While meeting with a group of co-workers in Singapore, I looked out a seventh-story window and noticed a pile of huge, concrete blocks.
When I asked about it, a colleague gave me some background. He said that since Singapore is a city-state built on an island, it is a common practice to test the stability of the ground before building a multistory building. So we were looking at 500 tons of concrete blocks that were being used as a load test for the foundation of a planned high-rise.
Later, an ancient proverb came to mind. “If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small” (Proverbs 24:10 NLT). Then I remembered the words of the apostle Paul who assured his readers that God would not give them more than they could bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).
While the proverb may sound like an insult, many have found comfort and courage in Paul’s assuring words. Others, however, have lived long enough to be confused and disillusioned by what he wrote. They ask important questions: Can’t even strong people meet their match in overwhelmingly difficult circumstances? And what about those who have lost their physical and emotional health while trying to care for the needs of others?
Even more important, why does Paul in a second letter say that while he and his co-workers cared for the churches in Asia, they experienced troubles that went far beyond their ability to endure (2 Corinthians 1:8)? Hadn’t he assured his readers that God would not give them more than they could bear?
Let’s take a closer look at what Paul meant by this assurance (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Paul writes these words while describing how the chosen and rescued nation of Israel had given into temptation and turned after other gods (10:1-13). Within weeks of their miraculous deliverance, the fathers and mothers of Israel began to wonder how they were going to protect their children in a hot, barren, dangerous wilderness.
In the 40 years that followed, those pressures and temptations kept showing up. The results were often disastrous.
Even though the Lord’s presence remained visibly with His people, most of the generation that experienced the miracle of the exodus became examples of what not to do. Under pressures that tempted them to complain, worry, and look for other gods, most of the generation that had walked through the Red Sea on dry ground died in rebellion.
So what was Paul’s point in telling the story? Was it just to say, as the proverb suggests, that their strength wasn’t great?
No, Paul goes on in verse 14 to show that he has something far more important in mind. Immediately after saying that God will not give us more than we can bear, but will with the temptation make a way of escape, he writes, “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry” (10:14 NIV).
In other words, when the pressures of life reveal our weakness, when trouble shows that we aren’t up to the challenge, and when we find ourselves tempted to give up—when all of that happens—the Lord is still with us. Even when we are tempted to throw in the towel saying, “I didn’t sign up for this,” our God has not abandoned us.
As we learn from the mistakes of Israel—and the better example of Paul’s physical, emotional, and financial breakdowns—this is not the whole story. The more important part is in the discovery that at the end of ourselves, we come to a fork in the road. Broken and shattered, we can either turn after other gods or wait for our God to show Himself faithful.
Having discovered why God sometimes allows us to collapse, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed . . . , and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NLT).
So when Paul writes that God will not subject us to pressures we are not able to bear, he isn’t promising that we won’t feel as if we cannot go on in our own strength. He’s reminding us that when we discover that our own strength is small, the God who made us for Himself can enable us to resist the temptation to go looking for another god.
Father in heaven, thank You for Your patience with us. You have given us every reason to believe that at the end of our own strength, You are waiting to show Yourself faithful. —Mart DeHaan