The Limits of Temptation (Phil Johnson)

1 Corinthians 10:13   |   Sunday, August 11, 2013   |   Code: 2013-08-11-PJ

     This morning we'll look at a favorite text, containing a precious promise, which has brought encouragement and strength to multitudes of God's children in the midst of their trials. It's 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

     Every one of us faces temptation. That is one of the main points of this verse: temptation "is . . . common to man." Temptation sometimes seems to come in waves, and we might be inclined to think it's going to overwhelm us. But this verse says the true child of God, the person who trusts Christ, doesn't need to fear that temptation might ultimately and finally engulf us or overthrow us. There are limits to our temptation. In the words of Psalm 103:13-14, "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." And He promises a way of escape from every trial and every temptation that assaults us.

     So this text is an important one, and a reassuring guarantee, and a promise from which we ought to draw strength whenever we are put through trials or temptations. It's a wonderful verse to memorize, and I hope you have memorized it, because you need to be able to remind yourself of this promise every time temptation or trials of any kind threaten you.

     Let's look at the context, so that you can see exactly what Paul is saying and why he is saying it to the Corinthians. The larger context of this passage is a lengthy section that runs from chapter 7 through the end of the epistle in which Paul is apparently answering a long series of questions the Corinthians had written to him. He begins in chapter 7, verse 1, with these words: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote . . . " And then he goes subject by subject through the list of questions they had evidently asked him. In Chapter 7, he deals with the subject of marriage, answering several questions about marriage, singleness, celibacy, widowhood, and the propriety of marriages where one party remains an unbeliever after the other spouse has come to faith in Christ.

     Starting in chapter 8, he turns to another subject—the question of whether it is sinful to eat meat that has been offered to idols. In Corinth there were many pagan temples, and Temples raised money by selling food that had been offered to the idols. Some of the Corinthians felt free to eat food that had been offered on pagan altars; others believed Christians ought to go out of their way to abstain from food that was associated with idol worship, as if the physical food itself was tainted by the defilement of the idolatry. So they would bend over backwards to make sure nothing they ate had ever been part of a pagan offering. Many were apparently confused, because it wasn't always possible in Corinth to know whether something you purchased at the market had been purchased wholesale from the pagan temples. So they had raised the question with Paul. He takes three full chapters to answer the question, starting in 8:1 and going through the end of chapter 10.

     Then in chapter 11, he turns to the subject of women and their role in the church, talking about head coverings and the principle of submission. That leads to a discussion of the communion service in chapter 11, and he spends the rest of the chapter instructing them how they ought to behave when they come to the Lord's Table.

     Then in chapters 12-14, he answers a series of questions they had raised about spiritual gifts—especially (chapter 14) their abuse of the miraculous charismatic gifts.

     In chapter 15, he answers a question that had come up about the resurrection of the human body. He spends a great deal of time refuting a an error that had been brought to Corinth by some false teachers who denied that the physical bodies of dead believers would be literally raised from the dead. That's a very long chapter, because the error was so serious that it warranted a detailed answer.

     And finally, in chapter 16, he answers questions they had raised about the collection of money for needy Christians in Jerusalem, because Jerusalem at that moment was under siege by the Romans and the church at Jerusalem was suffering greatly.

     So, starting in chapter 7, this whole epistle is a check-list of answers to question they had raised, and almost every time he moves to a new subject, he signals the change with the words "Now concerning . . . "—or some close equivalent. Chapter 7, verse 1: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote . . . " Chapter 7, verse 25: "Now concerning virgins . . . " (single women and their role in the church). Chapter 8, verse 1: "Now concerning food offered to idols . . ." Chapter 12, verse 1: "Now concerning spiritual gifts . . ." Chapter 16:1: "Now concerning the collection for the saints . . ." So the logical flow of 1 Corinthians is very easy to follow from subject to subject, and even though we have no record of the letter the Corinthians had written to Paul, we can discern from his answers exactly what they had asked him.

     And our text falls in the middle of his long answer to their question about meat offered to idols. In essence, here is what Paul told them:

     He began by pointing out (1 Corinthians 8:4) "that 'an idol has no real existence,' and that 'there is no God but one.'" And (verse 8) "Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do." I'm sure that answer was a surprise to many of the Corinthians, especially those who had been saved out of paganism and had come to hate idolatry so much that they were afraid of being polluted by food that had been used in idol worship.

