“God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle”
God will never give you more than you can handle
2 Corinthians 1:8 – 11
1 Corinthians 10:12 – 13
“God will never give you more than you can handle”
I want you to imagine something, if you will,
Imagine you’re scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, obviously this will require more imagination for some of you than others,
But imagine you’re scrolling through your newsfeed,
And there among the photos of people’s food, and their criticisms of Pokemon Go, there you find a neat little picture, perhaps a sunset, soft focus, with the words, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
Or maybe Facebook isn’t your thing, but perhaps you’re at the Christian bookshop one day, looking for something nice to hang on your wall,
And there among the inspirational quotes, is a poster with that phrase emblazoned on it, perhaps with a photo of a kitten holding for dear life on to a tree branch; “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
What do you think? How do you feel, when you see that?
It sounds good, it sounds Christian.
It sounds like the sort of thing that we can imagine God saying to us.
It sounds compassionate,
It has the ring of fairness to it. We don’t like to think of people being given more than they can handle, so that resonates with us.
But there are a couple of problems with this kind of “encouragement.”
We find it a comforting thought, it sounds compassionate, when we’re having a bad day, but when things haven’t yet got beyond us.
When things are hard, but not overwhelming,
When I’m feeling a bit knocked about, but I’m still managing to keep my head above water, this is the sort of thing I like to hear, “God will never give me more than I can handle.”
“Well, I’m still managing to handle this, so that’s good, God is still in control”, and I can continue with my , hard but not over-whelming day, confident that I haven’t reached the limits of my abilities.
On those occasions when life is hard, but I still reckon I can handle it, if only just, then this promise sounds good, and I like it.
But when life truly is overwhelming,
When someone stands at the grave of a loved one, taken too soon,
When a parents sits by a hospital bed, watching their child slip away, unable to do anything though if they could, they would give their own life for the life of their child,
When a marriage or relationship breaks down,
When the doctor gives a, a devastating diagnosis,
When hopes and dreams are shattered, and even getting out of bed in the morning is too hard,
When life actually is, beyond, what we can handle, then this promise is not comforting,
It’s not compassionate,
It’s cruel, because the second fatal flaw with this promise, is that God never promised it.
This myth sounds like something God has said – a promise for help when tempted (1 Corinthians 10:12 – 13)
It sounds quite like something that God has said, in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth.
Paul has been outlining the lesson to be learnt from the history of God’s people Israel, in the Old Testament, and the lesson is, don’t fall to the temptation to sin.
Don’t think that because you’re one of God’s people, that A, you won’t fall into sin, or that B, God will just overlook your sin and think that it doesn’t matter.
That was the mistake of Old Testament Israel, that’s the lesson that Paul wants the Corinthians to learn.
They gave such little thought to the danger of temptation, and so fell.
And with devastating consequences.
Don’t rely on your position,
Your family heritage,
Don’t rely on anything about yourself, that would make you think you don’t have to worry about the temptation to sin.
I remember reading in the paper years ago about some young adults at a church who had taken a pledge not to have sex before marriage. Which , great! Taking sexual purity seriously is excellent. But one of these young women, interviewed in the paper said, “Because I’ve taken this pledge, I now won’t be tempted to engage in sexual activity before I’m married.”
And I just felt so sorry for her, cause she’s in for a rude shock isn’t she?
See the great promise to that young woman, and to all who live with Jesus as Lord is not that you will never be tempted to sin, but that, verse 13, God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, and when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
The Christians in first Century Corinth would face the enormous temptation to take part in the worship of idols. If you didn’t join in with the idol worship you would social and economic exclusion.
First and foremost, Paul seems to have that particular temptation to sin on his mind as a risk factor for the Corinthians.
But he doesn’t limit God’s grace just to people facing that particular temptation, does he?
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind, and God s faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, and when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
The language of providing a way out is the language used in the ancient world to describe a mountain rescue.
