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The Purpose of Trials

For 14 years I taught a weekly internet Bible study. During one of them a good friend of mine said something interesting that I believe is true:

“You know why I think God tests our faith? It’s not so He can see where we stand; He already knows. It’s so we can see where we stand.”

When I originally wrote this piece I was in the midst of a financial (and patience) trial. We had a Jeep and it had been out of commission for almost a month due to a transmission problem it experienced while I was coming home from a ministry trip. At the time it was still in Joplin, MO where it stranded me and that was costing the ministry a lot of money.

It also cost me a lot of frustration.

Many of us are in some trial at one time or another, so what I was experiencing is no more or less important than all those. Many of us are familiar with this verse:

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

I would like to look at it for a second and then look at why it is there and where it leads us.

The word “temptation” is not a perfect translation in this verse. It would be better translated as “trial”. It is a word that is used in metallurgy to describe the “proving” of metals in which stress is applied to raw metal...purging out impurities to render it more and more pure...and valuable.

“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the LORD tests the heart.” (Proverbs 17:3)

So, when Paul says this: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man...” he is saying, “No stress designed to purify you has overtaken you except such as is common to man…”

The Greek word translated as “overtaken” is a word that means “to seize something...to take ownership of it” and isn’t that how these trials behave? Don’t they seem to want to possess us?

We cannot allow that! We BELONG to Someone else. We BELONG to Jesus.

“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23)

Only Jesus has the right to work His ownership of us – not people and not satan and not trials.

The other thing pointed out by this portion of this verse (1 Corinthians 10:13) is that what is allowed to try us isn’t unique to us as individuals. When Paul says this: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man...” he is saying that other people experience it too.

There is some comfort in that for me because I know that other people will understand what I am going through since they have experienced it too.

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Next, he says that “God is faithful” and that is a good word in itself; it means He is trustworthy. Another way of saying that is “He is worthy of our trust”. This way of saying it seems to speak more to me about His integrity.

The next part is juicy: it says that God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able,” or God “will not allow you to be tried beyond what you are able.” He will not allow it, which means that He monitors all this and only allows to us things that will not be too much for us. It speaks of His involvement with us...with our lives. It speaks of his watchfulness.

Yet..........it doesn’t feel that way when trials hit...does it? Still, it’s true. It is how He is and it is what He does regarding us and trials.

So, God lets the trial come to us, I believe, to purify us...to work His will in us “but with the temptation will also make the way of escape…” Along with the trial, He adds something: an exit, the way of escape, and why does He do that?

Because He loves us He provides the exit....so we won’t use it.

Yikes! Doesn’t that sound wrong?

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

He provides the way of escape, “that you may be able to bear it (stay under the pressure of what? The trial!!!).”

I once asked the Lord to give me an image to help me understand it and He gave me a picture:

Two firemen run into a room that is overrun with flames. (They run into a place of trial...a place from which other people run out.) One has a hose and is spraying the room. That’s why he is there...to put the fire out. The other is facing the doorway and he has a hose too. He is there to spray the doorframe so they have a way of escape.

Because they know they can leave anytime they want to...both men are able to stay and not use the way of escape.

As I taught this one man in the study asked a good question:

“Why doesn’t God just say ‘trust me’. That's what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

My reply was that He does do that all over the place in the scriptures.

“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 4:5)

“…he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain." (Isaiah 57:13b)

However, does that always work? It would if we did trust Him, but we don’t always trust Him so it doesn’t work at times (due to OUR lack of faith – not HIS faithfulness.)

A rule of thumb for me is that most of what God does with us...has to do with our weakness. So, He uses trials to our benefit. God transforms the things satan plans for our destruction into avenues of sanctification.

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God transforms the things satan plans for our destruction into avenues of sanctification.

The Church in Corinth really did have a trial. It had to do with dealing with the destructive nature of an unrepentant sinner in their midst.

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles; that a man has his father's wife!” (1 Corinthians 5:1)

There was a man in the small fledgling congregation at Corinth who was sexually active with his step-mother and everyone knew it and no one dealt with it. So, Paul does. He tells them what to do

“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)

What he does is tell them to exclude the guy from their fellowship. Then he explains his logic.

“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9)

Now, in Corinth, that pretty much would describe everyone BUT the Christians. It was a godless immoral place but Paul clarifies what he had told them.

“Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” (1 Corinthians 5:10)

He says, “If I meant the sinners of this world...you would have to go off the planet to get away from them.” These Christians had to function in the world (but not be of that world) in every day life, so the people to whom Paul was referring wasn’t the unsaved in their area; it was the Christians who might be sinning in these ways.

“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; not even to eat with such a person.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

He is telling them that if a brother, a fellow Christian, will behave like this and not regret it he has to be excluded from fellowship.

I’ve heard many sermons on this topic that all seemed designed to justify kicking someone out. That is not why I am teaching on it now; I am just illuminating the trial in this true story so we can see what those people were going through.

This was a man who was one of them, a small beleaguered group of new Christians who were shunned by their Jewish and Gentile families and friends. For them to be told to kick out one of their own was hard for them to hear and even harder for them to do. Imagine that father having to shun his own son.

It was HARD….but right….to do - so, they did it.

Often when this is taught there is almost a gleeful mood among the leaders as if it is almost fun to do this to people but it isn’t fun for a true godly leader.

Listen to Paul discuss this matter in the second letter to Corinth.

“But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.” (2 Corinthians 2:1)

It wasn't easy for Paul to tell them to shun that unrepentant man; in fact, it was VERY difficult for him - but it was the right thing to do.

“For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me? And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all.” (2 Corinthians 2:2-3)

He tells them that he wrote to them to do that so that their situation would improve, so there would be less sorrow. In other words, He did something painful in order to stop further pain. Then, he confesses how hard this was to do.

“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you. But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent; not to be too severe.” (2 Corinthians 2:4-5)

He says, “The offender grieved YOU.” And Paul gave the solution to stop their grief. Then he says something deliciously grace-laden.

“This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.” (2 Corinthians 2:6-7)

Paul wants them to draw the now ex-offender back into fellowship. Time has passed and apparently God’s plan for the man (and for the people) has worked.

Tragically, this is a tool that is all but lost in the modern Body of Christ. God’s plan is that there be the ONE Church in every place, yet the body of Christ has been shattered into many independently functioning sub-bodies in every area. For the purposes of this discussion this means that if a person is confronted about their unrepentant sin that person can merely pick up and move to another “church” where they can go underground with their sin.

They will not be affected by how God works through the body of Christ on the earth and, therefore, will not be motivated to repent. They remain among other Christians often inspiring them to sin without repentance (since there seems to be no earthly repercussions for their sinful ways.)

This has numbed one of God’s ways of dealing with people whose lifestyles have seared their consciences causing them to not be able to sense the Holy Spirit’s conviction. This has all happened in the name of institutional religion. For all the “benefits” of this man-made system the cost is tragically high.

“This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.” (2 Corinthians 2:6-7)

Paul wants them to draw the, now, ex-offender back into fellowship. He is concerned that if they don't, the man will be “swallowed up with too much sorrow.”

“Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.” (2 Corinthians 2:8)

In all those sermons I heard, THAT part was never preached. I don’t know why but I suspect it is because that part is hard to do. It involves monitoring. It involves relationship. It takes time and patience and the willingness to be hurt and/or disappointed if the person in question does not repent.

Next, Paul explains his logic.

“For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.” (2 Corinthians 2:9)

He says, “I told you to do that to ‘test’ or prove you.” He told them to do this for their own sanctification. In other words, this was a part of their own growth-in-Christ process, and when it happens to us that is the reason it does.

Later in the letter Paul expands on this topic.

“Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,” (2 Corinthians 7:6)

(The Greek word translated here as “downcast” literally means “depressed” - so if you are ever depressed know that God has comfort for you.)

“…and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.” (2 Corinthians 7:7)

Titus had visited them and what he saw among the Corinthian church brought him comfort and joy. He reported what he saw to Paul: that they had earnest desire, mourning and zeal. This brought comfort and joy to Paul, too.

“For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.” (2 Corinthians 7:8)

Paul speaks of how, even when he commanded them to do something hard…even while releasing a trial in them, he was conflicted. He regretted it and yet, he didn’t regret it.

“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.” (2 Corinthians 7:9)

Paul shows them how real sorrow - godly sorrow results in real repentance.