     But Paul was in essence saying the very same thing Jesus taught in Matthew 15:11: "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." Food per se cannot spiritually defile you. It's the act of worshiping an idol that brings spiritual defilement, not any tangible aspect or ceremonial defilement that is attached to the physical food. So the short answer is that you can eat meat offered to idols without being defiled by it.

     However, Paul gives a couple of instances when he says the right thing to do is abstain. In 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, for example, he says you ought to abstain if partaking might cause your brother to stumble. Then he spends an entire chapter (chapter 9) expounding on the principle of self-control and self-discipline for the gospel's sake. But remember that the larger context is still the issue of meat offered to idols, and he returns to that subject explicitly here in chapter 10. He reminds them (v. 16) that by partaking in communion they are symbolically partaking of Christ. And likewise (v. 18), when the Israelites ate meat that had been sacrificed to God, they partook of the holy altar. Therefore, he says, do not partake of meat offered to idols in that sense. Don't become a partaker in the offering, and don't eat meat offered to idols in any situation where your eating involves any kind of fellowship with an act of idolatry. Because (1 Corinthians 10:20), "what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons."

     So he's making a distinction between eating meat bought in the marketplace that might have been offered to idols and the act of idolatry itself. The idolatry itself is what we are not supposed to partake of, not merely the physical food. Verse 14 is the key to this: "flee from idolatry."

     Furthermore, he says, it is sometimes better to abstain rather than eat, just for safety's sake, and for the sake of your testimony. And he sums it up like this: Verse 25: "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience." And (v. 27), "If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience." But if the issue of idolatry comes up; if your unbelieving host announces to you that this food has been offered to idols, then (v. 28) "then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his."

     So don't knowingly participate in idolatry in any way, and don't eat meat offered to idols if there's any risk of wounding someone else's conscience. But still, meat itself cannot defile you, so you don't have to abstain out of any superstitious fear that a physical object like food might defile you spiritually. It's a balanced, thoughtful, thorough answer to a very difficult question.

     And in the middle of giving them that answer, Paul takes some time to warn the Corinthians about the dangers of idolatry and unbelief. And that is the immediate context of our text. The short discourse about the danger of idolatry runs from 10:1 to verse 13.

     So let's just quickly survey those 13 verses that culminate in our text. Paul takes the Corinthians back to the Old Testament account of the Israelites in the wilderness, and he says what happened to them, and the Old Testament record of that, is given to us as a negative example (v. 6), "Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did." And verse 11: "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come."

     So he gives a brief overview of the history of Israel in the wilderness. He starts in verses 1-4 by reminding them of the great spiritual benefits every Israelite enjoyed:

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,

2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

3 and all ate the same spiritual food,

4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Notice that he names five important blessings that every Israelite in the wilderness partook of: 1. They were "under the cloud," which is a reference to the Shekinah glory, the pillar of cloud that guided them by day and the pillar of fire that guided them by night. They had a miraculous, physical manifestation of God's glory, which they all saw, and it led them in their journey.

     2. They "all passed through the sea"—meaning the Red Sea. God delivered them miraculously when it appeared to human eyes as if they had no hope of deliverance from a powerful enemy.

     3. (Verse 2) They "were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea"—meaning that they were all identified with Moses, united together under God's supernatural protection and guidance. They shared in the status of a favored nation, God's chosen people.

     4. (Verse 3) They "all ate the same spiritual food." That's a reference to the manna God miraculously gave every morning. It was "spiritual food" in the sense that it came miraculously and directly from the hand of God—a perfect meal, with perfect nutrition, so that all their physical needs were fully met.

     5. (Verse 4) "And [they] all drank the same spiritual drink." That's a reference to the water from the rock. And Paul adds that the rock was symbolic of Christ, who followed them for forty years in the wilderness, graciously quenching their thirst, so that the water from the rock was a visible token that symbolized the water of life and the unfailing grace of God toward that nation.

     Now, you would think people who had so many visible and tangible tokens of God's goodness would be faithful to the God who was so faithful to them. But not so. Verse 5: "With most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness." As a matter of fact, all of them except two—Caleb and Joshua—died in the wilderness before reaching the promised land. The stubborn unbelief of the Israelites was a shocking lesson. And Paul tells the Corinthians it is a lesson recorded for their benefit and encouragement, a reminder that they should be on guard lest they fall into the same sins that overthrew the Israelites.

     And what were those sins? He names five. In verses 1-4 he named five benefits they all enjoyed. Now he names five sins that became stumbling-blocks to them. Verse 6:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play."

