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How to transform your life from useless to useful – Philemon 8-25, Part 2

27 Aug
Photo by Linh Nguyen on Unsplash

Have you ever felt useless in life? Maybe you watch others around you, friends and family, and it seems they are successful, advancing, making a difference in the world, enjoying life. Then you think about your life, and maybe you see a past littered with failure, broken relationships, and poor choices. Even if that describes you a little bit, know that you are not alone. Today we meet a man with a broken past. In fact, he was described as useless. At the outset, though, let me give you a hint: there is hope!

So far in our study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, in verses 1-7 we’ve seen Paul profusely encourage Philemon to see himself as a lover of Jesus who also loves all of Jesus’ followers. Then in verses 8-9, Paul begins to make an appeal to Philemon, because there is a specific situation in which Paul wants Philemon to practice that love for Jesus and all his followers. Paul knows that Philemon has a broken relationship in his life, and in verses 10-21, Paul makes his appeal to Philemon to fix that relationship.

What relationship? Paul is writing Philemon on behalf of Onesimus who used to be Philemon’s slave.  But something happened.  We don’t know all the details, but in verse 18 Paul gives some clues.  It seems that Onesimus not only ran away from Philemon, but may have even stolen from him.  Onesimus then made his way to Rome where he met up with Paul.  My guess is that one of three things led Onesimus to Paul. 

First option: Paul had previously become friends with Philemon.  It is possible that Paul would have also met his slave at the same time.  As time goes by, Paul ends up in Rome on house arrest, and Onesimus runs away from Philemon, hoping upon hope that Paul will help him.  If you’ve just committed a crime, and you don’t know where to go, you often seek a person you think will be understanding.  In Onesimus’ mind, Paul fits the bill.

Second option: It could be that Onesimus and Paul hadn’t previously met, but Onesimus still seeks out Paul for help, simply because of Paul’s reputation.

Third option: Onesimus just so happens to end up in Rome and comes across Paul.  Seems unlikely, but as we all know, unlikely things happen all time. 

The rest of the story, Paul tells us.  There in Rome, as he says in verse 10, Onesimus becomes his son.  That is strong family language, right?  Paul writes like this often, calling people his “son” in the faith.  What he means is that he shared Christ with Onesimus, and Onesimus chose to place his faith in Christ, giving Jesus both his assent and allegiance.  In other words, through Paul’s ministry on house arrest, Onesimus becomes a Christian. 

In verse 11 you see Paul’s literary flourish as he uses a wordplay, and most of your Bibles will point to this in a text note.  Almost certainly Onesimus was a difficult case for Philemon, and Paul knew this. If he hadn’t previously heard the story of Onesimus’ running away, he now heard it from Onesimus. Maybe Onesimus was a bad worker, maybe he was insubordinate, a back-talker, a slacker, we don’t know. As a result, maybe Philemon was hard on Onesimus, and that led to his running away. Or maybe Onesimus just wanted to be free. When Paul describes Onesimus as “formerly useless,” it could be all of the above. But here’s wordplay: Onesimus’ name means “useful,” and what does Paul say in verse 11?  Onesimus has gone through a transformation from uselessness to usefulness.  Through the work of Jesus in Onesimus’ life, a great change has happened. Onesimus is now as his name suggests, useful!  And not just to Philemon, Onesimus, Paul says, is useful to Paul too.  Apparently Onesimus was on fire for Jesus, serving, helping Paul. 

So Paul has a tough decision to make.  Do you send a runaway slave back to their master, knowing that it might not go well for that slave?  Or do you keep him with you, especially considering the amazing change that has taken place in his life?  There’s a lot riding on this.  If Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, how will Philemon handle it?  Philemon really seems to be a good man, but Onesimus had betrayed Philemon, and Philemon could have a bad reaction. Also consider this from Onesimus’ point of view.  How much convincing did Paul have to do to get Onesimus to agree to this, after having wronged Philemon and run away?  How scared was he to go back there?  We can imagine Paul having a talk with Onesimus: “Now that you are follower of Jesus, there’s something we need to discuss. Philemon. Your master. How you treated him. Your broken relationship. Jesus is in the business of making things right. We’re going to need to deal with this.”

Now are you seeing why Paul gushes so much over Philemon in verses 1-7?  All that talk about loving all Christians?  Yeah.  It’s because Paul is dropping a bomb right in Philemon’s lap.  And that bomb is Onesimus.  Paul chooses to send Onesimus back, as we read in verse 12, which is the right thing to do. In fact, under Roman law, it was the legal thing to do. Philemon owns Onesimus, and Paul chooses to submit Onesimus to that relationship, as he says in verse 14.