“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)

The salvation spoken of here is not the salvation that sends us to heaven. Paul is talking to saved people, Christians with wounded souls, with strongholds, with soul struggles. This salvation refers to the ongoing cleansing and purifying of a Christian’s soul, which some refer to as “sanctification.”

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

This salvation results in a repentance without regret. This means that when we drop something in repentance we don’t still long to be able to do it because it’s no longer a good thing in our eyes. It is a repentance in which we do not regret that which we have set aside. God works this repentance in us.

This is something deeper, this repentance without regret and it will come to us, especially if we do not bow to the temptation.

Let’s say there is a person who is an ex-drug addict. He has repented and will never use drugs again. However, he still longs for it sometimes. In his mind it’s still a good tool except that it is off limits because he is a Christian.

Some day the Lord will sanctify his soul to the point where he will agree with Him that using illegal drugs is all bad and that it has nothing to do with him as a new creation in Christ. Then, He won’t long for it anymore. THAT will be a “repentance without regret.” Now, if he uses or if he spends his time fantasizing about getting high, that will make repentance without regret take longer to arrive.

Listen to Paul explaining to the people of Corinth what they had experienced in this trial. Perhaps he is explaining to us things that we have gone through in our trials or what is being worked in us right now.

When I first heard this preached I thought the point was either to bring the offender to repentance or to just get him out of there where he was hurting others. Paul, though, shows he had something else in mind.

“For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11)

He says, “Look at all the good that came out of that trial!”

“Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you.” (2 Corinthians 7:12)

Paul says, “I didn’t do this for the offender’s sake and I didn’t do this for the offender’s dad’s sake.”

The New American Standard version of this verse helps me make more sense of what Paul is saying.

“So although I wrote to you it was not for the sake of the offender, nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:12 - NASB)

He says, “I did it so you could see something about yourself.” He wanted the people of the church in Corinth to see the potential they had within them all along to do what was right even if it was terribly difficult and painful to do.

This brings me to my main point.

God allowed the trial I was in when I originally wrote this article to come to me. It would never have destroyed me. I could escape it, but I didn’t want to escape it. I had faith that it was for my good and was allowed by God to me for one main purpose: for me to see something in myself that Father God wanted me to see. It was something He sees and something that it is best for me to see that could only be seen through the trial and not just from a dream or a prophetic word from God, etc.

I needed to see this through and I can tell you that even when I originally wrote the article I could already see some of what He wanted me to see.

“So although I wrote to you it was not for the sake of the offender, nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:12 - NASB)

What I am about to say is not me bragging on myself. Rather, it is my amazement as I have seen what God had done in me through this trial. That’s the truth; you can take it or leave it.

I was amazed at my peace in all that trial. It was like I was watching this happen in someone else’s life. I did have my moments of feeling overwhelmed, of second guessing my decisions, of being upset but, in the main, I remained totally at peace about this.

God had done a work in me (and still is) and the trial I was experiencing at the time was revealing it. In the past I would have been so worked up, angry, etc. But that time I wasn’t. God had been busy at work in me and I never even noticed it.

Often a trial will come and our first thought is that we are being punished for something. I don’t believe that is usually the case. To be sure, if I do something wrong there will be consequences but, according to what we see in what I’ve shared in this article, God is at work in us, monitoring these things, shielding us from things that would destroy us, giving us escape routes and encouraging us to stay in the trials anyway.

This is so that we might be whole.

I want to be whole. How about you?

Now, this is good, but does this mean I should pray for trials? No! I’m not stupid and that brings me to my main point.

Whatever trial I am in at any time is allowed to me by God. Because of that, I can know it will not destroy me. I could escape it, but I don’t want to because I have faith that it is for my good. It is allowed by God to me for one main purpose: for me to see something in myself that He wants me to see – something He has always and forever seen in me. Now it’s my turn to see it.

Do you have the boldness to want that? Do you want to see what the Lord sees in you so that you might present yourself to Him as a living and holy sacrifice?

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

All this has caused me to rethink my beliefs on trials. It has helped me to be more able to readily thank the Lord for my trials. I pray that it will do the same for you.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-23)

Pastor Mike McInerney

Mike McInerney Ministries

Decatur, TX

© January 25, 2017 (originally written January 14, 2008)

(For use with permission)

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©2018 by Mike McInerney Ministries