8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,

10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

So here are the five sins he names: 1. Desire for evil things (v. 6); 2. Idolatry (v. 7); 3. fornication (v. 8); 4. putting God to the test (v. 9); 5. complaining (v. 10).

     By the way, those were all sins that were rampant in the Corinthian church. Evil, selfish, fleshly lusts had led to division in the church so that in chapter 3, Paul calls them carnal—fleshly. Their carnal lusts led to envying and strife, and Paul writes (3:3-4), "you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human?" The were carnal, fleshly, operating on the basis of human lusts and human pride, not being spiritual people.

     Then here in chapter 10, verse 14, he mentions the sin of idolatry. Idolatry was a big problem in Corinth because it was such a pagan culture.

     We also know that they had tolerated fornication in their midst, and Paul had rebuked them for that in chapter 5.

     They were putting God to the test through their abuse of spiritual gifts and their wicked behavior st the Lord's Table. Paul even tells them in chapter 11, verse 30: "That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died."

     And they were notorious complainers. In chapter 4, verse 18, Paul says that some of them were puffed up and critical against him, because they thought he wasn't going to come to them in person. We learn in 2 Corinthians that some of them were murmuring against Paul in exactly the same way that the Old Testament Israelites had murmured against Moses.

     So those five sins were all very real threats in the Corinthian church, and that's why Paul brings them up and names them. That's why he is so adamant in urging the Corinthians to heed the message of God's judgments against Israel in the wilderness. The Corinthians were repeating the very same errors and following after the very same sins that overthrew the Israelites.

     But they had a false sense of security in spite of their sin. Remember what Paul said about the fornicator in their midst in 1 Corinthians 5:2? He said, "And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?" They had become overconfident, proud, even of their fleshly misbehavior. (Reminds me of some of the young celebrity evangelicals today.) He tells them (1 Corinthians 5:6), "Your boasting is not good." And here in chapter 10, verse 12, he adds a similar kind of admonition: "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."

     He rebukes their overconfidence. He reminds them of the truth of Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

     Conceit and vainglory have been the occasion of sin for some of the best of saints. Remember the boasting of Peter, who argued with Jesus about his own frailty in Matthew 26:35: "'Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!' And all the disciples said the same." And you remember what happened before the rooster crowed the next morning.

     So Paul posts a huge warning flag against overconfidence.

     But then he turns to the opposite danger, and that is where our verse comes in. For every believer who is arrogant and overconfident, there are many more who are fearful and fainthearted. And Paul is conscious of those weak souls who might be tempted to despair by so much emphasis on the dangers of falling. He's been talking about the history of the Israelites, all but two of whom perished in the wilderness and were kept out of the earthly promised land because of their unbelief. And now he draws another lesson from that history, and this one is an encouragement to souls troubled by temptation. He assures them that "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

     I'm thankful for this verse, especially in this context. It's a perfect anchor for any time of trial—but especially when we feel weak in the face of temptation. It's a guarantee that there are limits to how much we can be tempted, and it assures us that God Himself exercises sovereign control over every temptation and every trial that assaults us.

     By the way, the Greek word translated "temptation" here is peirasmos, which speaks of a test, a trial, or a provocation. In English, we have one expression (trials) that speaks of hardships, troubles, tribulations, and afflictions that test our faith; and another expression (temptations) that we generally use to speak of a solicitation to evil. When the devil tries to entice us or incite us to do something wrong, that's a temptation. When God puts us in trying circumstances to test and ultimately strengthen our faith, we refer to that as a trial.

     There's no such distinction in the Greek, but the same word (peirasmos) is used for temptings and trials. It used to be the case that the word temptation worked like that in English, and that is why in the King James Version, James 1:2 says, "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations."

     As always, the context determines the meaning, and the next verse goes on to say "you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." So we know that James is talking about trials that test our faith, not the kinds of temptation that are solicitations to evil. As a matter of fact, a few verses later (verse 13), James says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God.'" There he is talking about the solicitation to evil, and the next phrase makes his meaning clear: "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." Trials and temptations are all the same word in the Greek, and the context determines the meaning.

     It's a useful distinction we have made in English between "trials" and "temptations," because it reminds us of what James 1:13 teaches—that God is never the author, or the agent, or the efficient cause of evil. He doesn't entice us with evil, even though he does sometimes subject us to trials and put us to the test in order to purify and refine and strengthen us, as we see in Psalm 66:10 ("For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried."). But there's no such distinction between trials and temptations in the Greek. It's the same word either way, and it's the word that is found in our text, peirasmos.

