10:13 This well-known verse has provided great encouragement to Christians faced by temptations. At the same time, Paul’s words contain an implicit rebuke. If God keeps us from temptations greater than we can withstand, we cannot plead our temptations as an excuse for sinning. Sin is never a necessity for a believer.
10:13 Temptation Scripture depicts God testing the faith of His followers (Gen 22:1) or allowing other heavenly beings to tempt people (Job 1:6–12).
what is common to humanity The temptation facing the Corinthians is unexceptional—Paul encourages them to resist. Compare Heb 4:15 and note.
10:13 will not let you be tempted beyond your ability … will also provide the way of escape. Even when Christians face morally confusing situations, they should never think that they have no options other than sinful ones. There will always be a morally right solution that does not require disobedience to any of God’s moral laws.
10:13 Paul provides the Corinthians with a word of comfort. The various temptations they were experiencing were normal; all believers throughout the ages have had to resist temptation. God is so good that He will not let believers experience anything for which He has not prepared them. He will give every believer the grace and power to endure. Furthermore, endurance will bring its own reward (9:24–27).
10:13 But then Paul adds a marvelous word of encouragement for those who are tempted. He teaches that the testings, trials, and temptations which face us are common to all. However, God is faithful, who will not allow us to be tested beyond what we are able. He does not promise to deliver us from temptation or testing, but He does promise to limit its intensity. He further promises to provide the way of escape, that we may be able to bear it. Reading this verse, one cannot help but be struck by the tremendous comfort it has afforded to tested saints of God through the centuries. Young believers have clung to it as to a life-line and older believers have reposed on it as upon a pillow. Perhaps some of Paul’s readers were being fiercely tempted at the time to go into idolatry. Paul would comfort them with the thought that God would not allow any unbearable temptation to come their way. At the same time they should be warned that they should not expose themselves to temptation.
10:13. After kicking out the props of false security, Paul pointed toward the One on whom the Corinthians could rely. The temptations that seized the Corinthians were like those people had always faced. They could be met and endured by depending on God, who is faithful. Part of the Corinthian problem, of course, was that some in the face of temptation were not looking for a way out by endurance, but a way in for indulgence.
10:13. The warning to be careful not to fall raised another issue that Paul addressed. What if Christians are so tempted that they cannot resist turning from Christ? Perhaps he had in mind the attraction some Corinthians had toward the idolatrous fertility rituals practiced in Corinth. What if they were not able to resist?
First, all temptations that Christians experience, including that of idolatry, are common to man. Others had resisted the temptation toward idolatry, and the Corinthians could do so as well.
Second, God is faithful, and he will not desert his people (see Deut. 7:9; 1 Thess. 5:24; Heb. 10:23; Rev. 1:5). God can be trusted not to allow temptations beyond what Christians can bear. God will always provide a way out of temptation so believers can stand up and not fall into apostasy. He himself tempts no one (Jas. 1:13), but he is in control of Satan, who tempts believers to sin (Matt. 4:1; 6:13). Because of his great love for his children, God does not allow temptations to be so great that they overcome us. Instead, Christians sin because they do not search for a way out.
10:13 “temptation” This word is used three times in this verse and means to tempt with a view toward destruction (see Special Topic at 3:13). There are three sources of temptation in the NT: (1) fallen human sin nature; (2) personal evil (Satan and the demonic); and (3) the fallen world system (cf. Eph. 2:1–3; James 4:1, 4, 7).
|“but such as is common to man”
|“except such as is common to man”
|“that is not common to everyone”
|“the kind that normally comes to people”
|“none … is more than a human being can stand”
Other humans have faced the same temptation as the Corinthian believers. Jesus also has experienced all temptation which is common to human beings (cf. Heb. 4:15).
© “God is faithful” This is such a crucial descriptive statement! Biblical faith rests on the character of God. Our hope is in His gracious character, sure promises, and redemptive acts.
This aspect of God’s character is first stated in Deut. 7:9, which is an amplification of Deut. 5:9–10. God’s justice moves through time to three and four generations, but His lovingkindness (covenant loyal love, hesed) to a thousand generations. This same affirmation is continued in Isa. 49:7.
This is a major theme in the Corinthian letters (cf. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18), as well as 1 Thess. 5:24 and 2 Thess. 3:3. Believers are to faith God’s faithfulness, to trust God’s trustworthiness. This is the essence of biblical faith!
|“but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it”
|“but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it”
|“but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it”
|“at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out”
|“with any trial will also produce a way out by enabling you to put up with it”
This Greek word was used of a way of escape for a trapped military unit. Believers do not face temptations alone!
The problem in this text is how one relates “provide the way out” with “be able to endure it.” Do some get a way out and others bear it or is God’s way out really a means of enduring? Does the testing stop or do believers work through the testing by faith? Although this ambiguity cannot be settled, the good news is that God is with us in the problems (cf. Ps. 23:4). God will not leave us or forsake us. The exact mechanism of victory is not clearly revealed, but the victory is!
13. No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to everyone. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear; however, with the temptation he also will provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.
- “No temptation has overtaken you.” What an encouragement to every believer! What a relief to know that God has set limits! Paul is taking time out from his argument, so to speak, to reassure his discouraged readers with a pastoral word. As a corollary to his directive to stand firm and not to fall (v. 12), he encourages them to view their life realistically. In truth, Paul addresses every person who has come to grips with the daily problems of life.
As is true of all languages, Greek has words that have several meanings. The expression temptation is one of them, for it can also denote “trial.” In his epistle James says, “God does not tempt anyone” (1:13). True, yet Jesus teaches his disciples the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). He leaves the origin of temptation an open question; a succinct distinction is that temptations are from Satan but trials are from God.
Does Paul intend to say “temptation” or “trial” in verse 13? Perhaps he wishes to convey both meanings. To illustrate, Satan appears before God in heaven, and God allows him to tempt Job, to put his faith on trial. But God uses Satan to demonstrate that Job is able to endure his trials, for in the end Job’s faith triumphs (Job 1, 2, and 42).
- “No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to everyone.” The main verb in this sentence is in the perfect tense and connotes a lasting condition. It also conveys that tempting or testing takes possession of people. The degree and extent of any temptation is limited by what is common to everyone. By contrast, at both the beginning and the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus withstood Satan’s temptations beyond what is common to everyone. The hellish agony which Jesus withstood in Gethsemane and at Calvary no ordinary human would ever be able to endure. No believer will have to be subjected to the same experiences.
We ought not to ask to which temptations the Corinthians were subjected. Paul gives no details but only speaks a general word of encouragement that is valid for all Christians.
- “But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear.” God’s faithfulness to his people is perfect, even though man’s faithfulness to him is imperfect. Scripture proves that not God but man is a covenant breaker. Biblical writers extol the divine attribute of God’s faithfulness that reaches to the sky. With variations, the theme God is faithful is a recurring refrain in Paul’s epistles and elsewhere in Scripture.
How does God demonstrate his faithfulness to believers? God promises that he will not permit anyone to be tempted beyond the point of human endurance. Even if believers knowingly place themselves in circumstances where temptations are rampant and inevitable, God demonstrates his faithfulness by coming to their rescue. Take Lot as an example. He took up residence in Sodom and had to put up with “the dirty lives of evil people,” yet God helped him and rescued him from sudden destruction (2 Peter 2:7, NCV).33 In brief, as a faithful shepherd rescues his wandering sheep, so God watches his people and delivers them from predicaments which they encounter. Paul implies that God sets the limits for man’s temptation in accordance with what he can bear.
- “However, with the temptation he also will provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.” The adversative however is influenced and strengthened by the word also. God sets limits to human temptations and he himself comes to help his people during their trials. He encourages believers to persist and eventually overcome. He becomes personally involved in the trial by opening a way of escape for those who are tempted and tried. In the Greek, Paul writes the definite article the in the phrase the way of escape. That is, for every trial God prepares a way out. A period of temptation and testing may be compared with a ship approaching a rocky shore and facing inevitable shipwreck. But, “suddenly and, to the inexperienced landsman, unexpectedly, [it] slips through a gap on the inhospitable coast into security and peace.”35
The purpose for the way of escape is “that you may endure [the temptation].” The main verb which Paul uses conveys the meaning to bear up under the temptation. Believers’ endurance prevents them from falling and makes them stand firm in the faith. God’s abiding faithfulness sees his people through their trials and causes them to triumph.
Ver. 13. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.—
The limits of human experience:—
- A great many believe that there never were such people as themselves. 1. Nobody ever did what they have done, or came through what they have come through. There never were such children as theirs; nor such toils, nor even such headaches and worries as theirs. All this comes of a morbid self-conceit. 2. But there is a particular manifestation of this tendency which deserves our heartiest sympathy. There are those who fancy there never were such sinners as they are: that you may just leave them alone, as past all redemption; and there are others who have found some little measure of hope and peace in Christ, but who seem likely to be desponding pilgrims to the end. They will have it that there never were believers so weak as they are, and never such temptations and perils as those which they must pass through. It was to such as these that St. Paul wrote.
