Praise the Lord for His traveling mercies this past Thanksgiving weekend. I will have to learn to make time to update this blog while I’m on vacation, but all in due time.
Today, I’d like to share some quick thoughts on an often quoted verse, Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (NASB). Whenever I see or hear a verse of scripture presented or quoted in an encouragement, rebuke, or as basis for an opinion I become excited that someone is turning to God’s Word for Truth. If it is a verse I have not memorized or am unfamiliar with, I search the word for it, to see what else I have missed, and to be sure that the quoted verse is indeed a verse (“cleanliness is next to Godliness” isn’t in the Scriptures).
That is not to say that there aren’t some strong warning signs that flash. A surefire way to furrow my brow is to present a quoted scripture in written form without its reference. In the Internet age, there simply is no excuse to not include at least the reference for the scripture. None. Google allows you to start typing out the quote and usually within the first few results it becomes clear if the phrase is an idiom or a Scripture verse, and normally you can see the reference of the verse without following a single link. Additionally, if the quoted text is a single phrase or partial sentence, I hesitate. Why? Because I worry about the verse being used out of context. If the context is solid, and the audience is well versed, then a simple line or a partial quote is more than enough to bring the passage of scripture into the remembrance of audience and everyone walks away blessed. However, in a mixed audience, there can be room for error.
Now, getting back to Phil 4:13, it is a commonly quoted verse of scripture that has provided me with comfort and encouragement over the years. Even now, in my present-day struggles, I lean on this verse. Let us look at the verse in context:
Philippians 4:4-14 (NASB)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.
Paul is saying a lot in this chapter. We are commanded to Rejoice in the Lord always. We are given guidelines for what we should be focused on and meditated on. I probably provided more than was needed, but I really wanted to show the slight topic shift. After presenting the commandment for us to rejoice in the Lord, Paul now moves to his rejoicing in being remembered in his affliction. Verse 11 is when it really gets heavy… Paul has already learned how to accept God’s provision regardless of circumstance. Here he simply explained that he has learned to get along “with humble means” or “poverty” and how to live in prosperity. The secret of being filled and going hungry… in abundance and in suffering need. That secret is in knowing that I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. What a blessing to be given such profound wisdom and encouragement!
Unfortunately, this verse is often misquoted. A key phrase within the verse is “through Him”. I’ve heard this verse used in a way that conveys more of a “I can do all things because Christ strengthens me to do everything”. Do you see what is missing? There is a limitation to the “all things” that can be done… they must be done “through Him” or “in Him”. We cannot simply go through life being our own bosses and expect Jesus to serve as our hired muscle. That isn’t how the scriptures read and it is not the example Paul led for us. Even Jesus deferred to the Will of God the Father, and Jesus is God. But He demonstrated how we are to live our lives in Him and through Him. More subtly, the verse is sometimes used (or received) as a pep talk implying that Jesus will fix our circumstances. Such an interpretation generally stems from ignorance of the verses immediately preceding v13.
So, what sorts of circumstances can we count on the strength of God to provide for us as we remain in Him? Lets look at a quick list Paul provided in his rebuke to the Corinthians regarding boasting. The greater context of chapter 11 is in regards to boasting and in the defense of his apostleship, but we are looking specifically for a list of the types of circumstances Paul had to endure in Christ:
2 Corinthians 11:23-33 (NASB)
23 Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from suchexternal things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
30 If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33 and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.
Wow. My circumstances are quite comfortable by comparison. Yet, the Grace of God and of His provision is as accessible to me as it was to Paul. My appreciation and maturity pales in comparison, and I submit that it is greatly due to my comparative lack of trials. I Praise God that He has blessed me and kept me from such harm thus far. This isn’t shared that we might compare ourselves to Paul; rather, it was to highlight just how awesome our God is, and what He can do with an obedient servant.
So, whenever we think wrestle with trials and struggles, anxiety and doubt… we should return to Philippians 4. Rejoicing in the Lord always, getting our minds right (“think on these things…”) and then trusting on God to strengthen us regardless of our circumstances. I pray you find this encouraging. The next time you hear/see Phil4:13 taken out of context, I pray you will share the rest of the chapter in love and humility.