     So is 1 Corinthians 13 talking about trials or temptations? It seems to me that the immediate context deals primarily with temptations—the seductive power of evil. That's what verses 6-10 were all about. But I also think it's quite clear that the principle of this text applies to trials also. Whether you are being tempted by evil or subjected to something that tries your faith, God will not permit you to be put to any test that is too great for you to withstand.

     And, if you think about it, every temptation is also a trial, and with every trial comes a temptation, because when your faith is tested and you fail, that is sin. So Satan can use any trial we go through to tempt us to evil, and this text teaches us not to tremble in the face of either trial or temptation, but always to persevere boldly in faith, because God is sovereign. He's not the tempter, but He is sovereign over the temptation, and he guarantees that there are strict limits on all our trials and temptations, so that no trial and no temptation that comes to us is more than we can bear. If we fail, it is our own fault, as James says in James 1:14: "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." But we're never left helpless in the face of any temptation, and we're never subjected to trials that are too heavy for us to withstand.

     That's the promise of this verse, and I see three distinct promises that ought to encourage us as we face the trials and temptations that come our way. I'll give them to you one at a time, and you can take them down as we move from one point to the next. The first is this:


1. Your Trials Are No Worse Than Other People's

     The New International Version (at least the version they were selling before they made all the genders politically correct) says, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man." That's a good translation of the Greek text. Paul speaks of temptation seizing us. He uses a Greek word that speaks of grabbing hold of something, perhaps by stealth or surprise. I'm using the ESV, which says, "No temptation has overtaken you"—and that's inherent in the Greek expression as well. The idea is that we are lured and snared by some appeal to our lust that catches us unawares, grabs us, and seems to hold us fast in its grip. That's exactly what temptation often seems like, isn't it?

     Satan himself is called "the tempter" in Matthew 4:3 and 1 Thessalonians 3:5. So it's no wonder that temptation often feels like it comes with demonic power. But lest you think there is something unique or unusual about the powerful way temptation seizes you, Paul says that is not the way it is. Every temptation you struggle with is a temptation that is "common to man." The temptations you face are the very same kind of temptations that assault every one of us.

     Now, you may face some abominable temptations. I don't know the specifics of what tempts you, and I don't particularly want to know. You may at times be assaulted with lusts that are so horrific and so heinous that you would never dare even admit to anyone that you struggle with such things. Or your mind might be assaulted with such blasphemous thoughts that you think your case is unique. Perhaps you even question whether you are a true Christian. You may think are being subjected to evil powers that no other Christian besides you has ever had to grapple with.

     Not so, Paul says. Those temptations are common to us all. They are typical human temptations, not superhuman ones. Although Satan himself might tempt you, don't imagine that he uses temptations suited for demons—the same kind of temptation he used to draw a third of the angels into hell. He is limited in his devices. And 2 Corinthians 2:11 says, "we are not ignorant of his designs." His repertoire in the human realm is limited to human temptations—"the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride," according to 1 John 2:16. You're not a special case. "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man."

     That means every temptation you face is a temptation other godly people have already faced and won victory over. Your case is not hopeless, no matter how powerful or unique you think your temptations are. What's more: you can learn from and benefit from even the failures of others. That's one of Paul's main points here in 1 Corinthians 10. Scripture records even the bitter history of Old Testament Israel for our good, and for our encouragement, so that we can be strengthened and emboldened against the kinds of lust that caused them to stumble, because those are, after all, the very same temptations we face.

     More than that, because all the temptations we face are "common to man," we can draw strength from the knowledge that "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Christ himself faced all those same temptations and never once yielded to them. No temptation has taken you but such as Christ has already endured and overcome. Hebrews 5:2 says, "He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness." He is "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Hebrews 2:18: "Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

     Understand what I am saying: Christ is the perfect man, and evil never had any attraction for Him. Yet in His human weakness, he knew thirst, and fatigue, and pain, and sorrow more than you will ever endure. And Satan tempted him on that basis, appealing to those desires and those non-sinful human frailties with the very same temptations he hits us with. You'll remember that the evil tempter personally came to Christ and tempted Him, for example, to eat when He was hungry. He tormented Him with grief and dread in the garden until Christ's sweat was like great drops of blood. Christ endured far more temptation than you will ever know, and He never once gave in. He endured every temptation that is common to man.

     Read the account of his temptation in Matthew 4, and you'll see that Satan tempted Him with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—every temptation that is common to man. And Christ bore all of that temptation, which came to Him with a force the human mind can barely fathom, without yielding an inch of ground to evil—even though in the end it meant a cruel death on a Roman cross. He did that on your behalf, so that He could be your sympathetic high priest, and come to your aid when you are tempted.