- We may understand the text as reaching to all that makes the common lot of human-kind. We fancy, when painful trials come, that things so painful were never felt before. But our text reminds us that there is a limit, within which all human experience lies. Human ability and human endurance have their tether, and cannot range very far. Here is a lesson of humility for the self-conceited; let them remember that thousands more have been at least as good. Here is comfort for those bowed down under the sense of sinfulness; thousands are now in heaven who have sinned as deeply as they. Here is encouragement for the tempted: thousands have by God’s grace been led safely through. So you see that the text may be useful as a medicine for two opposite spiritual diseases, presumption and despair. But it is to the comforting view of the text that I would direct your thoughts. It speaks—1. To those under deep conviction of sin. If you wish to persuade a sick man to send for the physician, the first thing you must do is to convince him that he is sick. So the Holy Spirit begins His saving work by showing the careless soul how sick it is. Now there is something very startling in this. It is something quite strange. For the natural thing is, to think that we are not very great sinners. Then the soul is sometimes ready to run from presumption to the other extreme of despair. In that sad time, what unspeakable comfort to know that other men have felt the like! 2. To those under the pressure of temptation. Now there is comfort under any trouble in the bare thought that others have known the like; but the special comfort of the text is, that if no temptation is likely to assail us, except that through which souls as weak as we have by God’s grace passed safely into glory—then that we too may hope, by the same blessed aid, to fight our way through. That which man has done, man may do. The great adversary, and the ensnaring world, fairly vanquished in a hundred battles, may well be vanquished again. But if you are an insincere and half-hearted Christian, seeking to just reach heaven at last after having held by the world here, you need never think to cloak your own proneness to go astray under the pretext that temptation overpowered you. Never think, as some hypocritically do, to cast wholly upon Satan the sin into which they went quite readily themselves. 3. Those under great sorrow and bereavement. The mother who has lost her child is consoled when another, who has passed through the like trial, does but come and sit by her, and say no word but that she has felt the same. Surely there is something consoling amid our earthly sorrows, in the bare remembrance that our Saviour understands them, because He has felt them all! But the text suggests comfort more substantial than this, viz., that others who have known such sorrow as we feel, have been enabled by God’s grace to bear it, and profit by it; and surely there is something in that thought which should enable us to bow the more submissively to our Heavenly Father’s will. It is not alone that the mourner travels through this vale of tears; apostles and prophets are of the company; saints and martyrs go with him; and the sorrowful face of the Great Redeemer, though sorrowful now no more, remains for ever with the old look of brotherly sympathy to His servants’ eyes and hearts. Nothing hath come to us, nothing will come to us, but has been shared by better men. (A. K. H. Boyd, D.D.)
Very peculiar circumstances:—“Ah,” said one to me, “you do not know the peculiar circumstances in which I am placed.” “I ask your pardon,” I replied, “I thought I had spoken of peculiar circumstances.” “Yes, but mine are very peculiar circumstances.” “But is Christ not a mighty Saviour?” “Yes, but mine are very, very peculiar circumstances.” “Will you look away from me now, and speak to God in heaven thus: ‘God, I thank Thee for Jesus Christ. I thank Thee Thou hast looked down on my lost, hell-deserving state, and that He died to save me. I want to live a holy life to Thy glory. But my circumstances are so very, very peculiar that I cannot think Jesus Christ is quite able to keep me in them. I am very sorry for Jesus Christ, and I wish He were a little stronger?’ ” “But,” she exclaimed, “would not that be blasphemy?” “Not more than your saying that in your very, very peculiar circumstances He cannot keep you. Let us try another way. Address yourself to God thus: ‘I go out to my very, very peculiar circumstances, believing that there is for me a very, very peculiar Saviour, able to keep me every day in my very, very peculiar trial. I go believing He will help me if I trust Him, and go trusting Him.’ ” “Is that all I have to do?” “Yes, that is all. Go on trusting, moment by moment, and He will keep you, however peculiar the circumstances, moment by moment, to the end.” (H. W. Webb-Peploe, M.A.)
- None of our temptations exceed our powers of endurance. 1. We shall never be placed where to sin will be inevitable. God will so adjust our surroundings that we shall always be able to do what is right. Even when our difficulties arise from what we unexpectedly find in the Church, we shall not find them invincibly obstructive. 2. There is great ground of encouragement in this. We are apt to suppose that our difficulties are unique, and some have sought to improve their position by entering on some more favourable line of life. But the apostle says, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” And this is the highest and most practical wisdom. For every sphere of life has its peculiar temptations, and while we know something of those that meet us where we are, we know nothing of those that may meet us elsewhere, and they might be more perilous to us. But to one trying manfully to make the most of his lot my text comes with very potent help. All things seem to be against you. It was quite otherwise when you never tried to serve God. Still there is nothing in what you have to bear which may not be manfully borne. Christ has not come to save us by taking us out of the world, but to save us by a grace that brings salvation. Wherever you are, therefore, from that very point you may advance to sure, complete, and final conquest. Look at your sources of encouragement as well as your trials. And be sure if any man can be a Christian you are that man. There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear.
- With every temptation God will also make a way of escape that we may be able to bear it. 1. This is but an application of the general law that Christ’s grace is sufficient for us. God is here said to make the temptation as well as the way of escape. He knows precisely the strength we need, because He has prepared the occasion on which we shall be called to use it. He never breaks the bruised reed, nor quenches the smoking flax. 2. But how is it He makes a way of escape? He does not withdraw the temptation any more than He took away Paul’s thorn. This would be to defeat the very purpose for which He has sent it, viz., to develop by exercise the strength we possess, and train it into greater maturity. If the temptation were removed we should only be confirmed in our feebleness. We escape it by not only avoiding the sin to which it leads, but by using it as a stepping-stone to farther attainment. 3. This way of escape must be sought for, or it may not be found. It reveals itself to the eye that waits only upon God. In our very praying we shall enter into it, and by our very prayer we shall pass through it into larger liberty and strength.
III. God is faithful. Therefore He not only controls the strength of temptation, but will also enable us to sustain it. Should you be disposed to doubt this, remember His faithfulness. He cannot be true to His purpose of grace, and yet allow us to be overcome by the sheer weight and pressure of evil. This would also place Him in contradiction to Himself, which cannot be. His actions are never at variance with His nature, though sometimes they may seem to us to be so. He has pledged Himself by the gift of His Son to leave nothing undone to give it the victory. Let us, therefore, be of good courage. His presence is the guarantee of victory. (C. Moinet.)
Temptation:—Many think that their temptations are—
- Singular. But they are common.
- Intolerable. But they are proportioned.
III. Invincible. But there is a way of escape.
God the helper of the tempted:—A sentinel posted on the walls, when he discerns a hostile party advancing, does not attempt to make head against them himself, but informs his commanding officer of the enemy’s approach, and leaves him to take the proper measures against the foe. So the Christian does not attempt to fight temptation in his own strength: his watchfulness lies in observing its approach, and in telling God of it by prayer. (W. Mason.)
Able to bear the pressure of temptation:—Professor Wyville Thomson remarks that the fact that a shark “can bear without inconvenience the pressure of half a ton on the square inch is a sufficient proof that the pressure is applied under circumstances which prevent its affecting it to its prejudice; and there seems to be no reason why it should not tolerate equally well a pressure of one or two tons. At all events, it is a fact that the animals of all the invertebrate classes which abound at a depth of 2,000 fathoms do bear that extreme pressure, and that they do not seem to be affected by it in any way.” We turn from the kingdom of nature to the kingdom of grace, and we say to every child of God in the depths of doubts and distresses, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.”
- What is temptation? Generally an incentive, enticement, or provocation to sin. But there are other things called temptations which are not so in their own nature, but only as they become, through the corruption of our hearts, the occasions of sin, viz., afflictions, and the self-denying duties of the Christian life. God tempted Abraham, to try him whether he would be obedient or not. Afflictions are called temptations because they stir up impatience and provoke unbelief and apostasy. “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.” Strictly speaking He can tempt no man. He never provokes us to sin. But He does try and prove us, whether we will keep His commandments or not.
- Whence come temptations? From what has been said it is evident that they come—1. Permissively, from God. But permission does not imply approval. God looks on, and suffers creatures to work out their own purposes: that is all. 2. Externally and instrumentally, from Satan, the world, or providential circumstances. 3. Internally, and by way of assistance they derive their force from our own corruptions, and liability to be overcome. Our natures are like dry fuel, ready to kindle at the least spark. It is a happy thing that, while God permits temptation, He also governs and controls it, holding Satan himself in check.
