“No test has overtaken you that is not common to all people. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the test will provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
We are more familiar with the translation that reads “no temptation.” The word Paul used, however, means any kind of test. If we limit the word only to a temptation to sin, then we miss the larger context Paul intended. Yes we all struggle with sin to a certain degree, but the tests come in all shapes and sizes, and they certainly appear to overtake us at times.
With this broader understanding of what Paul meant in this passage we can draw out some important lessons about the tests we face.
First, tests are the common experience of all people. Paul faced countless tests. Jesus did also. The tests are simply a part of life. Crying that they are unfair may be inevitable, but ultimately useless. Harold Kushner wrote, “expecting life to be fair to you because you are good is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian.”
You will have tests today. They are either continuations of tests you have been facing for a long time, or brand new tests. You also know that once a test is completed another, or two, will likely rise to the surface. Tests are part of the shared human experience. They are “common to all people.”
The second lesson is you do not know how far you can be stretched. Your estimation of your limits is vastly insufficient. Think about this carefully. You have probably already faced tests of such magnitude that if someone were to have asked you a few weeks ahead of the test if you could survive you would have said, “I cannot.” Yet you did survive it, and you will survive the next one.
Oswald Chambers provides a wonderful illustration. “A saint’s life in the hands of God is like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says—‘I cannot stand anymore!’ God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly.”
I do not embrace Chambers’ notion that God is the one doing the stretching. I think God allows the stretching without being the author of it, but the point is the same. God does not protect you from all tests, but He does transform the test. Your test serves God’s purpose of making you complete. God will not let you be stretched beyond your strength. Your single task in life is to trust Him. Trust that He will make you stronger than you are presently. Trust that He knows what your finished life should be. Trust that He will enable you to endure the strain you presently feel. You must trust God to know your present limit and your future purpose.
A final lesson we glean from Paul’s writing is that the test does not prove God’s impotency, but rather proves His necessity. Some people see tests as evidence God is either unable or uninterested in helping us. They turn away from God and from the very spiritual resources that would help them survive and grow. I urge you to see the ultimate folly in that decision.
Unless you believe you are somehow exempt from tests then you simply must move beyond the idea that the test is stronger than God’s providence. The greatest saints have been trying to tell us for thousands of years that God is especially present in suffering, not absent from it. No He does not preserve you from the test, but neither does He ordain that you face it alone. As Paul wrote, “God is faithful.” He is faithful to you. He has been with you through every test and is with you in today’s test providing a way forward. I need God when I stumble. So do you.
My recent experience of my brother’s senseless and untimely death has been one of the greatest tests I have faced. It has stretched me beyond my previous limit. I want you to know that the truth I have learned and been taught about God over many years has been confirmed in this experience. Without any shallow triumphalism, but with a quiet confidence I can affirm God has enabled me to endure. He has been faithful. I can bear this test. You can bear yours also.
Dr. Terry Ellis
April 11, 2011