     So your temptations are no worse than other people's, and certainly not in the same league with what Christ endured. You can draw strength and comfort from that knowledge, and instead of seeing how monstrous and persistent your temptations are, learn to look to your faithful and sympathetic High Priest, who is able to come to your aid when you are tempted.

     Here's a second promise you can cling to when trials and temptation assault you. The first one is that your trials are no worse than other people's. The second one is this:


2. Your Trials Are No Worse Than You Can Bear

     Look at the second phrase in the verse: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability." God knows precisely how much you can bear, and he will not permit any trial or temptation that is too great for you. Earlier, I read Psalm 103:13-14. Listen to it again: "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." Paul's argument here in 1 Corinthians is based on the faithfulness of a God who is by nature good, and compassionate, and full of lovingkindness, and whose mercies are over all His works. He carefully circumscribes the limits of all our trials, and He promises that no temptation can ever come our way that is too great for us to bear.

     And even though all of us from time to time have been beset with trials that we thought would overwhelm us, James 4:6 says, "he gives more grace." No child of God ever faces a trial without receiving sustaining grace along with it. That's exactly what our verse says, isn't it? "With the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

     There's a wonderful promise in Deuteronomy 33:25: "as your days, so shall your strength be." Your trial will not last one more day than the strength God gives you to endure it. Lamentations 3:22-23 makes a similar promise: "his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning." Again, the stress is on the faithfulness of a compassionate God, who supplies grace in just the right measure, just when we need it. He gives "grace to help in time of need."

     Spurgeon said, "How greatly this ought to comfort you who are sorely tried! Every twig of the rod of correction has been made by God, and every stroke of it is counted by him. There is not a drop more gall in your cup than the Lord has ordained. He has weighed, in the scales of the sanctuary, every ingredient of your medicine, and mixed it with all his infallible skill so that it may produce the cure of all your ills."

     Now, I want you to notice something about this promise that there will always be a way of escape. It's not a way of escape from our trials; it's a way of escape through them. It's not the kind of escape you might be hoping for—a way to escape the trial itself. But it's a better kind of escape—a way of escape that enables us to "endure it." The way of escape comes "with" the trial, not instead of it.

     Go back to the example Paul gives in verse 1. The Israelites "passed through the sea." The Red Sea was a formidable obstacle. Pharaoh's armies were in hot pursuit, determined to exterminate the Israelites rather than see them leave Egypt. The sea blocked their way. To human eyes, the case looked hopeless. And you may remember that Moses stopped for a while. He was so confident that God would deliver the Israelites, Exodus 14:13 says, "Moses said to the people, 'Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today.'" He was expecting a different way of deliverance than the Lord had planned. So Exodus 14:15 says, "The LORD said to Moses, 'Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.'" The way of escape was through the obstacle—and the Lord used the sea itself (that seemingly impassible obstacle) as the means of destruction for Israel's enemies.

     The best way of escape is always one that vanquishes the enemy. And that is why God's way of escape usually goes straight ahead, through the trial: into the fiery furnace, into the lion's den, and into the wilderness. But not only does He take us into the wilderness; He leads us through it, too. The "way of escape" is not a way to avoid the trial, but a way to bear it. That's the promise this verse makes.

     Look at the verse again. Here's how the New King James Version has it: "with the temptation [He] will also make the way of escape." The definite article is the correct translation of the Greek: "the way of escape." I'm using the ESV, and it also has the definite article. "With the temptation he will also provide the way of escape." There's only one right way of escape, and that is the way God designs. If you seek your own way of escape from trials, you'll only get yourself in worse trouble. God makes the way of escape; don't try to make your own.


     Now there's a third promise implied here, and I don't want you to miss this one. If you're taking notes, this is the third point you need to get. First, your trials are no worse than other people's. Second, your trials are no worse than you can bear. And now third,


3. Your Trials Are No Worse Than God Himself Permits

     This passage is all about the sovereignty of God, and the whole point is to remind us that God is sovereign in our trials. Because if you don't believe that, you can't trust Him in the midst of the trials. If you imagine that things can happen to you outside of God's control, or that it is possible for people or demons to thwart the will and the plan of God by the power of their own free will, this passage loses its power.

     And this is Paul's main point: God is absolutely sovereign, and He is working to accomplish His will, even in those times when it seems like we are confronted with trials or temptations that have escaped His sovereign eye.

