There are some promises in the Bible which under certain conditions do not work.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church he shares how Israel’s past mistakes have been written down as a warning to us, so that we “might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6). He goes on to pen one of the most frequently quoted promises in all of scripture:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it (10:13).
I have often hated that verse.
I hated it because as an addict it never worked. He won’t let me tempted beyond my strength? I proved time and time again that I had no strength. I was powerless over my addiction. When it called, I answered.
I prayed time and time again that God show me a way out next time. I prayed time and time again that God give me strength to withstand the temptation to use the next time around. Each and every time I got the same result.
I began to think that this verse, so often quoted and fitting so nicely on refrigerator magnets was a cruel joke.
But Paul writes something immediately after this famous verse which was a game changer for me. Like the decoder ring I used to find in Cracker Jack boxes, this is the key that unlocks everything else. He writes,
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols (10:14).
The idea that we can resist temptation is sandwiched between these two ideas, that we might not desire evil and that we would not worship other gods. But when we worship something else, or when our heart’s desire is something apart from God, we aren’t in a good place to activate the promise of 1 Cor 10:13.
When Paul says that when we are tempted a way out will be provided, he is assuming that the main desire of our heart is God. Temptation is the process of being enticed by something less than that main desire of our heart. When Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden they were being enticed by something other than God, who was their all in all. Being tempted is about being lured off a path I am committed to be on, whether that path is life, or in the case of addiction, death.
So, when I’m acting out in my addiction the main desire of my heart is not God. Rather, my compulsion is my god, and when in that state, anything trying to draw me away from acting out in my addiction could be called a temptation. When I am active in my addiction I am not being tempted to use my drug of choice, I’m being called to worship my god.
When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to go to church.
When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to pray.
When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to surrender.
Thank God he never answered my prayer to provide a way out of my temptations! Those temptations were actually wooings of the Spirit, seeking to tempt me away from the god I worshiped – my compulsion.
If you have been praying 1 Cor. 10:13 till you are blue in the face and frustrated that you keep falling short, perhaps it’s time to be brutally honest with yourself and admit that temptation isn’t your issue, worshiping an idol is.
It’s not until we admit that we have an idol in our heart that we love more than God that that idol begins to lose it’s power over us. Naming the gods we love to worship, admitting that we are powerless over them, is the first step towards the sort of worship for which we were created.
And then, when we are absorbed by the one true God, with our hearts delighting in him, having turned our life and our will over to his care, then and only then will we find the power and truth in a promise like 1 Cor. 10:13. We will find that there always is a way provided for us to walk in the Spirit rather than our flesh. We will find that God is doing for us what we previously could not do for ourselves. We will be making the connection. We will be home.
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. What if we put that on our refrigerator magnets for a season?