III. Why does God permit temptation? 1. To prove and develop character. 2. To show His own power and wisdom in bringing good out of evil. 3. To strengthen the graces of sanctification in His people. (1) By giving scope and exercise to those graces. What would become of them if they were not called out into action? (2) By necessitating nearness to God and perpetual dependence upon Christ.
- How does God limit temptation? 1. By controlling the power and malice of the tempter. 2. By adopting, moderating, alleviating providential circumstances, so as to suit the measure of our strength. 3. By raising our own strength in proportion to the temptation. “As thy day is, so shall thy strength be.”
- What security have we that God will so limit temptation? This: “God is faithful.” 1. Therefore He will not break His word. This is the subject of express promise; and God is not a man that He should lie. 2. Therefore He will not falsify the assurances which He has given of His tender regard for the weakest of His people. They are His jewels. Will He suffer them to be trampled under foot? They are the sheep of His pasture. Will He, the Great Shepherd, permit the ravager to make havoc in the fold? They are His children. Will He abandon them to the rage of an implacable foe?
- What are our duties in reference to temptation? 1. Beware of rushing headlong into danger. The Word of God gives no sanction to foolhardiness. Why should Peter, in the plenitude of his vainglorious zeal, thrust himself into the high priest’s palace, and dare the jealous scrutiny of a thousand eyes, as though it were impossible for him to faint in the hour of trial? 2. Be armed against timidity and discouragement. If God allows you to fall into circumstances of temptation, be not dismayed. What servant of Christ was ever conducted to heaven without being often confronted by the enemy? 3. Resist to the uttermost. (D. Katterns.)
- There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man. Our translators were not satisfied with this rendering, so they gave “moderate” in the margin, which is further still from the meaning of the original, which signifies “such as is suited to man’s nature and circumstances, and what every man may reasonably expect.” Consider—1. Your body. How many are the evils to which it is liable! Now considering that all pain implies temptation, how numberless must the temptations be which beset every man while he dwells in the body! 2. The present state of the soul. How weak is the understanding! How liable are the wisest to form false judgments! 3. The situation of even those who fear God. They dwell amidst the ruins of a disordered world, among men that know not God, with sin remaining if not reigning, and exposed to the assaults of evil spirits. “The servant is not above his Master”; and if Christ was tempted can we expect exemption?
- God is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able. “He knoweth whereof we are made; He remembereth that we are but dust,” and His justice could not punish us for not resisting a temptation disproportionate to our strength. Not only His mercy but His faithfulness is pledged, for the whole tenor of His promises is “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Our great Physician observes every symptom of our distress that it may not rise above our strength.
III. He will with the temptation make a way to escape, i.e., a way out. 1. By removing the occasion of it. “I was walking,” says one, “over Dover cliffs with the lady I was to marry in a few days, when her foot slipped, and I saw her dashed in pieces on the beach. I cried, ‘This evil admits of no remedy. I must now go mourning all my days. It is impossible I should ever find another so fitted for me in every way.’ I added in an agony, ‘This is just such an affliction as God Himself cannot redress!’ And just as I uttered these words I awoke: for it was a dream!” Just so can God remove any temptation; making it like a dream when one waketh. 2. By delivering in the temptation—suffering the occasion to remain, but removing its bitterness so that it shall not be a temptation at all, but a ground of thanksgiving. Thus the Marquis de Renty, when asked while suffering from a violent attack of rheumatism, “Sir, are you in much pain?” answered, “My pains are extreme: but through the mercy of God I give myself up, not to them, but to Him.” (J. Wesley, M.A.)
Temptations not irresistible:—Among the various extenuations of sin, none is more common than that, considering the weakness of human nature and the strength of some temptations, it is not to be expected that we should get the better of them. But how groundless this is the text may inform us. Let me—
- Explain and state this truth. Observe—1. That the apostle is not speaking of the powers of mere human nature, but of human nature Divinely assisted. 2. That he does not affirm that the measure of Divine grace shall be such as to enable us so to baffle all temptations, as to live perfectly sinless, but only that we shall be preserved from falling into such sins as to throw us out of the favour of God. 3. That the supernatural assistance which enables us to resist temptations, supposes our use of means and our concurrence with it to the best of our power.
- Confirm this by various ways of proof. 1. By experience. There is no temptation but what hath been actually withstood by holy men and women, and what hath been already done may be repeated. 2. By reason. They who say any temptation is not to be conquered speak absurdly and inconsistently. For—(1) A temptation is an experiment, a trial, whether we will do or forbear such a thing; and therefore it supposes it to be in our power to do or forbear, else it were no trial. (2) What is grace but an extraordinary supply of strength to resist temptations? And therefore, if it be not now equal to every temptation, the grace of God has been given us in vain. (3) Is not man by nature a free agent? But if there be any such things as inducements to sin that are altogether insuperable, there is an end of his boasted freedom. The great end of man is to glorify God by living according to the perfect rule of right reason and virtue; and yet impossible it is that he should ever attain this end while he converses with temptations which he cannot surmount. Now all other beings have powers that enable them to fulfil the design of their creation. Is man alone utterly destitute of these powers? (4) Consider the nature and perfections of God. (a) How can He be holy, who is the author of sin? And how can He but be the author of sin who hath so adapted us that it is impossible for us to withstand the force of them? (b) How can He be said to be just who places us under irresistible temptations; and yet, as He Himself assures us, will punish us for not resisting them? (c) Again, how can He be true? His promises are most express and lull (2 Cor. 12:9; Rom. 8:37; Numb. 23:19; Rom. 3:4).
III. Application. 1. There is matter of encouragement arising from hence to the good (Psa. 112:7, 8). Is not He that is with you stronger than he that is against you? And hath He not promised that His strength shall support your weakness? 2. Here is ample matter of reproof to the hypocrite and the profane person. Let them not indulge the hope that in this thing the Lord will pardon His servant (2 Kings 5:18), and that one small fault will be overlooked among a crowd of other good qualities. 3. Wherefore, laying aside shifts and excuses, let us set ourselves in good earnest to resist all temptations; let us put out all the strength which we naturally have to this purpose, and beg of God supernaturally to supply us with what we have not. (Bp. Atterbury.)
Temptation and suffering limited and made useful:—The word “temptation” in the first passage is the same as “trial” in the second; and this difference only reproduces the different use of the original word by Paul and Peter respectively. The testing to which Paul refers arises from solicitation to wrong-doing; while Peter speaks of a testing that takes the form of persecution. Our discipline arises first from the sin that is in us, and, secondly, from the sin that is without us. The first constitutes our temptation; the second our trial. The first has to do with our salvation; the second with our equipment for Christian service.
- It is a universal law that a man’s real life only begins when he has fought and won his first great battle with sin, or when he has met and endured his first great crushing trial. And yet, it is hardly less universally true that every man, when the hour of his temptation or his trial dawns, imagines that both are peculiar. As long as the thunder-cloud does not gather above their heads and burst upon them, they see nothing strange in the ways of God with men; but, when the storm breaks upon them, it is “something very strange, very peculiar,” they say. Now the great temptations in this century were never better summarised than they were in the Ten Commandments. The same is true of trials. They have their sources in the poverty, sickness, and bereavements which are common to man. You cannot mention a temptation or a trial of which you will not be able to find illustrations in your own community, to say nothing of past generations; so it will be to the end of time.
- Now, this fact of the universality of temptation and of trial suggests that there must be some profound necessity for its existence. And this necessity is partly—1. Because we are human—creatures of limited capacities. How many things we pant to do! How many things we want to know! And yet every advance only renders us more conscious of our constitutional limitations. Now, it is a severe trial to a man who is wide awake for him not to know what he wants to know, and to do what he wants to do. It is just here that we discover how it was possible for man, without any tendencies to sin, to fall from his first estate. The temptation was to resent the limitations that were imposed, to seek after a freedom that should be like the freedom of God. There will be always many more things in heaven and in earth than our loftiest philosophies dream of; problems in the moral government of God that stagger us, and where faith in His goodness and righteousness is our only refuge. 2. Because we are sinners, and because a heroic treatment is needed if we are to secure salvation from sin. We are full of pride and obstinacy, and that covetousness which is idolatry, and self-righteousness. And so comes in the serious discipline of life, to teach us our weakness and show us the weakness of our supports, that we may hasten to find refuge in His grace.