At this juncture we need to pause and talk about slavery in the Roman Empire.  Even just saying “Philemon owns Onesimus” feels wrong.  But that is what was going on.  He was legally seen as property. 

Doesn’t it seem really odd that Philemon, a Christian, owns slaves, and that Paul would send a runaway slave back to his master!  Shouldn’t Philemon set his slaves free?  And shouldn’t Paul say, “Onesimus, you are not going back there into slavery”?  Yes, it seems like that should be happening, but none of it did.  As we’ll see, Paul has a whole lot more to say, but for now I want to point out that slavery in the Roman Empire, while it was awful, as slavery always is, was not like slavery in our American past.  Frankly, American slavery was worse.  A horrible, racial, terrible evil.  It was evil in the Roman Empire too, but it was not racial, and slaves actually had some measure of opportunity for freedom and advancement.  What I do not want you to hear me saying, though, is that slavery was okay in the Roman Empire.  It was different than American slavery, but it still was not okay.  It was evil and wrong back then and went against God’s desires.  I, too, wish Paul would have said more to denounce it.

So what did he say?  Next if Part 3 we continue observing his flow of thought, which will have significant implications for not only Philemon and Onesimus, but so much more, including the practice of slavery.

God’s purpose for your life – Titus 3:1-8, Part 4

8 Aug
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Stop! Don’t read this post. (I know. That’s not an advisable way to start a blog post.)

Before continuing with this post, thought, if you haven’t read the previous post, part 3, please go back and read it here. In this series of posts, we’re studying the amazing teaching of Titus 3:1-8, so actually, I would recommend you start with the first post. But at the very least, please take a few minutes and scan through part 3 in this series, as you need to have a grasp of the verses in Titus 3 that post covered in order to see the significance this one will cover.

What I talked about in the previous post relates to the next phrase in verses 5-6, “renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Paul has been teaching about the transformation that God works in our lives. Christians often call it salvation, and in that amazing gift of grace, Paul says, God pours the Holy Spirit into our lives, further causing renewal to take place.  That means God himself enters our lives to renew us.  I don’t know that I can understate how important that is. 

I get the sense that we need to think and contemplate an awful lot more on the fact that the Spirit of God has been poured out on us to renew us. 

In the midst of busy lives, of work, of sports, of Netflix, of TV, of all that you do, have you pushed the Spirit to some tiny corner of your lives?  Intellectually, I would agree the Spirit is with me.  But in the reality of my day to day life, to what degree do I have a relational connection with the Spirit?  If I’m honest, I rarely think about or attempt to interact with the Spirit.  How about you?  Because God is with us, by his Spirit, however, wouldn’t a deeper connection with the Spirit be something we should look into? 

But Paul is not done.  Look at verse 7.  His thought continues, and there is more incredible news.  All this amazing mercy and love and kindness of God, that saved us, washed us, and renewed us from an old way of life, is for a reason.  God has a purpose. 

Before telling us the purpose, Paul has one more important phrase to set the stage. 

Paul says, “Having been justified by his grace.”

“Justified” is a really important biblical theological word, rich in meaning.  Oftentimes scholars debate as to how we should understand it.  The word that Paul used has the idea of putting things in right relation, or making things right.  That’s what God does through Jesus.  He is making things right between us and God.  Another English word that might be an even better fit is “rectification.”  By his grace, God rectifies the situation, he makes it right. As we’ve already seen in the previous post, God makes us into new people, and earlier in this post, God generously pours his Spirit into our lives. God is at work making things right in our lives.

Why would God do this?  If it wasn’t because of anything we did, and it wasn’t, why would he do this?  As I said, he has a purpose.  Paul now puts it all together telling us why God’s kind, loving, merciful gracious salvation appeared into our darkness, saving us, transforming us, even to the point of pouring out his Spirit on us through Jesus.  Why would God do all that?  Why would Jesus go through the incredible 33 years of his birth, life, death and resurrection?

Paul tells us in verse 7: “so that we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” 

This is amazing good news! 

Paul is using family language here.  God wants us to be his heirs.  That means he wants to adopt us into his family.  This is exactly what he said in Titus 2:14, that he was making a people for himself.  God wants you to be in his family. Stop reading this post, and just dwell on that thought a minute. God wants you to be in his family. Do you know that? What do you think about that?

