By Pastor Cherie Dearth
We are in our concluding week of the sermon series The Bible Doesn’t Say That, and this week we are examining the phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Have you ever heard anyone say that to someone else? Has it ever been said to you? Said with the best of intentions, trying to be encouraging and uplifting, but somehow it seems to make things worse.
In our scripture passage for today Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, again. Many scholars think that 2nd Corinthians is made up of parts of several letters that were edited together into a coherent narrative. What is more clear is that Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian Church has deteriorated greatly since the writing of First Corinthians.
If you remember, Corinth was on a major shipping route in Greece. It was a very diverse city with rich, poor, slaves, day workers, Jews, and Gentiles of all sorts. There were men and women. All were represented in the Corinthian Church that Paul had founded. These days, we would say the church he planted.
Between the two letters of 1st and 2nd Corinthians, at least one other letter was written that was very harsh in tone. This letter has been lost, but it is referenced in today’s letter. There has also been a canceled visit that Paul was planning to make or was at least postponed. The Corinthians felt hurt, snubbed, or dishonored by the cancellation. Part of the purpose of this letter is to explain why Paul had to change his plans and also to repair the relationship.
Proceeding today’s scripture is Paul’s greeting. Then he gets right to it starting in verse three. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.
2 Corinthians 1:3-11, NIV
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
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. 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, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Obviously Paul had a great deal more to deal with than he thought he had the capacity to handle. Things were so bad that he wished he was dead.
“I was under great pressure far beyond my ability to endure, so that I despaired of life itself. Indeed I felt I had received the sentence of death…” (vs 8-9)
He felt that he would die soon no matter what else happened.
I will not ask you to raise your hands, but have any of you ever felt like whatever you were going through was so hard that you wished you were dead or that the experience would kill you? I know that I have.
Then some well-meaning person comes up to you and says, “You know God won’t give you more than you can handle.” You might be tempted to strike the person, but you cannot believe that they had the audacity to say such a thing to you.
My first thought might be, They don’t have a clue of what I’m actually going through. Either that or I wish God didn’t have so much confidence in my ability.
The first point is: Don’t say this to someone in the midst of crisis. It can be meant to be encouraging and strengthening, but that is rarely the effect in the moment.
The second point: is it true? If we contemplated the idea that God won’t give us more than we can handle, outside of crisis, what would be our conclusion? The first thing we would need to do is to define a couple of terms in the statement.
What does “we” or “I” mean? Does it mean we can independently of anyone or anything else be able to take care of whatever is presented before us? I alone can do it or should be able to do it?
And what does “handle” mean? We will never make a mistake or fail and what we attempt? We will be successful in every endeavor, never having to ask for forgiveness or repent?
Or, does “we” or “I” mean that we can only do it with God’s help. That help could come in the form of a shoulder to cry on or lending us a helping hand. It could be spiritual help, feeling that you are able to do or handle more than your natural capacity.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, the Apostle Paul tells us that we will encounter no temptation or test beyond our ability to resist it or escape from it. That makes it sound like we should be able to handle it on our own, however when Paul is saying this, he means we can do it only with God’s help.
The Bible does not say that we should be able to handle everything on our own with only our own power and ability, quite the contrary. What it does say is that God will help us and sustain us through the most difficult times.
Today’s scripture passage, Paul does not tell us what his problem was. Whatever it was, it made him feel like he, had received the sentence of death. “But this happened that I might not rely on myself but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered me from such a deadly Peril, and he will deliver me again. On him I have set my hope that he will continue to deliver me.” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10.)
In other words God won’t give us more than God can handle.
As I have been working on this series I have noticed something. All of these phrases imply one of two things or combination of the two: I am my own God, or I am equal to God.
Let’s look at the phrases:
- “God helps those who help themselves” can really mean I am my own God, or there is no God, so I have to do it myself.
- “Follow your heart” because that is what is most important. I don’t need God to guide me.
- “Obedience always leads to financial blessings.” This is a transactional relationship which implies equal footing with God. I can make God do particular things for me if I behave in a certain way.
- “Suffering always comes from sin.” Again this is transactional. I have control. I have the power to eliminate my suffering.
- “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It all depends on me to endure, to figure it out. I am my own God, and I am on an equal footing with God.
However the true Christian teachings are:
- God helps those who cannot help themselves.
- Instead of considering what our heart thinks is most important, we should be considering what God’s heart considers most important.
- Obedience and loving God means that we live in the way that God designed us. Whether we have plenty or are in want, a mature relationship with God teaches us that “we can do all things through him that gives us strength.” (Philippians 4 colon 12 through 13.)
- Regardless of the cause of our suffering, we can depend on God to be with us to help us get through it, always. (c.f. Psalms 23:23 a-b).
- God won’t give us more than God can handle.
With so many of these even if we know the right answer intellectually, are discussing it in a class with other people in theory, does it reflect how we really live our lives? Do we live as if it all depends on us or that it all depends on God? We still have personal responsibility. We are still expected to live our lives in a moral fashion. None of this is saying that we sit back and wait for God to do everything for us, and we have no active part to play. We are not to put God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16; c.f. Exodus 17:2, 7; Matthew 4:7).
As it says in Exodus 17: 7, “because the Israelites tested the Lord saying, is the Lord among us or not?”
Jesus was being tested by Satan in the desert. Satan took him to the top of the temple. Satan taunted Jesus saying, “If you are the Son of God… Throw yourself down. For it is written: he will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so you will not strike your foot against the stone.”
Jesus responds with the passage from Deuteronomy 6:16, “It is also written, do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
What is putting God to the test? Doing things in order to make God prove that God exists, or demanding that God proves that he exists or is with us.
The Israelites tested God in the desert with their grumbling in there. How could Moses lead us out here to die of thirst? We were better off as slaves back in Egypt. The Israelites were really asking if the Lord was really with them.
Jesus would not throw himself off a high building, a fall that would surely kill him if he was not rescued from it. He would not do this to test whether the angels of God would save him.
My version of this is, “trust God, but don’t drive on bald tires.” I have driven on bald tires. I simply couldn’t afford to buy new ones at the time, and I still had to go to work. So, in time I would have the money to buy tires. But, if I had said, “I trust the Lord. I know that God will protect me and keep me from blowing tire.” That would have been putting God to the test, just as if Jesus had thrown himself off the Temple as Satan suggested.
I have also come through dangerous situations safely, and I surely thanked God for that. I know some of you have also come through harrowing situations with the feeling that God had protected you: missing storms, avoiding accidents, etc. Experiencing that and being grateful is different than demanding – because that is what we would be doing, demanding – God protect us in our particular situation. Either demanding God prove that he is with us or putting ourselves on equal footing with God that we could presume to make such a demand.
And that is where humanity has been from the beginning. The narrative in Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve and Satan/Snake with the apple. The definitive phrase happens in verse 5, where the serpent says, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be open, and you will be like God.”
We were created to worship. We also want to be like God having absolute control over everything, so we worship ourselves or anything that may interest us.
And people do it every day, even people who think that they are good Christian people. (I do it myself.) They do not turn their whole life over to God. They let God into parts of their lives maybe on Sunday mornings, maybe for a few minutes during a morning devotional. Then if we are feeling particularly productive or energetic that day, we might say, “Okay what am I going to do today?” Why not say, “God, what are we going to do today?”
We’ve talked about what the Bible doesn’t say, but what about what the Bible does say?
It says in Jeremiah 31:3 that “God loves us with an everlasting love.” Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5 says that “God will never leave us or forsake us.” Over 40 times the Bible either says of God or quotes God that we should trust him. Over 30 times that he will deliver us.
We know from John 3:16 that, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.” The Bible says that God loves us, will never leave us, that we should trust and love him with our whole being, not some compartmentalized part of ourselves when it’s convenient or happen to think about it. That we should be mindful of it.
This week I challenge you, each day throughout your day, keep God in mind. Ask yourself, “Is this what God would have me do?” Even with what we might think as mundane. “Is this what God would have me eat for breakfast?” When driving, “Is this the speed or manner that God would have me do it?” “Are these the clothes that I should wear?” “Oh goodness look at that beautiful view! Thank you, God!” When you get used to being mindful of God with the little things, the bigger things will be almost automatic. “Should I be spending my money on this?” Or “This cause definitely needs my support!”
That is your challenge for this week. Allow God to guide you and be a part of every part of your life, every part, every day. That is what loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength really is.
And the Bible certainly does say that!