III. So universal and necessary a discipline as this must be perfectly adjusted to our capacities and necessities. God does not deal with men in the mass. He deals with each soul singly. In all wise parental government there is the most careful study of each child’s peculiarities. One needs to be pushed; another needs the check. As a father pitieth his child, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. 1. No man is subject to any temptation for which there is not provided a way of escape; and there is no burden that needs to involve necessarily any serious injury. We hear a great deal about irresistible temptations, but there is no such thing. Sin always begins in an evil heart, and for the possession of that evil heart the sinner alone is responsible—not his circumstances nor the government of God. It is the plea of the devil when men say, “The temptation was so strong that I could not resist it.” God bars no man’s way up so that it becomes necessary for him to fall into captivity and to abide there. 2. And, as there are no irresistible temptations, so are there no trials so crushing that a man needs to be buried under them. God is too kind ever to impose any burdens that are heavier than our shoulders can bear. 3. And this brings me to the promised and assured deliverance. The fight may be long and hard, but it need not be of uncertain issue. The trial may be very severe, but God’s pruning-knife never goes further than the requirements of the case. Every death-pang in your experience may be, by the grace of God, a birth-cry. The grave where your dearest hopes are buried may be the garden where the fairest flowers are blooming, filling your life with the very fragrance of heaven. 4. Perhaps some of you are tempted to say that your experience is like that of the apostle of the Gentiles, who had his thorn in the flesh. Well, that drove him to his knees when he found God’s grace sufficient, and after thirty years of service for Christ, he learned to rejoice in tribulation and to glory in infirmities, because in his own weakness the strength of Christ was magnified. 5. But deliverance is not the sweetest nor last word in the gospel of consolation. The discipline is intended to leave us richer than we could have been without its endurance. Temptation and trial are God’s drill and dynamite to blow up the obstructions that choke the channels of our affections and energies until the whole broad stream of God’s life shall course through our own and have its own sweet will. There are three forms of gladness—the gladness that wells up from the comparatively innocent heart of the child, and which is only more intense in the youth; the joy which takes to itself the form of quiet contentment in the maturer years of manhood; and the blessedness of a ripe old age that has learned to submit its own will to the will of God. (A. J. F. Behrends, D.D.)
Our safety in temptation:—It is said of a good portrait that the eyes of it seem always turned to the observer. So it is with Scripture. To the loving it rays forth love; to the trembling, comfort; to the presumptuous, admonition; to the desponding, encouragement. Mark this in the passage of our text. For the careless it has a look of warning: “Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” But to the anxious it turns a look of encouragement. Rouse up a child to its peril in playing on the brink of a precipice: for the moment this peril is increased; it may be scared into falling over. The hand of help, therefore, must second the voice of admonition. Hence the sudden turn in St. Paul’s words, “But.” Your safety lies:—
- Not in what you are to yourselves. Those Corinthians “thought they stood.” But we may not trust—1. Our wisdom. Paul had complimented the Corinthians on their wisdom (chap. 1:5). He makes appeal to them as wise (chap. 10:15). They could talk contemptuously of the emptiness of idolatry (chap. 8:1–7). Yet they ran into the peril of the idolatrous banquets. 2. Our wakefulness. This indeed is an important means of safety. St. Paul had warned the Corinthians, “Take heed lest ye fall” (ver. 12). Forewarned is forearmed. But this is not enough. The disciples were forewarned (Matt. 26:31). Yet they all “forsook Jesus and fled” (Matt. 26:56). Therefore Jesus did not say merely, “Keep awake,” but “Keep awake and pray” (Matt. 26:41). 3. Our will. The resolute man fancies he has built up a breakwater against sin. But who knows the height to which the tide may rise? “Let not a man,” says Bacon, “trust his victory over nature too far; for nature will be buried a great time, and yet revive on the occasions of temptation. Like as it was with Æsop’s damsel, turned from a cat to a woman, who sat very demurely at the board’s end, till a mouse ran before her.”
- But in what God is to you. “God is faithful.” 1. To His love for us. Mark the implied contrast in the word. You, alas! are becoming unfaithful to your relation to God (vers. 1–9). 2. To His care over us. “God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” One seems to see a careful father fitting gymnastic exercises to his son’s age and skill and strength. The youth must indeed be exercised; trial is the very condition of growth; the fresh breeze is indispensable to the opening leaf; in the furnace we must be hardened into vessels unto honour, meet for the Master’s use; but see the care with which the Father proportions these exercises, laying on such burdens only as the son’s weak shoulders can bear; changing them according to his proficiency, fitting his discipline to his powers, and his powers to his discipline, so that while he becomes well breathed he may not be breathless; while stimulated, not broken down. 3. To His designs for us. “God will make a way to escape.” He has ulterior views in everything. He makes all things work in concert for our ultimate good. And He will help us to bear up under every intermediate evil, till the way of escape, the passage out of it, is found. Imagine a forlorn hope, sent forward with promise of “supports” to follow (as in the storming of the Redan): the enemy may be mighty; he may now urge by promises, now scare by threats, into surrender; the spirits may faint; a treacherous whisper may arise, “It is no use to struggle any longer.” But the “supports” are coming! Bear up therefore; hold on. Each particular temptation has its outlet; Jesus found it so with Satan’s reiterated attacks. “Consider,” then, those who have fought before you: observe “the end of their struggle”; the “way of escape out of it” (the same word in Heb. 13:7, as in our text). (T. Griffith, M.A.)
How God delivers from temptation:—1. Of all the evils incident to man, there is none from which an escape is so difficult and desirable as from temptations. All escape imports some precedent danger—the difficulty of getting through it, and a final deliverance from it: so in this business of temptation, the danger threatening is damnation; the difficulty of escaping it is due partly to the importunity of the evil one, and partly to an inbred inclination to sin heightened by custom, and inflamed by circumstances. 2. Therefore nothing less than a Being infinitely wise can sound all the depths, and outreach all the intrigues of this tempting spirit; and nothing but a Being of infinite power can support the weaknesses and supply the defects of a poor mortal engaged against him. Now how God does this we shall now inquire.
- If the force of the temptation be chiefly from the importunities of the evil spirit, God often puts an issue to the temptation, by rebuking and commanding down the tempter himself. For although he acts the part of an enemy, yet he does the work of a servant. He is in a chain and that chain is in God’s hand. Certain it is that God has put it into the power of no created being to make a man do an ill thing against his will; yet though Satan cannot compel to sin, yet he can follow a man with vehement and continual solicitations to it. Though none of his fiery darts should kill, yet it is next to death to be always warding off deadly blows. And being brought thereby to the very brink of destruction, God is then pleased to step in and command the tempter to hold his peace, or his hand, and so takes him off before he is able to fasten.
- If the force of a temptation be from the weakness of a man’s mind, God oftentimes delivers by mighty inward supplies of strength. The former way God delivers a man by removing his enemy, but this latter by giving him wherewithal to conquer him. It is with the soul and temptation as with weak sight and the sunbeams: if you divert the beam you relieve the man, but if you give him an eagle’s eye he will look the sun in the face, and so if God gives an assistance greater than the opposition, the man is delivered by a method as much more noble as the trophies of a conqueror surpass the inglorious safeties of an escape. Thus it was with St. Paul (2 Cor. 12:7–9). God Himself fought his battles, and that brought him off, not only safe, but triumphant. But this kind of deliverance was never so signal and illustrious as in the noble army of martyrs. As God brings His servants into different conditions, He fails not to measure out to them a spirit proportioned to the exigences of each condition. And, therefore, let us so prepare for the day of trial before it comes, as not to despond under it when it comes.
III. If the force of a temptation springs chiefly from those circumstances which expose a man to tempting objects, God frequently delivers by a providential change of the whole course of his life, and the circumstances of his condition. And this He may do either by a general public change which always carries with it the rise and fall of a vast number of particular interests, or by a personal change, affecting a man only. Accordingly, if God shall transplant a voluptuous person from a delicate way of living into a life of hardship, those temptations which drew their main force from his opulence will attack him but very faintly under penury. There is, however, such an impregnable strength in some natures as to baffle all providential methods, and even when occasions of sin are wanting, to supply the want by concupiscence from within. So that a man can be proud though in rags, and an epicure with the bread and water of affliction. In a word, a man can be his own tempter, and so is always sure of a temptation. Nevertheless, the way God took with His own people was to plague them in their bodies and estates for the salvation of their souls. And so now if riches debauch a man, poverty shall reform him. If high places turn his head, a lower condition shall settle it. If his table becomes his snare, God will diet him into a more temperate course of living.
- If the force of a temptation be chiefly from the solicitation of some unruly affection, God delivers from it by the overpowering influence of His Holy Spirit gradually weakening, and at length totally subduing it. The tempter for the most part prevails not so much by what he suggests to a man as by what he finds in him. Archimedes said that he would turn the whole earth if he could but have some place beside the earth to fix his feet upon. So, skilful an engineer as the devil is, he will never be able to play his engines to any purpose unless he finds something to fasten them to. If he finds a man naturally passionate he has numberless ways and arts to transport him into a rage. It being with the soul as with some impregnable fort, nothing but treachery within itself can deliver it up to the enemy. “I withheld thee from sinning against Me,” says God to Abimelech (Gen. 20:6); and no doubt God has innumerable ways by which He does this. God may withhold a man from sin by plucking away the baneful object, by diverting his thoughts and desires, by putting impediments in his way, and by various methods of restraint. But when, over and above all this, God, by the powerful impressions of His almighty Spirit, shall subdue and mortify the sinful appetite and inclination itself, and plant a mighty contrary bias in the room of it, this is a greater, a nobler, and a surer deliverance out of temptation than even the prevention of the sinful act itself. (R. South, D.D.)