But wait, there’s more, Paul says! God also wants you to have the hope of eternal life.  As I said in the series of posts on Titus 2:11-15, though in that section Paul was teaching about good news in Jesus, he surprisingly didn’t talk about eternal life. He does now.  God wants us to have hope of new life with him now and for eternity. That’s how much God wants you to be in his family.

So look really closely at what God has done.  Into our mess, God appears and does a work of transformation, giving us the gift of himself, so that we can be a part of his family and have hope for eternal life.  That’s good, good news.  That’s worthy of jumping, shouting, cheering, praising, and getting on iMessage, Instagram, Facebook or your phone or walking around your neighborhood and saying, “People, do you realize what God has done???” Paul is describing the revolutionary work of God that is available to all: he wants you to become new, so that you can be a part of his family now and for eternity.

Do you really know God? Titus 2:11-15, Part 2

30 Jul
Photo by Federico Vespini on Unsplash

As we continue studying Titus 2:11-15, Paul says that salvation has appeared to all.  “Appeared” is the Greek word where we get our English word, “epiphany.”  Epiphany gives us the idea of light appearing in the darkness, like at sunrise.  Here “epiphany” refers to God’s grace like a new light of truth in Christ appearing in the darkness.

This reminds me of the story of the first Easter morning. Jesus had been dead for Friday, Saturday, and now into Sunday, and his followers are distraught.  Do you remember that moment where Mary from Magdalene is in the garden where Jesus’ tomb was located, and she discovers that the tomb is empty, and assumes that someone must have taken the body?  She wanders in the garden, confused, bumping into a man whom she thinks is the gardener.  Through tears, she asks him where the body of Jesus is.  And the gardener simply says one word, her name, “Mary.”  At that moment Mary has an understanding.  An epiphany.  It was not the gardener who stood before her, but it was Jesus. 

Now back in Titus, Paul is saying that salvation is revealed to all.  How has the grace of God that brings salvation appeared to all men?  The word “to” can also be translated “for”.  Either works.  It is salvation for all and to all. Paul is not saying that all are automatically saved.  Instead he saying that the scope of salvation is that it is revealed to all. 

So before we continue, let me ask a question: do you know that God wants to be in a relationship with you?  His grace has appeared.  He has initiated it.  He has done it.  He is reaching out.  He really wants to know you and be known by you.  Do you know him?  Do the people in your family really know him?  How about your neighbors?  Friends? 

When I think about really knowing him, I go back to our Faith Church Logo and that vertical black line in the middle of the four squares.   We call that the Matthew 7 line because of the short parable Jesus tells in Matthew 7:21-23. He describes people who thought for sure they were going to enter Jesus’ Kingdom, but he shocks them saying, “Depart from, I never knew you.”  Do you really know him?  Or do you think you know him, but he would say, “I never knew you.”  And how do you know if you know him?

As we continue walking through this passage in these series of posts on Titus 2:11-15, we’ll see how Paul answers these questions. For now, think about the questions I’ve asked. How would you answer them? Have you experienced the epiphany, the revealing of God’s grace in your life?

What Christians need: Grace, Peace…and Titus? Titus 1:1-4, Part 5

14 Jun

What do you need? A million bucks? I often daydream about how a million dollars would free up my life. But that’s not really what I need. What do we need? We conclude this week’s blog posts on Titus 1:1-4 today looking at what Christians need.

If you haven’t read the previous four posts, I encourage you to pause reading this one, and jump back to part 1 and start there. The previous posts will set the stage for this one.

Then turn to Titus chapter 1, verse 4, and you’ll see that the author of this letter, Paul, mentions a name: Titus. Who is Titus?  Titus is the guy that PUal is writing to, and in the previous posts we saw that Titus was one of Paul’s most trusted associates in ministry. Paul dispatched Titus to go to the Island of Crete in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, where previously they had traveled and helped establish churches. Titus has a mission to help those churches, a mission that we will learn about much more next week when we study Titus 1:5-9. For now Paul greets Titus in this letter, calling him, “My true son in our common faith.”

Titus was not Paul’s biological son, but instead Paul led him to faith in faith in Jesus.  Paul was his spiritual father.  Fascinating, isn’t it, that we can have sons and daughters in the faith?  Paul had reached out to Titus to help him understand that there is hope in Jesus.

