Joyful, enduring faith comes from surrendering yourself to Christ. A vital component of joyful faith is hearing, reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Holy Word, the Bible. The Bible is divinely inspired, divine instruction that is true and trustworthy. For this reason, we must be careful not to mishandle God’s Word. Ben Witherington lll wrote in his book The Indelible Image about the misuse of Scripture: “A text without a context is just a pretext for what we want it to mean…”. In other words, if we are not careful with God’s Word, we can make ourselves (and others) believe it means whatever we want it to mean. This is detrimental to our faith. A commonly misunderstood passage of Scripture is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). While we are in Philippians, it is wise for us to consider this verse more closely.
I Can Do All Things
Can I do all things through Christ who strengthens me? What does this mean? Does all really mean all? Shane Pruitt, writing for Relevant Magazine, summarized how this verse is commonly misused: “This verse has nothing to do with dunking a basketball, hitting a game-winning homerun, bench-pressing a bus, winning the lottery or closing a business deal.” Your pastor remembers seeing this verse on a banner at the YMCA in Nashville with a basketball in the background. The message I received from the banner was that I could win the pickup basketball game because Christ will help me. But then I wondered if that same message was given to the guy on the opposing team? Does Christ help me win and not him or does Christ help us both win? What exactly does Paul mean in Philippians 4:13?
Remember, a text without a context is a pretext for what we want it to mean. Taken out of context, this verse serves me. It becomes justification for me to believe that God wants me to succeed in whatever I set my mind to. Do you see the problem? What if God doesn’t want me to hit the game-winning homerun? What if I don’t get the promotion? What if I get laid off? Does God still love me when He doesn’t allow me to succeed in whatever I set my mind to? We must be careful when we handle God’s Word.
The context of this passage is not Paul hitting the game-winning homerun in the Saints vs. Sinners softball game, but in learning to be content in every situation. Paul can do all things (e.g., content in much and little) because Christ strengthens him. The application, therefore, has less to do with justifying your desires and more to do with encouraging you to greater faithfulness and holiness. You can be patient with those around you. You can forgive those who have hurt you. You can exercise self-control. You can gain victory over indwelling sin in your life. The key to properly understanding this verse is that you are God’s child who delights in doing God’s will. You have surrendered all to Jesus and you can do all things that God has called for you to do.
Through Christ Who Strengthens Me
You can do all things that God has called you to do. This is because when God calls you to do something, God provides you with the ability and the strength to do it. This comes through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus you have been regenerated, justified, are being sanctified, and will one day be completely glorified. You are loved. You can do everything God calls you to do because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. The key to being able to do all things is to recognize that it is done through Christ and for Christ.
Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” You cannot do it yourself because you are neither smart enough nor wise enough nor strong enough. Christ must be your strength. He must be the source of your power. How do you know if you are working through Christ and His strength? Here are a few questions:
- Are you regularly asking God to give you wisdom for your present and future?
- Are you more interested in accomplishing your own will or God’s? Do you pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven?
- Do you only attempt things you know you can accomplish? When was the last time you took a step of faith?
- When was the last time you said “Yes” to God for something that you know only He could accomplish?
How deep is your knowledge and understanding of Scripture? How often do you hear, read, study, and meditate on it? Are you content with a surface level understanding? Do you use the Bible to justify yourself or do you use it to know Christ and to enjoy Him forever? Let us seek Christ and grow in our faith.