You might have heard in the news this week that a group of 26 teenage mountain climbers got stuck on the 2nd highest mountain in Wales. The weather deteriorated, it started raining, and fog descended. They couldn’t see where they’d come from, or how to go forward, but a mountain rescue team came and provided a way out.
It’s exactly that sense that Paul speaks of here, for the Christian person facing temptation.
God will always provide a way out from temptation, for the person who is willing to trust and depend on him.
For those climbers on the mountain, the way out that the rescue team provide, well, that’s only any good if the teenagers decide to trust them, isn’t it?
If they think they know better themselves,
If they doubt that the rescuers have their best interests at heart, they won’t take the way out provided. And so for the person willing to depend on God in the face of temptation, there will always be a way out.
What a comfort, and assurance.
When we’re faced with temptation to sin, failure is not a fait acompli. It is not a given that we will fall. Oh, if we think we’re standing firm, we quite possibly will, but if we entrust ourselves to a faithful God, there is always a way out open to us.
That’s the promise that God has made, God’s faithfulness to us in the midst of temptation
But it would be a mistake to take this wonderful assurance, for Christian people facing temptation, and modify it to say “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
That is not a promise that God has made.
And the problem with putting words into God’s mouth, is that when it turns out not to be true, then the only conclusion left for us to reach is that God is a liar.
Every now and then I meet someone who thinks they know a bit about the Trinity Network, and they tell me that , quote “Trinity is concerned about truth.” And the way they say that, makes me think they mean it in a bad way!
Now, I absolutely get that if you’re concerned about truth, and not about other things that you should also be concerned about, like love and compassion, then that is bad, and if we are guilty of that, then we need to repent of that, but to be concerned about truth in an age of relativism is not a bad thing.
And in fact, without the truth, it’s not possible to be loving and compassionate.
Think about the person in that situation where life really has thrown up, more than they can handle, they really have , reached the bottom of their own resources,
When somebody says to them, “God will not give you more than you can handle”, what does that do to them?
What option does it leave them, other than to conclude, “Well, God must be a liar, ‘cause he broke his promise to me, because clearly this is more than I can handle.”
Or, “I must be more screwed up than I thought I was, if I’m supposed to be able to handle this situation, when clearly I can’t.”
And imagine what that’s going to do to someone who’s already at the end of their tether because of their circumstances?
See, what goes under the guise of, compassionate, encouraging, comforting, because it’s not truthful, is in fact, cruel, and unkind.
This myth will disappoint and discourage us because sometimes we face more than we can handle (2 Corinthians 1:8 – 9)
And so, if you’ve ever felt that actually, yes, I think I am facing more than I can handle, you can take comfort from the fact that the Apostle Paul sometimes felt exactly the same way!
Let me read those opening verses from that part of 2 Corinthians again.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.
The Apostle Paul had visited the Greek city of Corinth on what we often call his second missionary journey. He spent 18 months there with the church that he founded, before leaving for Ephesus.
But things didn’t all go swimmingly for Paul after he left Corinth.
He describes what he faced as troubles, in verse 8,
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure,
we despaired of life itself.
A man named J B Phillips was a pastor in London during World War 2, and he used his time in underground bomb shelters during the Blitz to translate the New Testament in contemporary language, for the young people of his day who struggled to read and understand the King James Version.
His translation of verse 8 reads, “at that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear.”
That is someone, facing more than they can handle, isn’t it? And then it kind of reaches a crescendo in verse 9, 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.
We don’t know what the detail of these troubles that Paul and the others experienced in the province of Asia. It might have been the riot recorded in Acts chapter 19 when Paul and his companions were seized, and the town was in an uproar.
Paul might be thinking of one of times he was imprisoned, facing likely execution.
It might have been some illness,
It could have been any of the sorts of afflictions that Paul describes over in chapter 11, imprisonment,
Whatever it was, this was more than Paul could handle!
One of the scholars writing about this passage concludes that Paul was enduring the kind of anguish “which banishes all hope.”
There’s a line in Anne of Green Gables where Anne asks Marilla if she knows what it is to despair. And Marilla says no, she can’t even imagine what it’s like to despair, because, “to despair is to turn your back on God.” Well, Paul might respectfully disagree with Marilla Cuthbert, because here he says, that he and his colleagues, probably Timothy, perhaps others as well, despaired of life itself.
Now, we know that Paul had no fear of death, he thought it was better for him personally to die and be with Christ, than to go on living. It’s probably more the point that he’s worried about who’s going to continue his ministry of taking the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles, to people who weren’t Jews, since he was the one in the early church set apart for that task.
But Paul’s looking death in the face!
He sees the end of his life, the end of his ministry,
This is what I think every time I hit turbulence in a plane;, “this is it, the end of my life”, but for Paul it was real.
Left to himself, he’d be dead.
I think that goes in the category of “more than he could handle.”
God had not kept from Paul, that which was beyond his ability to endure, and so we should have no reason at all to think, that God would keep from us, sufferings and afflictions that are beyond our ability to endure.
That are beyond our resources.
That language of having received the sentence of death, doesn’t have to refer to a judicial sentence of death,
Paul might mean, we were absolutely convinced that we were going to die, and God hadn’t answered our prayers to deliver us.
Humanly speaking, there was nothing that Paul could do.
Anyone who says that God will not give you more than you can handle, is promising you an experience of life, beyond even what the Apostle Paul knew.
Make no mistake about that.
Paul knew what it was to despair even of life itself.
And so friends, when troubles come,
When you suffer,
When you face hardships,
Don’t be surprised as if this is something unexpected or out of the ordinary,
Come back to these words here from Paul, and see again, how we can persevere when our struggles are than what we can handle.
This myth teaches us to rely on ourselves instead of God (v 9 – 10)
Like I said, Paul doesn’t tell us, or the Corinthians to whom he’s writing, what his troubles were.
He says, We do not want you to be uninformed about them, but then he doesn’t actually inform them what it all was.
But Paul doesn’t want to inform them much about troubles themselves, but on the outcome of the troubles, where these sufferings lead, about what they accomplish.
Because in being given more than he could handle,
In despairing even of life itself,
In realising that he had no resources left to draw on himself, to get him through,
Paul had learnt to rely on God, instead of relying on himself. That’s what he wants the Corinthians to be informed about.
But this happened verse 9, that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
See, think about the myth, If “God will never give you more than you can handle”, then it becomes all about me,
Persevering becomes about my ability,
What becomes important is what I can bear,
My level of tolerance becomes the focus.
And ironically, that was the very danger Paul was trying to guard against in those verses from his first letter, from where this myth kind of takes its life.
1 Corinthians 10 verses 12 and 13, So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
Don’t think you’re entirely self-sufficient, Paul says,
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can handle whatever life throws at you!
I mean, how clever we can be, to take God’s Word in the Scriptures, and make it mean the exact opposite of his original intention.
There is a danger in thinking that we’re self-sufficient, and ready for any crisis that might come our way, because God wants our attention on him and his resources, and not on ourselves.
And it’s not that God is somehow insecure and so wants to be the centre of attention all the time.
God wants our attention on him and not on ourselves, because that is the means of passing through these troubles like Paul experienced.
What did he say was the outcome of his trials?
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,
These sufferings, as terrible as they were, direct Paul’s attention not to himself,
Not to his situation, but to God.
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God,
I don’t know what , image you have of the Apostle Paul, what you imagine him to be like.
We read of his ministry, of his faith in Jesus, and it’s easy to imagine him as some kind of super Christian, who never struggled with the sorts of things that we struggle with.
But here we see that that’s not the case at all.
We see here that Paul was at risk of relying on himself and not on God, just like we are.
John Calvin, the 16th Century church Reformer wrote that Paul “was a man that was subject, to misdirected confidence, and the like.”
There was temptation for Paul to think that his efforts were enough to bring about the gospel outcomes that he desired.
