Today’s focus verse is one that is an encouraging principle and promise from the Word about how we can live the Christian life. Let’s start with the verse itself, 1 Corinthians 10:13.
13No 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.
The common twist on this is actually in the way it’s usually quoted; it becomes…
God won't give you more than you can handle.
- Misquotations 7:15
There are at least two problems with this twist. First, it simply isn’t true. I’m in my 40th year of knowing Jesus as my Savior, and I can assure you that God gives me more than I can handle all the time; just my past 7 days have had way more than I alone could handle. If we tell struggling people “Well, you know, the Bible says that God won’t give you more than you can handle!”, we are seriously damaging our credibility, which will, in turn, hamper our further ability to share the things of God. If God never gave us more than we could handle, why would we need Him once we have obtained salvation? The Bible is replete with examples of people who were getting more than they could handle; let’s look at one such instance in Psalm 40.
11As for you, O Lord, You will not restrain
Your mercy from me;
Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness will
ever preserve me! 12For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
13Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me! 14Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
The Psalms, being poetry, often speak to feelings common to mankind, and this is one of those places. The theme of the psalm is God’s deliverance, something David cannot manage to do himself - it’s literally “more than he can handle.” Yet, this bigger-than-him situation causes David to cry out to God for help, and to depend on Him for his deliverance. God brings us through situations that are more than we could handle ourselves, to demonstrate His love that is not just a saving love for our souls, but a living and active love for our lives as well. How could He do that if He never allowed “more than we could handle”?
The second problem with this twist is that it completely misses the actual promise of the text. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is talking about temptation, and comes immediately after a verse that is usually quoted correctly, even when snatched from its context.
12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
In the even larger context of this chapter, Paul has warned the Corinthian church about idolatry, sexual immorality, and testing God. He then writes vv. 12-13, telling them to be on guard, yet encouraging them that God will not allow a temptation so great that they, through Him, cannot resist. This is a very big deal! We all face temptation; if you have tried to resist it yourself, you’re likely thinking back to the time when you failed in those efforts, and gave in to the sin you had been resisting.
Why are we so bad at resisting temptation on our own? The main reason is that resisting temptation is spiritual warfare, but our fallen nature (what we use when we do it “on our own”) is ill equipped for that battle. Paul writes that we have a way of escape provided; let’s look at a few of different strategies given in the Bible. The first is from Jesus Himself, speaking to His disciples after He returned from praying in the garden of Gethsemane and found them asleep.
40And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And He said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with Me one hour? 41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Did you pick up on any common themes in those three passages? “Pray” (Matthew 26:41), “pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22), and “submit[ting]…to God” (James 4:7) are three different ways of saying the same thing - we must have God’s power if we are to be able to resist temptation. We must actively pray, pour His Word into our hearts, and be vigilant. This is the only way for us to be able to recognize the “way of escape” so we can take it.
There is one final caution, back in vv. 12-13, where Paul says that this temptation will not exceed our “ability.” Ability is developed through practice, and God, in the process of refining us to make us more like Him, will provide opportunities for us to increase our ability. Don’t lose heart if, after successfully resisting temptation, another stronger one appears. Conversely, you may reach a point where most temptation is pretty easy to resist; that’s where the warning in verse 12 becomes even more important. When we let our guard down, we become the most vulnerable to temptation.
As we have looked at what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, and what it doesn’t say, I pray that you have been blessed. It truly is an encouraging promise for us who are trying to live our lives the way Christ would have us live them. I hope you also realize how much damage this common misquotation can do, both to the truth and to our witness. The Christian life is great, having Jesus to guide, warn, and protect us; I wouldn’t want to live any other way. That being said, though, we would be lying if we say that it is easy, and saying this to a hurting person will provide the opposite of comfort.
This is the anti-Christian’s (ACs for the rest of this devotion) favorite verse. Any expression of Christian faith that interferes with what they want to do is met with this rejoinder, meant to accuse us of not being familiar with the Book we claim to follow. As fate would have it, though, it turns out that people who don’t believe the Bible is true are very poor theologians. To begin, let’s take a look at the next 4 verses.
2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
In verse 2, Jesus basically says that we will be judged based on the standards by which we judge others. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that if we never hold others to a standard, we can just live however we want. See Romans 6:1-2 for Christians and Revelation 20:11-15 for the unsaved.) In verses 3-4, Jesus talks about how foolish it would be for a person to have a log (or “beam” or “plank” in other translations) in their eye, yet attempt to diagnose and remove a speck from another person’s eye. (“Ah ha - I see where He’s going!” think the ACs at this point…) He then continues “You hypocrite!” (“PREACH IT,” yell the ACs, “You tell 'em!”)
As an aside - doesn’t that sound just a bit judgmental? We’ll come back to that…
The following words of Christ are often split; people focus on one half or the other, just as they do with His words to the woman caught in adultery.
11…And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
In Matthew 7:5, the phrases are separated by a comma; in John 8:11, they’re separated by a semicolon. In both cases, the ACs like the first part, but folks we’ll call turbo-Christians (TCs hereafter) like to act like the second part is the important one. We’ll explore that a bit more in the final analysis as well. For now, though, what does Jesus say for the hypocrite to do? “Take the log out of your own eye.” In other words, “Get yourself right.” But then, what does He say next - why are we to take the log out of our eyes? “…then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Aren’t we going to have to identify a speck, and call a speck a speck, before we’re actually able to remove it from our brother’s eye?
Jesus then continues…
6Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
Again, here, must we not determine dogs from other animals if we are to avoid giving them “what is holy”? Are we not to distinguish pigs from among all other animals (or plants) if we are to avoid throwing our pearls before them?
Now that we’ve evaluated the context, let’s make some application.
