Friday, February 27, 2009

Tests and Temptations: What is the “Way Out”?

I Corinthians 10:13
Bob Rakestraw

The classic scripture text before us, and the one we have been writing about—in some form or another—during the previous three postings, is 1 Corinthians 10:13. I want to quote it with the verses before and after it, because this immediate context will help us to see the broader implications of the passage.

12.”So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. 14. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols” (NRSV).

As I stated in a previous posting, the Greek word translated “testing” may also be translated “tempting” or “temptation.” One version in my library (Wuest) actually translates the word in this text as “a testing time or temptation.” Every test or trial we go through has some element of temptation in it, such as complaining or rejecting God’s grace, and every solicitation to sin is certainly a test of our character and will.

Common to Everyone?

The first words of our verse are striking: “No testing [or temptation] has taken or overtaken or seized you (plural) that is not common to everyone.” The last three words are one word in the Greek language: anthropinos. The word literally means “human,” but the idea is “common among people.” The Good News Bible (GNB) translates this word “normally comes to people.” Take heart, dear friends, you are not alone in your temptations and testings!

In light of the above, is Paul teaching that everyone experiences the same kinds of temptations? If so, how literally do we understand this? Does everyone experience being “seized” or “overtaken” by a temptation to steal, lie, dishonor our father and mother, and covet our neighbor’s goods. I believe it is accurate to say that all humans are tempted to break all of the commandments of God, and most likely, in one way or another (if only in the mind) we have broken them. This does not mean that everyone is tempted in the same way (and, remember, the verse is talking about temptations and testings, not sins). Nor is everyone tempted to the same degree. Those who have yielded little to a specific kind of temptation in the past may not experience intense temptation in that area now. The opposite is true as well. Those who have fallen often in a certain way may find it very difficult to overcome that tendency even today. Fortunately, the all-powerful and all-forgiving grace of God can change the worst liar or thief into a godly, radiant, truthful and honest person. So with each of us with our temptations and sins.

The Faithfulness of God

The important part—one of the most important doctrines in all of the Bible—is that God is faithful (consistent, steady, loyal) and “he will not let you be tested beyond your strength”—beyond what you are able to bear. “Whereas pagan writers emphasized human will, Paul emphasizes God’s faithfulness” (Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament [InterVarsity, 1993], pp. 473-74).

I have had to look at this statement directly, over and over again. I have asked myself if it is really true. If it is (and I believe strongly that it is) it is one of the most powerful tools or weapons in the arsenal of the Christian. No matter what you or I are going through right now, it is not more that we can endure by the grace of God. Yes, I have sometimes said, “I can’t take it anymore,” but I have been wrong every time.

I am grateful, however, that the verse does not stop there. The apostle Paul—one whose life was filled with severe testings, temptations, sufferings, beatings, and numerous other calamities—goes on to say, by inspiration and by experience, “but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

The Example of Jesus

Several items in the original language call for attention. One is that the word “but” is a sharply contrasting word. The author wants us to see how God’s strength is superior to our strength. A second point is that God works with the test or temptation. He does not ignore it, but uses it, working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). Remember, testing and temptation are not sinful. Jesus experienced every major type of temptation during his earthly life (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15-16; 5:7-9), yet he never sinned once—by thought, word, action, omission, commission or disposition. He experienced these testings as a fully human person, assisted by the same Spirit of God you and I have. He did not switch over to his “deity” mode when a temptation came to him.

Communal and Personal Testing

Another notable feature is the definite article “the” before “way out.” While it is possible to translate this as the NIV does, “he will also provide a way out,” the NRSV, which we have been using, keeps the literal Greek wording, as does the NASB: “will provide the way of escape also.” Either translation is acceptable, as long as we keep in mind that the way of escape will always be suited to the nature and severity of the test or temptation. It is “the way out” for you or me at that time, not necessarily the same way for everyone at all times. Of course we can say that Jesus is “the way out” for everyone, always, but something more specific seems to be in Paul’s mind. Fred Fisher says it well: “The expression [‘the way’] assumes that every temptation has its own way of escape. The temptation and the way of escape go in pairs” (Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, [Word, 1975], p. 159).

We said above that the pronouns “you” in verse 13 are plural. The references are also plural in verses 14 and 15. This indicates, in part, that a whole group (such as the Israelites in the wilderness) can be liable to testing or temptation of a similar kind, and all must stand for God, in solidarity with one another. You or I are not expected to endure the testings alone, but in close fellowship with God and his people. Yet verse 12, just before our classic text, has singular pronouns. “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” Even though we may sometimes be tested as a group (think of some young adults planning an upcoming weekend party), we must stand on our own two feet, strengthened by God, to be able to avoid sinning and to be able to lead others in the right direction.

The Way Out

What is “the way out”? Whatever it is, God is said to always be faithful, and therefore he will always provide “the way of escape” (NASB), so that we may be able to endure the test. In some cases it might be flight: “flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22). In some cases it may be fight: “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). In some cases it may be float: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7). But it should never be fright: “Fear not, little flock” (Luke 12:32). (All four citations are from KJV.) The “way out” is very personal and individual for each person, on each occasion, even though these tests and temptations are common to everyone. We are all urged to receive this powerful word of deliverance. The “way out” may be a combination of things, and may need to be provided for you fifty times a day. But God is always faithful, and he promises to open the way every time you are tested or tempted. In the next posting I hope to write of specific aspects of the way out that I have experienced.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bob, for so clearly and Biblically opening this important principle of discipleship for me/us! I look forward to hearing how God has provided a way out for you in your next posting.