The temptation for Paul was no doubt like the temptation for us, to think that we can rely on our own strength, to deal with life’s challenges and struggles.
There’s a temptation for us to have confidence in our abilities, in such a way that we give little or no thought to how God would be at work.
There’s a temptation for us to be so sure that we can handle life, that we’re blinded to what God would have us learn through our trials.
And that so-called promise, that God will never give you more than you can handle, what does it do? It automatically draws my attention to my abilities?
And if that promise is true, then the more terrible my situation is, the more confidence I need to have in my abilities!
But sadly, when I’m at the end of my tether,
When I’m tempted to despair even of life itself,
That’s not the time for unbridled confidence in my own resources, is it?
That’s not the time to turn all my attention to myself!
That’s the time to rely on God and set my hope upon him, confident that he will continue to deliver me, verse 10
When I’m at the end of my tether, I need to recognise limits of my own abilities and resources.
But I think we can go even one step further than that, and say we ought to be aware, not just of the limits of our own resources, but of the way our abilities and resources can deceive us,
The temptation to think, I can handle whatever life throws at me.
Paul’s hardships, the fact that humanly speaking there was nothing he could do, served as a reminder that there is ultimately no hope or security outside of Christ.
And notice even that dependence on God isn’t just a by-product of the deadly perils that came Paul’s way.
He actually says that was their purpose: Verse 9, this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.
As strange as it might be to our ears to hear this, Paul says the purpose of God in allowing Paul to suffer the hardships that he did,
In allowing Paul to be in difficulty beyond his own ability to solve, was to teach him this dependence on God.
I reckon to us this seems like a heavy-handed approach. What’s
that expression? Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
It seems to us that suffering and hardship are a high price to pay, for learning to rely on God.
, And yet I wonder if that’s because of the values we choose to assign to things. Suffering and hardship seems like too high a price to pay, for learning to rely not on ourselves but on God, because we value our own comfort and being in control, very highly, and the deepening relationship with God, not so highly.
Do you think that could be the case?
Could that be why we react against the idea of God using hardship, to teach us this lesson?
I do wonder if that’s why we find this so hard to swallow some times.
Now, please hear me say this very carefully:, this is by no means the only outcome, not even the only good outcome, from sufferings and trouble.
If you, right now, even as you sit here, are in the midst of some trouble and affliction that seems to you to be beyond your ability to handle, I am absolutely not saying to you, “Well, clearly God thinks you need to trust him more, and if only you had trusted him more, this wouldn’t be happening to you.” I am most definitely not saying that.
But the Apostle Paul, writing as he is, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, can see that God’s purpose in allowing his hardship, was that he might learn this lesson, that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
That was the reason God allowed these troubles that Paul experienced in the province of Asia, and Paul thinks it’s worth the Corinthians knowing, that even though these troubles may well have been caused by other people’s sinfulness, and hatred of the gospel, that God can use them for this purpose in Paul’s life.
Perhaps more than any other church in the New Testament, the church in Corinth thought that , having come to faith in Jesus, they could just bypass hardships and affliction, and land themselves in heaven with Jesus.
Paul says, “we do not want you to be uninformed, about the troubles we experienced”
It was through hardship and suffering that Paul learned how to rely not on himself, but on God, and the Corinthians needed to learn that lesson, too.
And it’s not just Paul, there are countless episodes in the Bible where the Lord gives people more than they can handle, with the express purpose of calling them to depend on him, rather than on their own resources and abilities.
A classic example from the Old Testament would be Gideon, in Judges 6 to 8. God tells Gideon to whittle down his army, to just 300 men, who will go up against 135 thousand Midianites.
And God’s reasoning is, Judges 7 verse 2, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’
The task before them was more than they could handle, but God wanted all Israel to know that he was at work, and that he could be relied upon, and that they didn’t achieve what was ultimately a great victory on their own.