God’s promise of assistance under trials:—The design of the apostle seems to be the establishment of two things—1. That it is not man himself, but God, who delivers out of temptation; and—2. That the ways by which God does this are above man’s power, and for the most part beyond his knowledge. Now these considerations are great in themselves, but greater in their practical consequences. These are:—
- That the only true estimate of an escape from temptation is to be taken from the final result of it. From whence these two things follow. First, that an escape from a temptation may consist with a long continuance under it; indeed so long, that God may put an end to its life altogether. Secondly, that a final escape may well consist with several foils under a temptation. For a foil given or received is not a conquest. The tempter may be worsted in many a conflict, and yet come off victorious at last. True, “if we resist the tempter he will fly from us,” but he may return and carry all before him. It is not every skirmish which determines the victory. Let no man then flatter himself, yet let him not despond; for God may deliver him for all this; only let him continue the combat still. Nothing should make us give up our hope till it forces us to give up the ghost too. But God will have us wait His leisure. There is a ripeness for mercy as well as for judgment, and consequently there is a fulness of time for both.
- No way out of any calamity if brought about by sin ought to be accounted a way made or allowed by God. On the contrary, it is a seeking to cure the burnings of a fever by the infections of a plague; a flying from the devil as a tempter, and running into his hands as a destroyer. The temptations which men generally attempt thus to rid themselves of are either from suffering, or from the pretence of compassing some great good by an action in itself indeed evil, but vastly exceeded by the good brought to pass thereby. But this is a wretched fallacy. The procurement of the greatest good cannot warrant the least evil, nor the safety of a kingdom commute for the loss of personal innocence. While men fly from suffering, they are so fatally apt to take sanctuary in sin: which is to go to the devil to deliver them out of temptation. For so men certainly do where suffering is the temptation, and sin must be the deliverance.
III. To choose or submit to the commission of a lesser sin to avoid the commission of a greater ought not to be reckoned amongst those ways whereby god delivers men from temptation. I have heard it reported of a certain monk, who for a long time was worried with three temptations, viz., to commit murder, or incest, or to be drunk; till at length, quite wearied out, he pitches upon the sin of drunkenness, as the least, to avoid his solicitation to the other two. But the tempter was the better artist. For having prevailed upon him to be drunk, he quickly brought him in the strength thereof to commit both the other sins too. Such are we when God abandons us to our own deluded and deluding judgment.
- If it be the prerogative of god to deliver men out of temptation, let no man, when the temptation is founded in suffering, be so solicitous how to get out of it, as how to behave himself under it. Nothing so much entitles a tempted person to relief from above as an unwearied looking up for it. In every arduous enterprise, action must begin the work, and courage carry it on; but it is perseverance only which gives the finishing stroke.
- There can be no suffering but may be endured without sin; and if so, may be likewise made a means whereby God brings a man out of temptation. The Christian martyrs were a glorious and irrefragable proof of this. No evil, how afflictive soever, ought to be accounted intolerable, which may be made a direct means to escape one intolerably greater. And death itself, which nature fears and flies from as its greatest enemy, is yet the grand instrument in the hand of mercy to put a final period to all temptations. (Ibid.)
God in relation to the trials of the good:—The verb to tempt meant originally to try, to test, or to prove. This is its meaning in John 6:6; Acts 26:7; 2 Cor. 13:5; Rev. 2:2, &c. This is its meaning in the Lord’s Prayer, which means “Lead us not into trial.” The text suggests that—
- God permits them. “God will not suffer you,” &c. It has been asked, Is not a being responsible for an evil which he can prevent? Answer. 1. If the prevention would outrage the constitutional liberty of the moral creature, it would be wrong. 2. If the permitter of this evil had determined to subordinate it to the highest beneficence, its permission involves no wrong. If I had the power of preventing a terrible trial befalling an ungodly man, which I knew would turn him to God, should I be justified in preventing it?
- He adapts them. “Above that ye are able.” He adapts them—1. To the character. The trial that would touch one man’s leading central imperfection would not affect another. Some men require a blow that shall wound their sensuality, others their greed, others their ambition, others their love. The trial that is needed He will “suffer” to come. 2. To the capacity. He will not allow any trial to happen which the sufferer is incapable of bearing. “As thy day so thy strength shall be.”
III. He subordinates them. “Will with the temptation also make a way to escape.” Or, “make the issue that ye may be able to bear it.” Whether the trial is a temptation to your patience, honesty, resignation, confidence in God, &c., He will cause this issue to be good. And this virtually will be for you a deliverance. All the good in heaven have come out of “great tribulations.” (D. Thomas, D.D.) What keeps the Christian (text and 2 Cor. 12:9):—There is nothing more wonderful than a man whose nature is essentially evil, whose path is thronged with spiritual enemies, should be brought off “more than a conqueror.” The only explanation is to be found in our texts.
- This is matter of distinct, positive, repeated promise. God has bound Himself, even by covenant, to stand by His child and never to suffer the enemy to prevail over him. He never goes back on His word.
- These promises are matter of experience. They have been put to the test in every age, land, and occasion, and such a thing as a failure was never known.
III. These promises are world-wide in their application. They cover every moment of life—extend to every need and duty—are equal to any emergency or strait.
- The significance, the fulness, and the all-sufficing of the pledges of god’s faithfulness can be known only when we have put them to the proof! (Homiletic Monthly.)
A fair chance for salvation:—Let us consider the matter by way of objections. It is objected—
- That men are depraved citizens of a fallen world. The answer is that the world is redeemed.
- That there is an unusual, startling, compelling element in their temptations. The answer is, that even temptation is tethered by law, and the special severity of it is a myth.
III. That the total moral and social environment must conspire with the inner depravity to make sin victor. The answer is that, practically, there is much in these relations of ours to sin, on the one hand, and righteousness on the other, to break the force of temptation. 1. There is the danger which attends sinning. This is one of God’s ways for our escape. 2. Our memory reproduces the pain and sorrow which past sins caused us. This is another of God’s ways. 3. We know that sinning is wrong, and conscience, more or less alert in all souls, makes another of God’s fire-escapes. 4. Every sinner is, to some extent, conscious of coming retribution, and that mingles with his motives and makes a way of escape. 5. Nor is it a small thing that every grace and nobleness are honoured in the consciousness of sinning men. Is it no way of escape that right-doing wears the purple of royalty?
- That, though these things may be true, yet common experience proves that men are in a hard case as related to righteousness. Admitted. Because it is hard infinite love stoops to help us. A hard case, therefore, is not a hopeless case. Redemption has made obedience possible. Suppose you were as anxious to win righteousness as to win your way in the world?
- That “anyhow some men have not a fair chance,” e.g., the heathen in the slums of our cities and the heathen abroad. But what does this objection mean? “The race is not fair, and though I might win, I’ll not run where my fellows must fail.” Beautiful self-abnegation! But will this objector apply the principle? These same people have not his chance to be rich—will he surrender his chance on that account? What good of Providence does he refuse because street Arabs have it not? And how can any of us know that others have not a fair chance for salvation?
- That general experience confirms the view that the chance is not fair. And now we study arithmetic and the saints are few while the sinners are countless legions. But is there one saint? Has one climbed the hill of virtue? Then you also may climb. That men choose to be morally lazy, rather than agonise for righteousness, may be true. But the men who escape prove to us that there is a way of escape.
VII. That the law is rigorous and men very weak. Here the sinner stands by the sea and tells us it is wide, at the foot of the mountain and declares that it is high. All this is pretty enough. The rigour of the law and the far-offness of perfect character may be admitted. But that is not our practical question. When men began to sail the seas they did not hesitate to creep along the coasts, because the ocean was wide; knowing the Alps to be high, early men struggled up them and through them. The practical man has never hesitated to do what he could because there seemed to be no end to his possible labour. The practical question is not whether you can do all, but have you a margin? Are you conscious of no power to do anything that the law of right asks of you in betterment of your life? This which you can do is your fair chance for salvation. (D. H. Wheeler, D.D.)