     I already referred to James 1:13, which says that God is never the tempter or the agent of any evil: "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one." And yet, James is not denying the sovereignty of God over those evil agents who do tempt us. God strictly sets the limits of their activity. You see this clearly in the case of Job, where the devil could not touch one hair on Job's head without the express permission of God. You see it also in the case of Peter. Remember what Jesus told Peter in Luke 22:31? "Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat." In other words, the devil demanded permission to tempt Peter. He could not do it without God's consent. And Christ personally interceded for Peter, to assure that his faith would not fail. In the end, the trial strengthened and seasoned him, and equipped him to strengthen the brethren.

     God is sovereign, and if he did not permit Satan to tempt us, we could never be tempted at all. But God has a good purpose in all our trials—even when the powers of evil tempt us with evil. God still exercises sovereign control. Nothing outside what He has planned and ordained can ever come against us.

     And I don't know about you, but that brings me a great deal of comfort and encouragement. It reassures me that even when evil assaults me, God has not abandoned me. As our text says, "God is faithful." And (in the words of 2 Timothy 2:13) "[Even] if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself."

     It also reminds me that God has a plan that is good. "With the temptation he will also provide the way of escape." And His plan is personal for me, for my good, no matter how bitter the trial may seem or how fiercely the temptation comes. He works all things—even the bad things that happen to us—for good. That is the familiar promise of Romans 8:28.

     This text also reassures me that if my trials seem to grow more difficult or my temptations more severe, it is only because God by His grace has strengthened me and matured me, and He knows what I can endure. That knowledge strengthens me to face the future without dread.

     One of the difficult realities of life is that our trials actually seem to increase and grow more difficult as we grow older. I'm watching my own dad grow old, and I'm more and more aware all the time of the reality that our trials are usually multiplied as the years go by. As I've watched my dad face the loss of his wife and problems of old age with grace and without growing bitter, I've seen the promise of this verse being lived out. He would be the first to testify that God has never allowed him to face a trial without also giving him the strength to bear it. So while he may seem to be growing physically weaker, he has steadily grown spiritually stronger, more reliant on the Lord and therefore more able to bear the trials. That, after all, is the very promise God gives in Isaiah 46:4: "Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save."

     So, through the eyes of faith, trials turn out to be blessings in disguise. That's exactly what James 1:2-4 says, isn't it? "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

     What about temptation to evil? You might ask, where's the good in that? Temptation itself isn't good, but fighting and overcoming temptation is good, and good for you. Remember, the Lord knows how much you can endure. That ought to be an encouragement to resist temptation. Sometimes we give in to temptation because we get weary of the battle and imagine that yielding is the easiest way to get relief. But search your heart; you know sin won't bring relief from temptation. It only fuels the temptation and stokes more evil appetites. When we yield to temptation, it actually makes the next temptation harder to endure.

     That's why the biblical prescription for dealing with temptation is to resist. James 4:7: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." And put your fleshly desires to death. Romans 8:13: "Put to death the deeds of the body, [and] you will live." Colossians 3:5: "Put to death . . . what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." Ephesians 4:22-24: "Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

     That is the way of escape from temptation. Can you do it? According to our verse, you can, because God guarantees that no temptation you face will ever be beyond your ability to endure. But "with the temptation" He also graciously provides what you need to overcome.

     If you are a Christian, you therefore ought to be defiant in the face of every foe, and bold in resisting every temptation. Don't give in to the lie of the enemy when he tells you failure is inevitable. On the contrary, every true believer is an overcomer, "kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." And that knowledge ought to be enough for victory on a day to day basis until we see Him and are conformed perfectly to His likeness.

     What if you have no such hope in Christ? I realize that every week, there are people in our midst who do not know the Lord. You may identify with the church. You may even call yourself a Christian. Like those unfaithful Israelites in the wilderness, you may be a partaker in all the external blessings of the people of God. But if you do not have Christ as your Lord and Savior, this promise is not for you. Unless you come to Christ for salvation, the trials and temptations of life will eventually overwhelm you and destroy you, and you will die in the wilderness.

     But there is one promise you can cling to, and it's this: Romans 10:13: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Isaiah 55:6-7: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."

     Then the promise of our text will be yours as well, and in Christ you will find all the grace and power you need to sustain you through any trial and gain victory over any temptation that might ever assault you.

     Remember, in the words of 2 Peter 2:9: "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials. May we embrace that truth with our hearts and see it come to fruition in our daily experience, so that we can say with the apostle Paul, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen."