Thursday, 21 August 2014

Times of testing

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out, so that you can stand up under it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

There are times when life just seems too hard to bear. "I can't take any more," we say, "I've had enough." We are tempted to despair. We feel like giving up.

It's times like this that Paul is talking about here. Please bear with me as I get a bit technical for a moment... 

His words can be taken in two ways: that word "tempted" can also be translated "tested". In other words, Paul could be thinking of times when we are enticed into sin by the devil (that's "tempted"), or of times when we are hit by the hardships and circumstances of life (that's "tested"). (The same thing happens, incidentally, in the Lord's Prayer. The old translation said "Lead us not into temptation"; several new ones say "Do not bring us to hard testing".) Perhaps the two meanings come together in this sense: our testings can seem so severe that we are tempted to lose faith and to lose touch with God. Every testing situation brings the danger of temptation. And, of course, every temptation is a testing.

All clear? Well, however we take it, Paul is offering a strong ray of hope, and that is what we need to focus on.

First, he makes the point that testing is a common experience of the whole human race. I don't know what the Corinthian Christians had been going through, but Paul reminds them that their experiences are "common to man", that is, part of what it means to be a human being. True, that isn't much of a consolation to us in the midst of our troubles. But perhaps it helps us to get things in perspective. Others have been here before me, and have won through. Others are going through this right now - perhaps even worse. So don't get too self-absorbed!

Second, he makes the plain statement that "God is faithful". In other words, whatever the trials may be, God is with us and he will not abandon us. And, still more, he will not test us beyond breaking point - "beyond what you can bear". 

"Huh!" we might respond, "that's easy enough to say! But words are cheap - how does Paul know what I am going through?" But remember, Paul was no stranger to temptation and testing. He knew what it was to suffer - you only need look at 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and 11:21-29 to be made aware of that. So when he says "God is faithful", that is a conviction born out of personal experience. Paul was no armchair Christian.

Third, he promises that God will provide "a way out". In other words, temptation and testing need not imprison us; there will be a way of escape. True, it may take some time to find it. True, it may prove hard and rocky. But it is there.

What might this "way of escape" be? Well, if we are talking of "temptation", it may be a decision
to remove ourselves resolutely from any situation that might cause us to weaken; to share our difficulty with a trusted Christian friend; to confess our weakness and failure; to ask God for forgiveness; to ask others for prayer and encouragement. 

If we are talking of "testing", it may be a conscious summoning up of faith, a renewed determination to trust as never before - a deliberate flexing of our spiritual muscles, so to speak. It may involve recruiting friends in prayer and support. A lot will depend on the particular circumstances. But the way out - or the way through - will be there if only we look for it.

Many, many Christians can testify to the truth of these words. As they look back, they say, "I really didn't think I would make it through - I just couldn't see a way out. But here I am today! And I have discovered again that God indeed is faithful".

May that be the witness of all of us as we face testing, and tempting, situations.

Dear Father, thank you for that simple statement, "God is faithful". Whatever my circumstances, help me to prove that it's not just empty words, but real and wonderful truth. Lord, please be my help at all times. Amen.  

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