(Disclaimer – I did not come up with that clever title. I saw it on a t-shirt.)
Ah yes, one of our favorite bible verses!
And one of the most misunderstood.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
First, I must admit I am an ESV girl through and through. However, the NKJV is how most people know the verse, so I used it above.
What an encouraging declaration. There is a reason we like this verse so much – it’s full of hope! We see God offer so much hope to His people throughout the Bible and in our own lives. The Gospel is hope. It also conveys perseverance, which scripture is clear that Christians will have to rely on. Despite these positive things though, this verse without context can lead the believer to see Christ as more of a genie than the all-powerful God.
The statement “I can do all things” is a bold claim. Can we really do all that we want to simply with the help of Christ? Surely he can do all because he is God. But as God, he knows what is best for us, and that may not always align with what we think is best for us. We have a lot of dreams, goals, and aspirations, and honestly I’m thankful God’s plan for my life is different than my own sometimes. So if it’s not about being able to do whatever we want, then what is it saying? Let’s take a look at the verses around this one to get a better idea.
In this letter to the church in Philippi, Paul is offering encouragement and direction for the people. In this passage he is describing the suffering he has endured during his efforts to preach the gospel of Christ. He thanks the Philippians for their concern and support. He does not dwell on his difficult circumstances however, and instead focuses on his attitude saying, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
This is a big deal. Paul faced many hardships during his mission, including several periods in prison. He had reason to complain and be upset – but he knew there was something better to seek. He knew the goal, the prize – it was Jesus. It was sharing the good news of Christ with whatever time he had left of the earth. He said himself in Romans 8:18, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” He had an eternal perspective. He goes on in Philippians,
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:12-13
This verse is part of a larger passage that deals primarily with contentment. Contentment in every circumstance. Contentment despite hardship and frustration. Contentment in the midst of not getting what we want. If I could make an adjustment to the famous verse, I would replace “do” with “endure.” We can endure anything when we lean on Christ. He is our strength, our comfort, and our guide. This is still quite an encouraging declaration, but let’s continue to share the truth of who Christ is – a savior, not a genie – by using this verse in context.