Who is your Paul?  Who is your Titus?

Church attendance across the country is declining.  People are less and less interested in Christ.

What do we do?

Some stats say that 80% of people who are invited to church will say yes, especially if you commit to be there with them, pick them, go out for breakfast, and then go to the worship service together.  But a vibrant relationship with Jesus is about much more than one hour per week at a worship service.  Paul calls Titus a son.  That’s a deep family word that means Paul was deeply invested in Timothy’s life.

Faith Church recently had an excellent Discipleship Training session, and our trainer, Clint led us to conclude that discipleship involves the following: Meet weekly with a few other people to study and apply the Scriptures with the aim of multiplication. Here is what each part of that description looks like.

Meeting weekly – needs at least this frequency to build momentum and relationship

With a few other people – beyond 3-5 people is too large. Also team up and have two leaders. Recommend same gendered groups.

Study & applying the Scriptures – the Bible is essential to disciple-making.

With the aim of multiplication – keep growing and splitting the group.  Initial group can be to study one book of the Bible, and then re-eval.  But have heart to grow.

And what does Paul say to Timothy?  He starts with “Grace and Peace,” a very typical Pauline greeting.  What does Paul mean?  Why does he share this?  Is it just perfunctory?

Grace is defined as “a favorable attitude toward someone or something—‘favor, good will.’ (Louw & Nida).  Paul is saying to Titus, “may you have favor, may you have good will.”

And may you have peace, which is defined as “a set of favorable circumstances involving peace and tranquility.” (Louw & Nida) Sounds very good, right?

Grace and Peace.  We need that. 

Notice that these are not grace and peace from Paul.  Instead Paul says that the grace and peace are from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Though Paul calls Titus his son, he properly refers to God as their Father.  Paul is not truly father to Titus.  God is father of them both. 

And from God, from Jesus, there is grace and peace.

Let those words settle on your heart and mind today.  In one sense it was just a customary greeting.  In another sense, there is something deep and important grace and peace.  We need grace and peace from God.

I’m reading the story of Brian Johnson of Bethel Music, and his struggle with anxiety.  He said that it was a struggle for him as a child, but for 15 years he experienced grace and peace, until adult life and ministry got intense, especially as Bethel Music started growing.  The anxiety returned.  Maybe you’ve felt that with work, with raising a family, with finances, with school, with friendships.  There are many pressures in the world.  Do you need grace and peace? 

Paul reminds Titus that grace and peace are rooted in God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  Brian Johnson says that for him, in the moment of panic and anxiety, that is when God became real.  I sense Paul would say the same thing.  Jesus is the truth, and in Christ alone we have the source of grace and peace.  Turn to him in prayer, in his Word, not alone, with others (with your Titus!). Turn to Jesus, the source of grace and peace.

God wants me to be happy, not angry, and never to doubt? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 4]

28 Mar
Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

In 1 Timothy 3:12 we read that “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Woah.  Maybe God doesn’t want us to be happy, and only cares about us becoming godly or holy, even if it takes us being persecuted? How are we to understand this?

Does God want us to be happy?  It sure seems like he would, right?

In this series of posts we’re fact-checking common phrases Christians believe, and in this post there are two phrase: “God isn’t interested in making you happy; he’s interested in making you holy.”  VERSUS “God always wants me to be happy.” Which is it? This takes some explaining.

First of all, God is most interested in our character, in our heart.  And sometimes going through trials is the way to get to our heart.  But as we have seen in previous posts in this series, the trials we go through are not necessarily from God.  The world is broken and fallen, and we will have troubles in this world.  God can redeem those struggles, though, as we strive to follow him in middle of our troubles.  And he promises that he will be with us always.  The result is that we do often grow in godliness during difficult times. 

But can we grow in holiness through joy and plenty and comfort?  Yes.  That’s why a life of spiritual practices and habits is so important.  God calls us to pursue practices like prayer, biblical meditation, silent listening, generosity, and disciple-making all the time, not matter if life is going great or if it is really difficult. 

So the phrase “God isn’t interested in making you happy” is wrong.  God DOES want us to be happy!

Remember the festivals in Deuteronomy?  God embedded happiness and celebration in the life of the nation of Israel.  Ecclesiastes talks about enjoying life.  Philippians says “Rejoice in the Lord always!”  And James 1:2-4, says “Consider it joy when you face trials of many kinds.”

It is very hard to feel joy in the middle of the pain. 

