Have We Trials and Temptations?
One of the great challenges faced by Greek scholars and translators when translating the New Testament into English is that there are some very important Greek words that carry more than one meaning.
For example, the Greek word dikaiosunē can be translated as “righteousness” or as “justification”. That Greek word appears twice in Romans 5:18 and translators render it both ways. In the ESV and NASB, the verse reads, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
By Jesus’ righteous act of submitting to death—even death on a cross, you and I are justified (or considered righteous) through faith in Christ’s righteous act. I hope that makes sense. I am simply trying to illustrate the difficulty in translating this one Greek word. How do translators decide which English word to use? Context. It’s all about the context.
For our purposes in this Sunday’s sermon, let’s now consider the Greek word peirasmos. In English, it can be translated as "temptation" or as "trial". James 1:2-3 is rendered, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. In context, it makes perfect sense to translate the Greek word as trials. In difficult times, our faith is tried, wouldn’t you agree? Our faith is proved genuine when we meet and endure trials and suffering. Trials produce steadfastness, endurance, and perseverance—all necessities as we journey with Jesus. The journey is not a 100- yard dash, but a lifelong marathon that will require endurance.
Now let’s go to 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 which we will use in this week’s sermon. Paul writes, Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No 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. In context, it makes good sense to translate peirasmos as “temptation”, not “trial” in this passage.
Paul says that temptations can be overcome. God will ALWAYS provide a way out—a means of escape. For the Christian, the power to say NO to sin comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit, given to us by our faith and obedience to the work of Jesus Christ (God’s greatest act of grace).
Paul writes to Titus that, The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12). God’s grace through the gift of Jesus AND the gift of the indwelling Spirit provide you and me with the power to overcome temptation. We have the power to say NO.
Such is not the case with trials. We would love to be able to escape from COVID-19. Alas, we cannot. Coronavirus is a trial, not a temptation. We must endure it. It would be great if the cancer victim could say NO to cancer. Alas, he cannot. Cancer is a trial, not a temptation. He must endure it. And in either example, the end result could be death. In other words, there are many trials that are beyond our ability to bear.
Now we’ve arrived at the whole point of this blog post. I have heard many people over the years talk about their trials—often compounded trials—and they end their comments by saying, “But God promised not to give me more than I can bear.” I heard it on the news just this morning. An 80-something-year-old lady in Michigan, with a COVID-19 mask covering her face said, “First, it was coronavirus and now it’s flooding. I’m wondering when the locusts are going to show up! Oh well, God won’t give us more than we can bear.”
Folks, that is not what scripture says. Trials can kill us. People are dying from pandemic and cancer and heart disease. We can be crushed under the weight of trials! We see it all the time.
1 Corinthians 10:13 is talking about temptation. God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. He always provides a way for us to NOT sin. That’s good news!
But for people suffering trials, the best thing we can do is come alongside them, listen to their story, pray for them, and be a non-anxious presence in their lives. The LAST thing we should say is, “Well, you know, God will never give you more than you can bear.” That’s just not what Paul said. For us to misapply scripture does more harm than good, especially for one who is suffering.
It is possible for us to flee temptation, for temptations originate from the desire within us (James 1:14). It is not always possible to flee trials, for they originate outside of us as the result of the world’s brokenness. Therefore, we must endure trials with patience.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).