1 Corinthians 10:13-14 is a helpful passage for understanding temptation:
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. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
Consider just a few of the insights given us through this passage:
1. Many temptations are made stronger through deceiving us into believing that our temptation is so unique to us that we cannot admit it to anyone else. Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” In other words, it simply is not true that any of our temptations are truly unique. There may be certain specific details unique to them, such as the exact time and day, the exact location, or the exact people involved. But none of our temptations are truly unique at their core or even in their more general characteristics. Depression, frustration, lust, selfishness, a sense of failure, being overwhelmed, fear, anxiety, distrust, violent thoughts, unforgiveness, bitterness – and any other attribute or aspect of temptation you could list – has been experienced by someone (and probably by many, many more people than you could even imagine). Part of the problem is that most of us always keep our temptations secret, because we are ashamed or embarrassed by them or, possibly, because we have believed the lie that we are the only ones who have ever faced our type of temptation and really ‘gets it’. Consequently, the lie perpetuates itself and each succeeding person is further tempted to believe the same lie – “A temptation has overtaken me that is not common to men. It is unique to me and foreign to everyone else. If I admit it to anyone or expose it to the light, I will just be further alienated and everyone will think I am weird, strange, sick, pathetic, etc.” Don’t believe that lie. God does not lie and He says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” Use wisdom and discretion, but expose your temptation to the light and let other saints know about it. Remember too that being tempted is not sin. Temptation is the enticement to sin, but it is not itself sin. One way to resist that enticement is to expose it before it can go any further.
2. Temptation gains strength through our pride. If we succumb to the temptation to be proud, the strength of every other temptation increases exponentially. That seems to be part of the reason why Paul writes immediately before verse 13, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” – because, “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The aim of demonic temptation is not merely to incite us to some outward act of disobedience. It is to incite us to distrust God and devalue God. That is the very heart of pride – distrusting and devaluing God. So, rather than being cast upon the Lord in prayer, and acknowledging my inability to do anything profitable on my own, and desperately desiring and seeking Him and His strength, presence, wisdom, and grace, I try to endure (whatever) temptation in my own strength. At that point I’ve really already fallen. But, some might see Paul’s statement in the latter half of verse 13 and think that he is actually commending a ‘pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-boot-straps’ type mentality. There he says, “He [God] will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” Someone might point to that and say, “See, God will never give me or you more than we can handle.” Is that what the passage means though? Does Paul mean that God will never give to us (or bring us through) anything that we can’t endure in our own strength and ability? If so, why did Paul write about being brought to the point of death in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 so that he wouldn’t rely on himself but on God who raises the dead? Or why did he say in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 that he was well content with weaknesses because then was the sufficiency of God’s mighty grace manifested through his life? Or why would the apostle James be killed with a sword (Acts 12:2) and all but one other apostle be martyred? Or why, even to the present hour, would Christ’s disciples throughout the world continue to suffer unspeakable evils from persecutors? It is not because “God won’t give us more than we can handle”. He will give us more than we can handle – on our own. But, at the same time, He commands us to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability – so long as it is His ability/power at work within us. His grace is greater than any temptation, but we must humble ourselves and draw near to Him if we are to victoriously benefit from that grace in the face of temptation (James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:6-10).
3. The way, therefore, to escape temptation is to flee to God as our Savior, Treasure, and Lord. Immediately following Paul’s assertion that, “with the temptation [God] will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” he says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (vv13b-14) Since verse 14 begins a new paragraph in many of our English translations we can easily view it as a wholly separate command. But should we? Is the call to flee idolatry really separate and distinct from the declaration that God will provide a way of escape from temptation? Not at all! The very fact that Paul connects the verses with “therefore” shows that in his mind verse 14 logically flows out of verse 13. We already saw that the aim of temptation is to incite us to distrust and devalue God. That is the heart of idolatry – instead of trusting and valuing God above everything, we trust and value something (anything) above Him. If a man never commits adultery, never steals anything, never cheats anyone, never says a harsh word, etc. but, at the same time, neither trusts and values God above all, he is still filled with idolatrous sin and ensnared in temptation. In the midst of temptation, a thousand ways of apparent ‘escape’ may come to mind – give in to it, enjoy it and stop fighting it, depend on yourself, call your friends or family, make better plans, put better safeguards in place, preserve your health at all costs, don’t allow yourself to become depressed or get hurt, avoid looking like a fool, etc. But the only real way of escape is to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Every other way is a path to pain and destruction; every other path is an expression of idolatry. “Flee from idolatry!” bellows the Holy Spirit. While each temptation is a temptation to depend on something other than God and to desire something above God, it is also an invitation to grow in our dependence upon God and to experience more of His supremacy and sufficiency (compare the Lord’s lesson to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Therefore, we are reminded, “Flee from idolatry!” Flee to Christ, our Savior, Treasure, and Lord! He alone can save us. He alone is infinitely valuable. He alone is to be our Master and God. Flee to Christ!