The way of escape:—1. St. Paul was writing from Asia to Europe. Many things divide us: time and place, rank and worth, age and country, and yet, in Christ, all may be one; and St. Paul can write, under the shadow of Diana, to dwellers in another idolatrous city, and touch a chord to which their hearts vibrate as one, because Christ is the theme, and the Spirit of Christ the inspiration. And that theme and that inspiration enables us to read, as if written to us, this ancient Greek epistle, though Ephesus and Corinth have passed away. 2. And there is yet another thought in this obliteration in Christ of all natural distances and differences. Mark how St. Paul freshens into new life the old histories of the Bible—makes these Corinthians see in Israelite wanderings the type of all human wanderings and in Israelite judgments the history of the dangers and catastrophes of their own. Such is the setting of my text. 3. Temptation is another word for trial. It is exploration. It is the probing or the sifting which shows what is in us, how much and what kind of natural or acquired evil—how much, if any, of the grace of God’s Holy Spirit, sought and cherished by prayer. 4. Though St. Paul would have us be serious, he would not have us to be despondent, and therefore he adds three words of encouragement about this life of trial.
- Do not imagine that you are alone in this experience. Your temptation is quite common. Every physician of the soul knows it perfectly well. 1. There is consolation even in the sympathy of faith. It is no selfishness, it is nature as God made it, to find comfort in the fellowship of suffering. On this principle, in part, the Cross was uplifted. “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them.” If you could place yourself in imagination among the first readers of this letter, you might have said to yourself, “I live here in a city wholly given to idolatry. My own house—wife or husband, sister or mother—scoffs at my faith in Jesus, and threatens me with excommunication if I confess it. How can St. Paul tell me that I am under no temptation but the commonest of all?” But when we turn to our own life, with Christians all around, ought we not to say, “I, at all events, cannot call myself exceptionally tempted.” 2. Yet there is not one who has not some imaginations of a peculiarity in his own temptation. One says, “If my disposition were but passionate instead of being sullen!” Or, “If my snare were only temper instead of being the flesh!” Or, “If I had but a parent who could feel with me, or a husband who was helpful, it would be so much easier to be a Christian! But as things are with me, there is a force in my temptation which is not common at all.” 3. Now let this message straight from God weigh with you in this matter. “Depend upon it,” St. Paul says, “there is more of equalit than you reckon in the spiritual circumstances of God’s creatures. Temptation is not so disproportioned as you, in your own little instance, may imagine, and if you knew all you would admit it.”
- St. Paul affirms that, if it were not so, there would be a breach of engagement, where we are quite certain there cannot be, in God Himself. 1. If God did suffer this, He would not be faithful. It is like St. John saying, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” There is nothing in the religion of nature which binds God to forgive sin, or to so temper temptation as to make Him unjust if He did not do so. But the gospel, which is God’s covenant in Christ, has introduced new equities; God has promised salvation; therefore all things that accompany it, strength as the day, and a Fatherly hand so guiding that all shall work together for good. It cannot work for good that a man should be overpowered with evil; therefore the promise that the temptation shall be coerced into an exact adaptation to the strength given, i.e., grace, is involved in the promise that faith shall save. 2. What a serious hue does this give to being tempted! With many of us it is a light thing. It is but to sin and be sorry, and all will be well again. St. Paul assumes the terribleness of sin, and says that God Himself would be unfaithful if He left you to it.
III. The temptation comes, but with a way to escape. “The exit”—“the way out.” 1. It may have happened to one of you, on some dull November evening, to find yourself surprised by a sudden transition from twilight to darkness. You have been, perhaps, in a meadow, surrounded by woods. There was one little wicket gate somewhere, but you could not find it. You went round and round the enclosure, but the light was gone, and you might remain there till morning. Accident or Providence at last guided you to it; and then you could understand what St. Paul means—the one way out which makes all the difference between a hopeless entanglement and a remediable perplexity. 2. There is a moment in every temptation when God makes the exit. There is a pause between the suggestion and the execution of every wrong thing, which leaves room for escape. An angry retort is upon your tongue: it need not become articulate. A passionate impulse is upon you: you need not strike. A sinful desire is in your heart: you need not take that turn which will lead you by the house of danger. When lust conceives it bringeth forth sin; but it takes time. Conclusion: 1. If no temptation is above the common, away with our excuses for being what we are. 2. If God adapts the temptation to the strength, you must pray. It is not the strength of nature, but the strength of grace. 3. When temptation is upon you, look out for the way of escape. It is there: take heed that you miss it not. God makes it: it is yours to watch for it, and not to lose it. (Dean Vaughan.)
The limitations of the law of antagonism:—We are all familiar with the severity of life; we often feel, and feel bitterly, the extreme tension and painfulness of our present situation. It may be quite true that the fiery law is on the whole benign, that the battle of life ends with a victory for the better, ere it begins again a battle for the best; but so far as we are concerned individually, it is very difficult to bear the pressure and pain. Very delightful, then, is our text, showing how the Divine love tempers life’s fierce tyranny.
- Whilst discipline is essential to the perfecting of our nature, the struggle of life might be excessive and destructive. “Tried above that ye are able.” How easy this might be! We see in nature that the law of antagonism may become so severe and unremitting that it makes impossible those things of beauty and joy which prevail under normal conditions. In Arctic regions plants, which under more genial conditions would unfold themselves in a delightful perfection, remain stunted and mean, exhausting their vitality in withstanding the severities of the climate. The same is true of animal life. The Newfoundland dogs of Kane in the Polar seas become mad through the excruciating severity of the cold. The birds come to a certain strength and glory through the necessity of awareness, but there is often such a fearful bloodthirstiness in the tropical forest, such a profusion of cruel hawks, owls, serpents, and beasts of prey, that a bird’s life is one long terror, and it forgets its music. And this applies equally to man. He is all the better for a regulated conflict with his environment, but all the worse if the conflict attain undue severity. Sometimes a hopeful people have collapsed because they have been compelled to struggle at once against human oppression, and the destructive forces of inorganic nature; with both combined against him, man sooner or later succumbs, and the fields he has won from the primæval wood relapse once more into wild forestry, or into barren wildernesses. And all this is just as true of our moral as it is of our physical and intellectual nature. A fair share of hardship develops heroic qualities, but when existence becomes too hard it breaks the spirit; the child cruelly treated becomes cowed; men and women bred in misfortune’s school becomes timid, nervous, cowardly. So, if Heaven did not temper life, the finer qualities could never be developed in us. Overborne by unmitigated pressure, we should lose all faith, courage, hope; nothing would be left to us but atheism, cynicism, despair. “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” Amid all the confusion, waste, ruin, sweat, tears, and blood of the groaning creation, God stands with the measuring-line, dealing to every man trial, as He assigns to every man duty, according to his several ability. “For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.”
