Book excerpt: Cliff McManis offers a Biblical view of trials

Cliff McManis  ·  Nov 26, 2018

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

— 1 Corinthians 10:13

The Christian life entails a continuous stream of daily trials. That is reality. One wise pastor put it this way: “As a Christian, you are either entering into a trial, in the midst of a trial, or coming out of a trial.” Life is full of trials—trials that hurt, that are painful and make us tired and weary.

This harsh reality should not come as a surprise to the Christian, for the Bible is honest about life in this world. Take the book of Job, for example. Although Job was written almost 4,000 years ago, the truth found in this book of Scripture is still relevant to us today. Here’s what God says through His Spirit in Job 5:6-7:

For affliction does not come from the dust, neither does trouble sprout from the ground, for man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.

The word “affliction” here refers to all the problems of this life: relational difficulties, trials, hardships, painful experiences—suffering of all kinds. Verse 7 says that, “man (i.e., humanity; all of us in a cursed world) is born for trouble.” This statement means that trouble will be second nature to being a human in this life … there’s no escaping it.

“Humanity is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” This is a truism; a proverbial maxim that is universally binding wherever you are and universally true all throughout history. Nothing changes. Life is hard—trials are the lot of humanity. Believing in the Bible is not about believing in some “pie in the sky” easy life like some would have us believe; like those who say that if you become a Christian your life will be rosy and you’ll never have any problems. That is not the teaching of Scripture. Just the opposite is true. Life is hard. It is already filled with trials, and many times when you come to Christ life only becomes more difficult in different ways. Jesus taught this very thing when He said to His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33). The Apostle Paul promised the same: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). The good news is that, despite the unavoidable trials and hardships of life, God gives His children an amazing promise of rescue in 1 Corinthians 10:13, our main text for this book.

Paul’s view of trials

So with that reality—the sobering reminder from Job—let’s go to 1 Corinthians 10, where we are catapulted now 2,000 years later and Job’s truth is still relevant for the Corinthians. The Corinthian believers and their church, with all of their troubles, problems, struggles and trials—were experiencing what Job said was true for all people at all times.

Paul wrote his epistle to the Corinthians to straighten out several areas of their lives. They had a lot of trials, a lot of sin, a lot of compromise, and a lot of bad attitudes. They were arrogant (4:18), prideful (3:3), judgmental (4:3), worldly (3:1), and divisive (1:10). Were the Corinthians true Christians? Yes. Paul clearly commends them for believing in the Gospel (1:2-7). Not all of these believers expressed these sins to the same degree, and there were probably some very blessed Corinthians in that congregation who were a sweet savor and a beautiful influence to the rest of the church. But the dominant voice that was echoing and reverberating and causing all the commotion, even though it may have been a minority, came from professing believers with some wrong attitudes, wrong theology, and very sinful behavior. That’s why Paul writes 1 Corinthians—all 16 chapters. Every chapter is laced with a rebuke to reign in their sin.

In chapter 10, Paul continues to rebuke and warn the Corinthian Christians. He has been hammering away, relentlessly, chapter after chapter, paragraph after paragraph, truth after truth, rebuking them in love. He’ll say a pastoral comment or verse, call them “brothers”; he’ll give an occasional word of encouragement, and then go back to exhorting them relentlessly where they need it. And then he comes back and lets them know that he cares for them personally. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-12, Paul gave them an extended warning and rebuke in the areas of practical living. But in 10:13 he makes a significant transition in tone and gives them some hope and encouragement to balance his verbal reprimand. He is careful not to exasperate them needlessly. He is skillfully tempered; he speaks to them with pastoral balance. And he gives one of the most amazing promises of Scripture in verse 13.

But before we get to verse 13 in chapter 10, we need to back up a bit and look at what Paul has said a few chapters earlier.

The context of 1 Corinthians 10:13

First we must note that chapters 8, 9, and 10 go together.  Paul is dealing with one main theme in these three chapters. And he was talking to some Corinthians in the congregation who were a little proud and judgmental and who thought they knew it all. They were also looking down their noses at other Christians in the congregation who didn’t know as much as they did. These strong, self-confident Christians were parading their so-called “Christian liberties” without deference to others. They were flaunting their liberties in gray areas, or even non-gray areas, in a way that was arrogant.

But the main problem was that they weren’t living according to the truth we read in Philippians 2 where Paul tells us to consider others more important than ourselves (see Philippians 2:1-11). These Corinthians were only thinking of themselves. They didn’t care. Their attitude was: “I have this right, I have this liberty, and I’m going to exercise it.” And they were oblivious to the damaging effect their careless conduct was having on their fellow believers.

A matter of the heart

The main issue Paul is addressing here is attitude. And he is also addressing how believers should think about the Christian life. Paul’s answer in chapter 8 is simple: Don’t be arrogant! Spiritual knowledge needs to be rooted in love. Don’t exercise liberties to the detriment of other Christians around you. You might even need to refrain occasionally from using your liberty, because there may be times when the exercise of your liberty will cause other Christians to stumble and sin. So, be careful of how you exercise your liberties because of how it might affect other believers. That’s the emphasis in chapters 8 and 9. 