Is there a difference between happiness and joy?  Can we be joyful while being unhappy? 

Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is a choice.  It can be hard to distinguish the two.  Especially for those who struggle with anxiety.  “Consider it joy?”  This means that you can use your mind to control your emotions.   Happiness is an emotion, and emotions do not always tell you the truth.

So we need to remember verses like Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” 

The song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns speaks to this when it envisions God saying to us, “if your eyes are on the storm, you’ll wonder if I love you still, but if your eyes on the cross, you’ll know I always have and always will.”   

Isn’t that so similar to the lamenters in Psalms?  In the pain they turned and ran to the Lord rather than running away from him.  And when they ran to him, they brought all their pain and doubt and anger to him.

And that is a great lead-in to the next phrase we’re fact-checking:God is not OK with doubt and anger.

We’ve referred to James 1 already.  Take a look at verse 6.   “When he asks he must believe and not doubt”?  Wait, is doubt wrong?  And later in verse 19, “be slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.”  So doubt and anger are wrong?  Or are they?

Read the psalms, the laments.  In them you’ll find gut-wrenching doubt and anger.  Raw pain. 

That means we can also declare that this is a false idea.  God is absolutely okay with doubt and anger. 

Saying that God is not okay with doubt is potentially dangerous, making it seem like a good Christian should never struggle with doubt. There is a sense in which God doesn’t want us to doubt.  He wants us to trust in him.   We should have faith in him.  But even then, we have to remember the promise of 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he is faithful for he cannot disown himself.”

In Mark 9:17, we read a fascinating story that relates to doubt.  The disciples were trying to cast a demon out of a boy, but to no avail.  The father of the boy brought him to Jesus to help.

Notice the father’s response to Jesus: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” We all doubt, and we all get angry.  Remember that there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God.  But God’s gracious love for us should also not be an excuse to just stay in our doubt or anger.  Instead, God’s grace should motivate us, make us grateful, to trust in him and allow our anger to subside.  If you have an anger problem that keeps popping up, and you can’t control it, I urge you to get professional help.  It’s not okay to be angry and damage people. 

This too shall pass? [False ideas Christians believe about…difficulty. Part 4]

14 Mar
Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

Are the difficult times in life good or bad? You might read that and think, “How could difficult times ever be good?” Well, when we experience suffering, we tend to feel more helpless and needy and thus we pray more. Increased levels of communication with God, as with any relationship in which greater communication almost always results in being closer to the person, leads to a good change: increased intimacy with God. Maybe difficult times, then, are good? 

So many of us have experienced a deep closeness with God during the hard times.  Therefore, we sometimes say that the phrase, “During times of suffering, you’ll be closer to God.” But is it true?

What we have seen in this series fact-checking phrases that Christians commonly believe is that, like the two-liner statements in the biblical Proverbs, many of these phrases are not guaranteed promises, but they are statements that are generally true.  The same can be said about “during suffering, you’ll be closer to God.”

While generally true, we need to see that this statement is sometimes false, given that some people have gone through suffering and lost their faith!  So this statement is not a promise.  Suffering often brings us closer to God, but it also sometimes crushes faith.  We need to be very sensitive to that.  Many people in the midst of suffering are having a crisis of faith.  God gave us free will, and there are many responses to difficult circumstances.

And that brings us to our next statement.  When people are in the midst of suffering, we say, “This too shall pass.”

How many of you say this?  Or have heard it said?  It is a go-to phrase for many. Is it in the Bible?  Nope. So why do people say this?

Because people in the midst of struggle are really having a hard time, and they need hope.  So we tell them “this too shall pass,” trying too give them hope that the pain will eventually finish.  But is that true? 

Generally, yes.  Most difficult times have an end date.  Yet in the midst of the difficulty, it is very, very hard for us to be comforted by a possible good future.  We are in the pain now, and we can think that the rest of our lives will be this way.

So there is a tension in the reality of life. Whether it is a health situation or a financial situation or a difficult relationship, it is generally true that they almost always pass, get resolved. But not always. Look, for example, at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  Paul reminds us that our troubles will all pass. Here’s the thing thought: the pain might not be done until we die and are pain-free in heaven.  But it will pass. 

That is a harsh reality…this too might not pass until we die.