- Some of the limitations which God has imposed on the severity of life. “But will with the trial also make a way of escape.” 1. There are doors of escape in the direction of nature and intellect. It is not all conflict with nature. Summer hangs out a gay flag of truce. Men shout in the gladness of the vintage; the sky rings with the joy of harvest. We have all gracious hours in which the discords of life are drowned in the music of the world. There are doors of escape also into the intellectual world. The door opening into the library, the picture-gallery, the observatory, the museum—all are doors of hope and salvation. In literature, art, and science increasing multitudes are finding bright intervals which make life endurable, and something more than endurable. 2. The Divine government softens the severity of life by the disposition and alternation of the trials by which we are exercised. A door of escape from one trial is sometimes found in the door which opens upon another, and one, perhaps, not at all less severe. Now, this variation of trial must be regarded as a mitigation of trial. Peter speaks of “being in heaviness through manifold temptations”; but that heaviness might have been utterly crushing had those temptations been less diversified. We little know how much we owe to the vast variety and unceasing change which obtain in the discipline of human life. Change and novelty play their benign part in trial as in pleasure. Manifold temptations are counter-irritants; they relieve one another; together they work to a complex strength and perfection. 3. The severity of life is broken by that law of reaction which God has established within our nature. Trials without discover forces within. Mighty forces often lie latent in nature until peculiar conditions elicit them. The trembling dewdrop is an electric accumulator, and within its silvery cells is stored a vast energy; the raindrop and the snowflake are the sport of the wind, but, converted into steam, we are astonished at their potentiality; the tiny seed seems weakness itself, yet, beginning to germinate, it rends the rock like a thunderbolt. Thus is it, only in a far more eminent degree, with human nature strengthened by the indwelling Spirit of God. Says Victor Hugo, “There are instincts for all the crises of life.” A deep perplexity awakens a flash of insight; a bitter opposition sets the soul on fire; a grave peril opens our eyes to horses and chariots of fire; a severe catastrophe evokes a heroism of which the sufferer had not thought himself capable. The mere metaphysician perceives the extraordinary virtue of this mystic interior power: “In extreme cases the inner-deriving activity will conquer. Martyrs may find the flames at the stake as pleasant as rose-leaf couches.” God dwelling in us, working in us, speaking in us—here is the limitation of the otherwise overwhelming burden of life. As we pass through scorching flame and sweeping flood, He giveth us the victory through the Spirit which worketh in us mightily. 4. The rigour of life is abated by the social law. If, says the modern evolutionist, stern competition is the fundamental law of nature, coalition is the fundamental law of civilisation. The social law is the principle of civilisation, and the process of civilisation is nothing else than the giving to the principle of reciprocity ever more complete ascendancy. 5. Finally, life is blessedly tempered by the religious hope. “Behold, a door was opened in heaven.” What a hiding-place is the Church of God from the storm and stress of life! Strengthened by its sacraments, uplifted by its songs, ennobled by its solemnities, the penitent believing soul forgets its griefs and cares, tasting the powers of the world to come. No language can express the infinite preciousness of the grace flowing to us through the ministers and institutions of the Church of Christ. A lady recently related in one of the journals how she went through a veritable blizzard to see a flower-show. With one step she passed out of the wild night, the deep snow, the bitter wind, into a brilliant hall filled with hyacinths, tulips, jonquils, cyclamens, azaleas, roses, and orchids. It is the privilege of godly men, at any time, to pass at a step from the savage conflicts of life right into the sweet fellowship of God, finding grace to help in the time of need. It is the knowledge of God, the light of His truth, the power of His Spirit, the hope of His glory, which makes us more than conquerors in the times when men’s hearts fail them for fear. “For which cause we faint not.” No men knew more of the travail of existence than did the apostles, but by laying hold of the Eternal they smiled at life in its darkened aspects, at death in its cruellest forms. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Escape from temptation:—“Chronicles of Froissart” relate the issue of a siege, which took place in the days of chivalry, and somewhere, I think, in France. Though gallantly defended, the outworks of the citadel had been carried. The breach was practicable: to-morrow was fixed for the assault. That none, alarmed at the desperate state of their fortunes, might escape under the cloud of night, the besiegers guarded every sally-port, and, indeed, the whole sweep of wall. They had the garrison in a net, and only waited for the morrow to secure or to slaughter them. The night wore heavily on: no sortie was attempted; no sound came from the beleaguered citadel; its brave but ill-starred defenders seemed to wait their doom in silence. The morning came: with its dawn, the stormers rushed at the breach; sword in hand, they poured in to find the nest empty, cold. The bird had flown, the prey escaped. But how? That was a mystery: it seemed a miracle, till an opening was discovered that led by a flight of steps down into the bowels of the rock. They descended, and explored their way with cautious steps and lighted torches, until this subterranean passage led them out a long way off from the citadel, among quiet green fields and the light of day. It was plain that, by this passage, the doors of which stood open, their prey had escaped under cover of night. A clever device, a wise precaution. It was a refuge of the besieged, provided against such a crisis. And when affairs seem desperate, and the worst has come to the worst, how should it encourage God’s people to remember that He has promised them as safe a retreat! (T. Guthrie, D.D.)
13. Verse 13 confirms that promise and warning work together to strengthen the Corinthians as they run the race to the end (1 Cor. 9:24–27). Paul warns them against presumption, but he then assures them of God’s faithfulness. The temptation they are facing is not atypical or extraordinary, but accords with the experience of all people everywhere (cf. Jas 1:13–14). In such temptations, particularly the temptation to apostatize—which is here represented by eating food offered to idols—God is faithful. He does not abandon his people in the midst of temptations to sin, even if the temptation is quite strong in that the Corinthians would be cut off from society if they did not accept invitations to the temples of false gods.
The focus in the verse is not actually on temptation in general, but, in context, on the temptation to apostatize, as the failure of Israel (10:1–10) and the subsequent verses (10:14–22) verify. God’s faithfulness is such that he will not allow the temptation to exceed the capacity of believers. He also provides believers with the ability to withstand the temptation. God’s grace is such that he gives believers the resolve to resist the temptation which beckons them, and they are thus able to withstand the temptation, which in this case is the desire to eat food offered to idols.
The assertion that God is faithful is consistently tied in Paul’s thought to a divine pledge to sustain his people until the end. The Corinthians are assured that they will be ‘blameless’ till the end, and the basis of this promise is that ‘God is faithful’ (1 Cor. 1:8–9). Similarly, in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Paul prays that believers will be ‘kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’, and then assures them that the petition will be fulfilled since the God ‘who calls you is faithful’ (1 Thess. 5:24). So also, in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 the Lord’s faithfulness reveals itself in protecting and keeping believers from Satan, which is another way of saying that they will be guarded from committing apostasy. We read in 2 Timothy 2:13 that believers may be ‘faithless’, yet Christ ‘remains faithful’, which means that those who sin by being faithless do not sin irreparably and thus are saved from final destruction. All of the texts that affirm the faithfulness of God or Christ occur in contexts that promise final salvation.
Paul’s reading of the Old Testament is quite fascinating. Israel and the church are not equated in every sense, and yet Israel is designated ‘our ancestors’ (10:1). In the same way, Israel’s rock was Christ, and Israel tested Christ in the wilderness. A typological relationship is forged between Israel and the church. Typology is not merely retrospective, for God, as the Lord of history, planned from the beginning that Israel would serve as a type for the church. Another feature of typology is escalation. For instance, Israel suffered physical punishment, but the punishment threatened for the church is eternal destruction. Discontinuity between Israel and the church is also present since Israel was a theocracy, whereas the church is not restricted to any particular nation but has members from every people and nation.
Verses 12 and 13 are quite remarkably juxtaposed. On the one hand, Paul warns the readers against presumption, calling them to vigilance and perseverance. In the next verse he assures them of God’s faithfulness, which promises them final preservation. Clearly, there is tension between the two themes, which Paul himself surely recognized. The solution proposed here is that the warnings actually build assurance instead of dampening it, since believers, by heeding admonitions, grow in their confidence that they will finally be saved. Still, perseverance is ultimately grounded in divine strength, in divine preservation.
13. Temptation (see on v. 9) is sometimes understood simply as ‘test’ (gnb, Héring), a meaning it certainly has on occasion. But here it is used in a broad sense which includes both ‘test’ and ‘temptation’. Nothing exceptional in either way had happened to the Corinthians. They had experienced only what is common to man. And God is not simply a spectator of the affairs of life; he is concerned and active. Believers can count on his help. He will always make a way out. This word (ekbasis) may denote a mountain defile. The imagery is that of an army trapped in rugged country, which manages to escape from an impossible situation through a mountain pass. The assurance of this verse is a permanent comfort and strength to believers. Our trust is in the faithfulness of God.
10:13 No temptation has overtaken you. The Greek word peirasmos can mean “trial,” “test,” or “temptation.” When the expected result is negative, translators prefer “temptation”; when a text expects a positive result, “test” proves preferable; “trial” hints at a period of struggle (cf. James 1:2, 14). In this text, there is no agreement among the English Bible translations. All three translations are possible. If Paul speaks to the weak (which would be a shift in emphasis), “temptation” could be a fitting translation. The weak could be tempted to participate in certain idol banquets for social prominence, financial security, or other reasons. If so, Paul recognizes the difficulty associated with declining an invitation to such an event and encourages them to recognize God’s faithfulness (Deut. 7:9). If he speaks to the strong, however (which seems most likely), who consider participation in such banquets their right, the word “test” may best express the sense. If they abstain from participation in these idol banquets, they are heeding Paul’s call to watch out that they do not fall. They will therefore pass the “test.” God is faithful; his test is not intolerable—they will be able to endure it. The test reveals their willingness to follow Christ. They do not need to worry; God will provide a way out of the test (Gen. 22:1–19).
10:13 / More directly, verse 13 declares that the real crisis (temptation) that is besetting the community is manageable and conquerable. In fact, Paul declares the theological basis of such management: God is faithful (cf. 1:9). God provides the antidote to the reality of temptation that humans necessarily face at the juncture of the ages. There is no avoiding this temptation, but in this overlapping of times God’s saving provision is mixed with the temptation. Paul is confident in God’s sustaining grace. Although one can imagine different ways in which Paul would name this divine provision—the Spirit, Christ, the power of God—the apostle does not name God’s grace at this point; rather, he declares God’s faithfulness. In developing the argument as he does, Paul establishes the necessity of the Corinthians’ being related to the God who saves.
Dealt with in isolation from the passage in which it occurs, this verse is sometimes turned into a quasitheological philosophical explanation of human suffering, evil, and divine will. The statement is elaborate and does perhaps invite such exposition and speculation. Yet, one must see that this verse is not an isolated philosophical statement that purports to delineate intricate facets of life. Paul speaks to the Corinthians in context: They are arrogant, overly self-confident, believing themselves to be “standing firm.” But, Paul says, “Watch out!” The Corinthians are not above the unpleasant complications of normal human existence, and facing that fact they have one hope: the faithfulness of God. God is trustworthy, and even if the situation seems impossible, nothing is beyond God’s power and grace. When the Corinthians confront times of trouble they should not deny their susceptibility to temptation or trust their own superspirituality to see them through. Rather, they need to remember, to know, and to act on the one ultimate assurance that is their real security: God is faithful. The tendency to overread this verse is a temptation within itself, but despite the mysterious matters that it raises, the plain sense of the verse is a call to recognize and to trust God.
