES US THE ABILITY TO RESIST TEMPTATION.
For those of us who are going through challenging times, there are many other verses in the Bible that remind us that God is with us despite overwhelming circumstances, and that we can endure suffering with God’s help. First Corinthians 10:13 is not one of them. We need to recognise that God sometimes gives us more than we can bear, but with Christ, we can overcome. If you are going through a challenging time, perhaps the psalms would be a good starting place to find comfort. In them, we may find solace in the desperate cries for help, the raw reflections, and the trust that the psalmists express in God (e.g. Ps 13; 46).
However, 1 Corinthians 10:13 does speak to those of us who are facing temptation — which is, well, all of us. Have you ever said or heard someone else say, “I’m just an angry person — I can’t help it,” or, “The reason she is so proud is because of her upbringing — we cannot blame her”? Or perhaps, “The temptation I face is just too strong — you won’t understand”? This verse tells us that there is no excuse to sin, because God gives us the ability and His help to resist temptation.
In other words, 1 Corinthians 10:13 is not an unrealistic encouragement for difficult times, but an assurance that comes with a piercing challenge: God has given you the ability to resist temptation, so exercise it with His help and don’t succumb!