Then, in chapter 10, Paul makes a little bit of a transition in his point of emphasis. Now he commands believers to be careful about how they exercise liberties so as not to detrimentally affect themselves (10:1-12). By way of example, Paul instructed the Corinthians to consider the saints of old, particularly the 2 million Jews in the days of Moses as they went through the wilderness for 40 years (c. 1400 B.C.).  Like the Corinthians, the Israelites at the time of the Exodus lost perspective when it came to exercising their rights and their liberties as believers. Despite being fresh out of cruel slavery in Egypt, they quickly adopted arrogant attitudes, and they were self-sufficient. They often disregarded the spiritual leadership of God’s faithful servants, Moses and Aaron, even threatening during a revolt to stone them to death (Numbers 14:2,10). They compromised with the world, and they got ensnared in gross sin—the sins of idolatry (Exodus 32), sexual immorality (Numbers 25) and complaining (Numbers 11, 16). To chasten them God actually wiped out thousands of Israelites through the punishment of physical death, so that their bodies were strewn all over the desert over the course of 40 years (Numbers 14:26-35).

The main issue Paul is addressing here is attitude.

'A Biblical View of Trials'

“Corinthians,” Paul exhorts, “take heed and be warned because that can happen to you.” And then Paul gives five imperatives in 1 Corinthians 10: (1) Don’t complain like the Jews of old; (2) don’t get involved in idolatry; (3) don’t toy with immorality; (4) don’t test the Lord or be presumptuous toward His grace. So Paul is coming down hard on these Christians, and the crescendo is verse 12, where he says, (5) “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” In other words, he is saying, “Fellow believers—you are arrogant; you are on the precipice of your huge pride, and you’re about to fall into the pit and possibly undergo the chastening of Almighty God in a very disturbing, severe manner—the judgment of God’s chastening towards the believer, which could include physical death.”

This is a tremendous warning that we need to hear and heed today as well. We are no better or different than the Corinthian Christians in some respects. As a professing Christian you can’t continually engage in sinful behavior and think you’re going to get away with it by saying, “Well, Jesus died on the cross and He forgives me of all of my sins past, present and future, and there are no consequences to be concerned with.” Yes, God does forgive the believer. But no sin is committed without a consequence, for God’s glory is at stake and your good is at stake. So, after an extended and sobering rebuke that lasted several chapters, Paul gives verse 13 to encourage them. Because at the end of verse 12 they may have wanted to say something like,

OK, I give up, Paul. Do you realize what kind of culture we live in here in Corinth? It’s in the gutter. You’re telling us we can’t be even close to immorality or idolatry. It’s everywhere we go! It’s in the fabric of our society! We have temptations and trials that they don’t have over in Thessalonica or in the kosher city of Jerusalem. We aren’t like those other Christians, Paul. We have unique trials that no one has faced. You need to amend your exhortations to us.

That’s why Paul says in verse 13 that actually no temptation is overtaking them that’s not common to everyone else. Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that they are no different than any other human; they aren’t unique. Everyone has difficult surroundings. Everyone lives on a cursed earth. Satan attacks all believers, not just some. Life is hard no matter where you live. The believers in Jerusalem have similar trials. That’s why this verse fits into this context. It actually has a twofold purpose: (1) Paul is trying to encourage them (this is a very encouraging promise); and (2) he is registering a mild rebuke to remind the Corinthians that they can fulfill the commands that he has given them despite their circumstances, surroundings, and culture.

Trials haven’t changed

Another argument the Corinthians could have posed would have been to say, “Well, we’re not like the Israelites. That was 2,000 years ago, Paul. What happened 2,000 years ago doesn’t pertain to us; it’s not relevant! We live in modern times.” Have you ever heard that before? When people say, “This is a different day and age than years previous … we have different trials and temptations today.” In effect Paul says, “Hmm, I don’t think so! Trials and temptation have not changed in 2,000 years and the God of the universe hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. So there’s continuity from age to age. That’s why Paul can say with authority to anybody, regardless of his trial or temptation, “no temptation,” or trial, “has overcome you that isn’t common to everybody else.”

Three key Biblical principles for facing trials

With that larger theological context, let’s hone in and make this personal and practical for us so we can be blessed by this fantastic promise. There are three main points in this verse. To help you follow along through the next few chapters, I will provide all three principles and summarize them briefly below.

Principle #1: Trials Are a Part of Life

Principle #2: God is in Control

Principle #3: Trials Help Us Grow

The first principle is about having a proper view of trials. Did you know people have a wrong view of trials? Did you know that Christians can have a wrong view of trials? Did you know that you might have some wrong views of trials? There are times that I have a wrong view about trials. One of the main points of the long book of Job is to show that Job’s friends had common, but very wrong views of trials. So our goal in this study is to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us through his Word how to rightly understand and respond to trials.

The second principle is about having a proper view of God in the midst of trials. Did you know that some Christians have a wrong view of God when they encounter trouble and difficulty? We’re all susceptible to drifting from a right view of God when we are in the throes of a trial because it’s easy to get disoriented and lose objectivity by the emotion that usually attends trials. It’s not uncommon for some Christians to think their trials are always a direct punishment from God for some sin in their lives. That is what Job’s friends proposed, and God said they were wrong. God is not up in heaven with a big stick ready to smack His children for every slightest infraction they make on earth.

The third principle is about having a proper view of self with respect to trials. Why do I have trials in my life? That is a basic, but very legitimate and important question. Another one is, Why do I have this kind of trial when others around me don’t have the same kind of horrible trials? The simple answer from the Bible is that God allows trials in our life to help us grow. None of us in this life have yet arrived to perfection or full maturity (Philippians 3:12-13; James 3:2).

The rest of the book A Biblical View of Trials fleshes out these three principles. This and many other titles by Cliff McManis are available here.

Rev. McManis has been the teaching pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley since its inception in 2006. He has been in pastoral ministry since 1989, and has served in churches in Southern California, Utah, Texas, and the San Francisco Bay area.