Temptation and the answer to it (v. 13)
Along with warning about disqualification from the prize, Paul gives tremendous encouragement: no temptation is unique to us, and God’s faithfulness guarantees strength to counter it successfully (v. 13).
THE COMMONNESS OF TEMPTATION (Mark 1:12–13; 1 John 2:16). Someone else has already gone the road we have to take. Bishop Lightfoot, a Bishop of Durham, travelled in a horse carriage, along a very narrow mountain road in Norway. It got so narrow that there were only inches between the wheels of the carriage and the cliffs on one side, and the precipice on the other. The driver suggested in the end that Lightfoot would be safer to get out and walk. Lightfoot surveyed the road and then said, ‘Other carriages must have taken this road. Drive on!’
GOD’S FAITHFULNESS in our times of temptation. God’s faithfulness (v. 13) is a frequent emphasis of Paul (1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:18; 1 Thes. 5:24) and other New Testament writers (Heb. 10:23; 1 Peter 4:19; 1 John 1:9). It is a truth upon which to meditate for our comfort and encouragement.
GOD’S PROVISION WHEN WE ARE TEMPTED (see also Heb. 2:18). The ‘way out’ is not to escape the trial or temptation but to stand up under it. God uses testings and trials to make us spiritually mature (James 1:2–4).
13 These final sentences of the paragraph are among the better known in this letter, having served generations of Christians as a word of hope in times of difficulty. Unfortunately it is also usually cited in isolation from its present context—understandably so, since it is difficult for almost any reader to see how it fits into the scheme of the present argument, especially since the application to come (v. 14) so nicely follows what has preceded (vv. 1–12). The best solution seems to be to regard it as functioning in two directions at once, both as a continuation of the preceding warning (vv. 1–12) and as a word of assurance leading to the prohibition to “flee from idolatry” (v. 14). There is no risk of their falling, Paul seems to be telling them in response to what he has just said, as long as one is dealing with ordinary trials; God will help them through such. But they must, “therefore, flee from idolatry” (v. 14) because by implication there is no divine aid when one is “testing” Christ in the way they currently are doing (v. 9); such activity is decidedly not in the category of “everyday trials.”
Thus, following hard on the heels of the warning to “be careful that you don’t fall” (v. 12), Paul reassures his Corinthian friends that they need not fall, at least not in the vicissitudes of Christian life common to all. The eternal God has already made a divine commitment to them when it comes to everyday human trials: “No temptation [or trial]530 has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” that is, “to our human condition.532” The “trial” or “temptation” probably harks back to the sins enumerated earlier (vv. 7–10), but now against the backdrop of the larger “trial” that such Gentile converts in Corinth must have undergone through their conversion to this new religion out of the East (cf. esp. 1 Thess. 2:1–3:10). By persisting in attendance at the cultic meals with pagan friends they have put themselves in grave danger of “falling”; but the “temptation” (cf. p. 508 n. 530) to do so as part of the “trial” of their new life in Christ is not of such a nature that they must succumb to it.533
The divine alternative to succumbing that Paul offers is to remind them of God’s prior faithfulness on their behalf. When it comes to the trials common to this human life, “God is faithful” (see on 1:9), meaning God can be counted on to help them, and this in two ways. First, God has pledged “not to let you be tempted/tested beyond what you can bear.” This, of course, speaks not only to the fact of God’s prior activity in behalf of his people, Paul’s emphasis, but also to the fact that they will be called upon to endure. They must be prepared for “a long obedience in the same direction.” In his own faithfulness God has pledged not to allow what is beyond that endurance.535
Second, and as the other side of the same coin, “when you are tempted,537 God will also provide the way out (or make an end) so that you can stand up under it.” This sounds like a contradiction in terms: finding “the way out” so that you can “continue to bear it.”539 But the problem lies only in the less-than-precise wording. There is a “way out of,” or “end to,” whatever testing one may undergo; but that is to be seen from the divine perspective. One may yet have much to endure before the “end” is realized. In any case, one may trust the faithful God to provide the “end” to a test that has not necessarily had divine origins, but that God has “allowed,” as it were.
Paul’s point, then, is that in ordinary human trials one can expect divine aid. There is no danger of “falling” here. But it is otherwise with idolatry. The “way out” in that case is simply put: “Therefore, flee from idolatry,” which is the concern of what Paul says next.
The concluding affirmation of this paragraph helps to put things into perspective. The warning, based on the tragic examples of Israel, is straightforward and powerful. Some sins are so incompatible with life in Christ that sure judgment, meaning loss of salvation, is the inevitable result of persistence in them. These are not matters of being “taken in,” as it were, by temptation, thus falling into sin. These are deliberate acts, predicated on a false security, that put God to the test, as though daring God to judge one who has been “baptized” into Christ. Such heady disobedience, Paul assures us, is headed for destruction. But on the other side is the faithful God, ready to aid those enduring trial, assuring them that there is a way out, an end to it. And in the meantime God is there to apportion the necessary ability to endure, appropriate to the trial, to which our appropriate response is, “thanks be to God!”
- The Prohibition and Its Basis (10:14–22)
14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
With this paragraph Paul finally brings to a conclusion the long argument with the Corinthians that began with his forbidding them to go to the temples to join in the idolatrous feasts (8:1). As was suggested earlier, the apparently circuitous route Paul has taken in order finally to reach this prohibition is probably due to the nature of their contention with him in their letter, which itself most likely set the agenda for Paul’s response. In any case, the way the argument opens (8:4–6, including the citations from their letter), the specific expression of the problem that followed (8:10), and the immediately preceding argument (vv. 1–13) all lead directly to this paragraph.
In a way similar to a preceding argument (6:12–20, esp. v. 18), Paul finally asserts an absolute prohibition against idolatry (v. 14). Then in an appeal to their good sense (v. 15) he explains from their own experience of the Lord’s Table (vv. 16–17) and from the OT sacred meals (v. 18) that the same realities carry over to the pagan meals (vv. 19–20), which therefore makes participation in one meal absolutely incompatible with participation in the other (v. 21). All of which ends on the rhetorical note that, just as with Israel’s idolatry (v. 9), by their current behavior they are “testing” Christ, provoking him to jealousy (v. 22).
The basis of Paul’s prohibition is twofold: (1) His understanding of the sacred meal as “fellowship,” as the unique sharing of believers in the worship of the deity, who was also considered to be present; (2) His understanding, based on the OT, of idolatry as a locus of the demonic.
It should be noted that these two bases for the prohibition bring closure to the two basic arguments from their letter: (1) that, since an idol is not real, not only is it of little consequence what we eat, but where should be of no concern as well, and (2) that as long as we participate in our own sacred meal, we remain secure in Christ. In the preliminary qualification of the content of their knowledge (8:4–6), Paul had allowed that for the pagans there are “many gods and many lords,” and that for some, these “gods” still had some measure of subjective reality. Now he asserts that they do have reality indeed, but not as “gods”; rather, these “deities” are in fact the habitation of demons. In the immediately preceding argument (vv. 1–13), Paul had pointed out on the basis of the divinely established example of Israel that there is no inherent safety in the sacraments. Now he moves beyond that to demonstrate the absolute incompatibility of eating both sacred meals. The kind of “fellowship” involved eliminates any such possibility.
13 But before Paul shifts back to that topic, he cannot leave what he has just said without an aside related to his warning in v. 12, which he uses to comfort and reassure the Corinthians (and which has done the same for Christians ever since). Trials and temptations (both concepts are covered in the single word peirasmos, GK 4280) are common to us. Certainly the history of the Israelites just mentioned justifies the meaning “temptation,” but the rest of this verse suggests that the meaning “trial” (whether as a result of persecution or as anything that might tempt us to give up on the faith) is also within Paul’s semantic range here. Perhaps in the back of Paul’s mind here, too, is the awareness that if the Corinthians do, in fact, flee from all idolatry (cf. v. 14), they will suffer from social isolation and perhaps even persecution from their neighbors.
We all have plenty of both types of peirasmos in our lives. But for believers, “God is faithful.” Paul never tired of rejoicing in the faithfulness of God to the promises of his Word (see, e.g., 1 Co 1:9; 2 Co 1:18; 1 Th 5:24; 2 Ti 2:13). Especially relevant here is the promise in 2 Thessalonians 3:3, written in the context of persecution and suffering: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” The Lord will indeed give us the strength by his grace to bear up under any peirasmos that we experience, if we will only depend on his strength (see esp. 2 Co 12:7–10). For we can be confident that he will eventually provide for us a way out, so that while we are still under the peirasmos we can endure it.
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