“Judge Not” has nothing to do with what people commonly call “judging”
Calling a sin a sin is not judging, according to this passage. To avoid sin, we must make determinations (AKA “judge”) regarding actions or behaviors as to whether they match up with the guidance contained in the Scriptures. We must be consistently vigilant. The world makes things seem fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable; while none of those attributes are necessarily against God, we must be discerning to make sure that we are not drawn into an alluring sin. The author of Hebrews, when describing Moses in Hebrews 11:24-25, calls it the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (or, as the King James Version translates it, the “pleasures of sin for a season”).
There are several definitions of the word “judge,” not just the one that means “determination.” The same Greek word (krino) translated here as “judge” is the same one translated “sue you” in Matthew 5:40. It is also translated “decided” in Titus 3:12 when Paul is telling Titus where he plans to spend the winter. So what exactly is Jesus trying to tell us to avoid? I believe Paul fleshes this out in the first part of Romans 14.
1As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
13Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
The translation “pass judgment” carries what I believe Matthew 7:1 to be saying. If we pass judgment, we are handing out a sentence - guilty as charged, and condemned to die as an unbeliever. We see believers observing dietary restrictions, or failing to observe the ones we believe are right. Paul is quite clear that dietary restrictions are not a salvation issue, and really are not even a glorifying God issue; he makes allowances for people of different diets, different holiday calendars - but the key is verse 8. It must be done to the Lord. If we are failing to observe a dietary restriction because we like eating that food, that’s not covered here; if we decide to eat the restricted food because we believe that will help us better serve the Lord, that is honoring to God. If we don’t observe the world’s “holidays” because we want them to make sure they know we’re separate, that’s not the point; if we abstain from these days to help solidify our relationship with Christ, now we’re on the right track.
As this point, the astute AC is saying “Yeah, but this is talking about Christian interrelationship; that’s fine for you to believe, but don’t judge us!” This is still a misunderstanding of the Scripture. Encouraging people to repent, to turn from their sin and to Christ, is not the same as judgment; rather, it is an attempt from a fellow human to prevent them from encountering the ultimate judgment that is to come. We’re not judging you (see the third application below, though), we don’t want you to be judged! Calls for repentance are not what’s prohibited here; otherwise, Jesus started His ministry by violating His own rule (Mark 1:14-15).
Hypocrisy is real, and looks really foolish
Jesus’ picture of someone with a log sticking out of their eye trying to help someone get a speck out of their eye is so ridiculous, He thought it just might get His listeners’ attention. We are very quick to spot flaws in other people while conveniently ignoring our own. This is one reason we are encouraged to spend time in fellowship with other Christians. We all have blind spots; if we could see them, they wouldn’t be blind spots. Our friends, though, can usually see them with 20/20 clarity. By spending time a) in the Word, so we know what is right, and b) with fellow believers, who also know what is right, we can help one another as we endeavor to walk in a closer relationship with Christ.
The church is full of recovering hypocrites; it is important that we do our dead-level best to strive to live up to the beliefs we claim to have. We must do it; the world is watching, and they’re not impressed.
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
Christians should not be judgmental people
I mentioned that we’d come back to the “judgmental” “You hypocrites!” proclamation. There are two aspects to this we’ll explore as we begin to wrap this up. The first is a non-spiritual observation. Saying something silly to loosen up the listeners, before you hit them with something difficult, did not originate with comedians of the past 40 years. Jesus knew His listeners would be chuckling as He described that silly scene, then He dropped the attention-getting line. He is a great example (the example) of how to be winsome while delievering words the hearer may not want to hear. The second is that Jesus nearly universally used this tone with people who should know better, but were using His name for their own personal gain. Whether it was the moneychangers He drove out of the temple (Matthew 21:14-15) increaing their wallets, or the Pharisees He termed a bunch of snakes (Matthew 12:33-34) who used the temple for their own popularity, He judged them, and did so pretty harshly.
At this point, the TCs are fired up. “Yeah - let’s go braid some whips!” Simmer down… Yes, Jesus said that we could get the speck out of our brother’s eye, and He told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more.” But we have to take all of Scripture in context; a call to change does not exist without a call to repent, and without the power a relationship with Christ brings, behavioral change cannot happen. In our passage here, Jesus tells us to get the log out of our eye before going to work on the speck in the other guy’s eye. In John 8:11, He precedes the admonition with “Neither to I condemn you.” The Greek word translated “condemn” is katakrino, a stronger form of the one translated “judge” in Matthew 7:1.
Jesus did not come to condemn the world; He came to save it. When we go out and rail against the prevailing sin of the day, and do so in a manner that makes it sound like they are beyond saving and have condemned themselves already, we are not preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Calling people to repentance is fine; calling sin sin is fine; but we must be sure that we are leaving room for the Holy Spirit to convict them of that sin. If we shut people down, and tell them they’ve gone too far, they might just believe us; and that would be truly sad, because as Peter described the One we serve,
9The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
We should not be silent, and we should not compromise the truth. However, we should also remember, as Paul wrote in Romans 14, that we are here for God’s glory. Let us be sure that He is glorified as we, in a winsome way, share His good news with the world in which we live.
Starting next week, I’m going to start a series I’m calling “Twisted Scripture.” It will address a verse or passage that is commonly used in contexts where it does not belong, or pulled out to mean something that it does not mean. As Christians who want to ensure that we “rightly divid[e] the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), we must consider issues as we come to a passage of Scripture:
To whom was this written?
What do the verses around this say?
What would the original audience have understood the message to be?
What principles apply to this today?
Where the Bible speaks to this issue in other places, what does It say?
The goal is to ensure we understand the literary, historical, and textual contexts of a passage, as we work to understand exactly what it means. Of course, there will be passages where good-willed people will differ on interpretations; generally speaking, though, it’s pretty easy to spot twisted Scripture.