One of my first acts as senior pastor was to gather a bunch of people to meet with an elderly man in our congregation to pray for him and anoint him with oil.  He was sick and was hoping and praying for healing, and God did not answer that prayer for healing.  James 5 even says that God will heal.  Instead, a few months later that man passed away.  The sickness did not pass on this side of heaven.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that he, himself, had what he called a “thorn in the flesh” and he asked God numerous times to take it away.  We don’t know what the thorn was.  Could be a broken relationship.  Could be a health problem.  Could be an enemy.  But God never takes it away from Paul. 

So again, we have a proverbial phrase.  Pain generally will pass and things will go back to normal.  There are most often seasons in life.  And seasons come and go.  Writing this in the northeastern United States in early March, I am personally ready for the warmer temps of spring!  In parenting, there are seasons.  We recently had an interesting conversation with one of our college-age sons.  He was home for a visit, and somehow we got to talking about these seasons in life.  My wife mentioned that once our kids turned 12-15 years old, we as parents suddenly lost most of our knowledge and became dumb and irrelevant.  But once the kids turned 19-20, we parents amazingly became smart again!  There are seasons, and the statement “this too shall pass” reflects how that is generally true.  Most often, the difficulty comes and goes. 

But not always.  So again, be sensitive to those in pain.  They are in the middle, struggling.  Encourage them and be with them in the pain.  But, do not give false promise that it will guaranteed be taken away.  That is not a promise God gives.  We can and should hope for that, work towards that and pray for it.  But, that is different than saying that God has made it a promise.

As we talked about earlier, in the pain, many can have a crisis of faith.  Sometimes we think “God why are you allowing me to go through this?”  And it seems to us that God is silent.  Nowhere to be found. 

So how should we respond in the midst of pain? Check back in to part 5, and we’ll explore how to have a healthy approach to the difficulty in life.

When life crushes you [False ideas Christians believe about…difficulty. Part 2]

12 Mar
Photo by Mwangi Gatheca on Unsplash

Have you been there? The feeling of life crushing down on you, and you just want to crawl into a ball. Most of us have experienced that awful feeling, probably numerous times in our lives. We feel we can’t handle life, and wonder if we are failures. In the middle of the pain, we raise all sorts of questions about God and how he feels, and where he is, and if he cares.

In part 1 of this series fact-checking ideas Christians believe about dealing with difficulty, I introduced the phrase “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” and concluded that the first part of that statement is false. 

But what about the second part of the statement: “More than you can handle”?  What is that referring to?  What is more than you can handle?  That’s the image I mentioned in part 1 when God supposedly gives a person “boxes of pain” like a health crisis or a job loss, but as God keeps giving them more boxes (again, supposedly), the load eventually becomes too much, crashing down on a person, ruining them. In life this is very real. It could be a mental breakdown, it could mean declaring bankruptcy, it could be a divorce, or even death. 

I have two concerns with this.  

First, the statement “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” insinuates that God would never allow a person to go through such an awful situation that they would break down or die.  Look at real life, though, and you see that plenty of Christians regularly go through awful situations where they break down and die.  Think of Christians who are persecuted for their faith. Throughout history many thousands upon thousands have died for their faith.  But we don’t need to go to the extreme of death. People of all kinds regularly go through extremely difficult situations, and they feel overwhelmed by the pain. Clearly God allows people to go through more than they can handle. So this second phrase of the statement is also wrong. 

The second problem I have with “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is that this statement can create the expectation that a Christian should be able to handle everything flawlessly, even the horrible situations in life.  It gives the impression that if we have a breakdown of some kind, whether a divorce or an emotional breakdown or a bankruptcy, then we are failures as Christ-followers. Because God apparently wouldn’t give us more than we can handle, our breakdown is our fault, our lack of faith. Many people have borne that guilt, finding it to be a crushing pain on top of the difficulty they’re already facing.

Is God like that? Does he expect us to be so filled with faith that we should never struggle no matter how bad life gets? Not at all. Therefore my conclusion is that this statement is not true, not biblical, and we should stop using it. 

What is true is that God is with us in the midst of our pain.  He will never leave us.  We can go to him for strength and for wisdom and for comfort.  He is always available.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, the Apostle Paul says that God comforts us in the midst of our pain!  That is the truth we need to cling to. If you have felt the weight of the world crashing down on you, know that God is ready with open arms to forgive if you need to be forgiven, to comfort if you need to be comforted, and to guide you if you need wisdom. He doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but life sometimes does, and know that God is for you and with you.

Check back in to part 3 when we fact-check the next phrase about dealing with difficulty: “God helps those who help themselves.”