And similarly Paul, in seeing God prove his faithfulness and dependability in the past, he has great confidence in God’s faithfulness for the future.
See there in verse 10, He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,
You know what they say about job interviews, when you’re trying to work out what kind of performance you can expect from this candidate, “the best predictor of future performance is past performance.” You make sure you know about what’s happened in the past, so you can have confidence in the future.
Well, Paul has confidence about how God has acted in the immediate past, so he’s encouraged to believe that God would act on his behalf again: on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
This myth denies us the opportunity to help others by interceding in prayer (v 10 - 11)
There’s something else I’ve released about it this week as I’ve reflected on it in the light of 2 Corinthians 1.
And that is, if we think that this is true, that God won’t give someone more than they can handle, then we are denied the opportunity to help that person by interceding in prayer on their behalf.
Or if we think of this as it applies to ourselves, we deny others the opportunity to help us in our trial, through their prayers of intercession.
Did you see what Paul says?
, “God will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers.
Relying on God, when we’re faced with more than we can handle, is actually a way of benefitting, not just from the faithfulness of God, but also the faithfulness of other people.
Wouldn’t you have loved to be one of these Corinthians?, I mean there’s not a lot to love about the Corinthian church, when people say to me “I want our church to be like it was in the New Testament!” I think, “Have you read the letters to the Corinthians?! Do you know what they were like?”
They were fractured,
And tolerant of sin,
And yet Paul was confident that God would use their prayers to deliver him and his companions, when they suffered and were persecuted.
He will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers.
What a privilege.
And what a privilege we enjoy, because we too can pray for brothers and sisters who face more than they can handle.
God is able to act in response to our prayers, and the result will be, as Paul longs for here, that many people will give thanks to God, for his gracious favour.
On occasion when somebody shares with me the terrible trial that they’re going through,
A painful relationship breakdown,
Or a serious illness, either themselves, or someone in their family, I want to help, but my range of options is somewhat limited.
I can’t undo somebody’s mistakes,
I can’t change the behaviour of another person,
I can’t magically cure someone of a terminal illness,
And so sometimes I’ve found myself saying, “Well, all I can do is pray, so I’ll do that!”
“All I can do is pray”?!
In the light of what Paul says here, it’s a bit like saying to someone who’s starving, “Well, all I’ve got is enough for you to eat and survive!”
Or to say to someone who’s drowning, “I’m sorry, but all I’ve got is this rope,
This life jacket,
A life bouy,
An inflatable dinghy,
And a team of life-guards, but I’m sorry that’s all I can offer you!”
“All I can do is pray”?!
I can do the very thing that God in his kindness and his sovereignty uses to deliver people from painful trials.
He has done it in the past, that’s the lesson Paul learned, and he’s convinced that God will continue to act through the prayers of ordinary Christians.
Even very ordinary Christians, like those in Corinth, and at TMB!
But if I believe the myth, when you’re struggling, there’s no point me praying, is there?! Because clearly you’re able to handle it!
But if it’s only by depending on God’s grace and faithfulness that you are going to get through the difficult trial you’re facing, well, of course that motivates me to pray for you.
This week I heard a lawyer describing how he was recently preparing for a court case, and it was weighing very heavily on him, everything he needed to do to get ready to appear in court, and so he rings his wife, and says “Please can you pray for me, I just have so much to do to prepare for court.” His wife says, “Yes, I’ll pray as soon as I get off the phone.”
Later that day, this guy hears on the news that the court where he’s supposed to appear has burnt down! And now he’s much more specific in what he asks his wife to pray for!
That’s probably not how God will choose to act in answer to your prayers!
But I wonder, if one day soon, one of your friends, in the midst of some trial says, optimistically, “God won’t give me more than I can handle”, whether you could say to them, ever so gently, “please don’t deny me the chance, to ask God to be at work in you, to deliver you from this deadly peril”
I don’t know how that will go down, possibly not well!
But please don’t believe this myth that would deny you the opportunity to intercede as Paul encourages us to here.