13 June 2020
Philippians 4:13 is one of the most well-known New Testament verses,
but it's also one of the most frequently misused.
After telling his audience that he's experienced both poverty and affluence,
the Apostle Paul writes these well-known words:
"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
We can see some variation of these words in encouraging notes and cards,
in art, on t-shirts, tattooed on people's bodies,
and even scrawled on the shoes of famous athletes.
I have this verse on the front of my Bible case.
It strengthens me when I'm feeling bogged down
or in a situation that seems out of my control
and it reminds me that I cannot do things in my own strength,
I need to rely on Jesus.
The verse is often shortened to, "I can do all things . . ."
But is that what Paul is really saying here?
Is he telling us to believe in ourselves?
No, it does not mean 'You can do anything if you believe enough.'
Rather, it means that God will give us strength to do whatever God has called us to do.
If we truly want to know what a Bible verse or passage means,
we have to read it in context.
We can't strip away all the surrounding verses,
remove it from its original context, and still expect to understand it.
Just before Paul says,
"I can do all things through Him who gives me strength,"
he describes some of the different circumstances he's found himself in:
he's been hungry and well-fed, he's been in need and he's been well off, and he's
'learned to be content, no matter what his circumstances are.' (4:12)
Paul isn't contrasting these circumstances to suggest that one is better than the other.
He's using these extremes to highlight that he understands the range of human experience
and the challenges that come with each situation.
He isn't a rich person telling a poor person to be happy with what they have (or vise versa),
and he's not sitting there on a full stomach telling hungry people to get over it.
He's saying that no matter what our circumstances are,
we can learn to be content.
How does he know? Because he's tested it, and he's proved it.
How does he do it? That's where verse 13 comes in.
A relationship and reliance on Christ.
We may have to accept our own limitations.
Stories of Christian celebrities can do us a disservice,
by giving us unrealistic expectations
we will not all be 'Christian superstars'
but we can fulfil our own potential under God.
And who knows what legacy we may leave?
God calls us to faithfulness, not success.