A Popular But Often Misapplied Verse From The Bible
Bible Gateway recently found this to be one of the most-read verses in the Bible: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). But could it also win the title of being the most misapplied verse and most misunderstood? It's a wonderful truth, but it needs some qualification.
Seven things to think about:
1. This does not mean God will empower me to sin.
God is not the author of sin. That comes from the flesh. "All things" would never include that which God hates or that which is opposed to his very nature.
2. This does not mean I can do supernatural physical feats.
God is not going to empower me to do supernatural physical feats such as jump across the Atlantic Ocean or flap my arms and fly to the moon. It does not mean I can perform miracles. "All things" are the simple things of life that all believers are called to do.
3. This means I can do all things within the will of God.
I can do all things that God calls me to do. We must understand "all things" as everything that is defined by the word of God.
4. This does not relieve me of my responsibility to apply myself.
I still need to commit myself to the means of grace-God's word, God's meal at the Lord's Supper, and so on. In other words, if I just sit back passively, I am not going to know this strength. It requires my active pursuit of the means of grace for me to experience this supernatural power in my life.
5. This does not remove my responsibility to confess our sin and to repent.
If there is unconfessed, unrepentant sin in your life, it will pull the plug on your joy. Sin and joy cannot coexist in the same heart. Of course, we will never be perfect, and there will always be sin in our lives, but if there are patterns of sin going on in my life, no matter how good my circumstances happen to be, there is no joy.
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6. This does mean nothing is too difficult.
This verse means that I can live my Christian life knowing that the power of God is far greater than whatever the difficulty is that I am facing. There is no trial too difficult. There is no obstacle too high. There is no temptation too strong. There is no opposition too powerful. There is no persecution too threatening. If we put our faith and trust in God and follow him in obedience, this joy will be our joy, and this contentment will be our contentment, and this confidence will be our confidence.
7. God does this work in the Christian at the deepest level of their innermost being.
This is not a superficial work that God does on the façade of your life. Down in the very depths of your being, this is where God enables you by the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ to do what God would have you do, and it is a comprehensive work that he does. It involves your mind, your affections, and your will.
What it does mean:
Context is key. Philippians 4:13 is Paul's secret of contentment, as the preceding two verses clarify: "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 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."
Imagine being able to write what Paul can write and that it is close to the truth in your own life. Imagine being able to say, I am content no matter what my circumstances are. I can get along with little, and I know how to live with much. I am content whether I am full or hungry, wealthy or in great need. I can do all things through my Lord, who strengthens me. Imagine being able to live like this. We can. We have all we need in Christ. Motyer sums it up this way:
"No circumstance could ever arise which would be too much for Paul's God, and therefore no circumstance could ever beat Paul." (The Message of Philippians, page 219)
Paul's God is our God. So when we lack the contentment that Paul enjoyed and exemplified, it is not because we do not have what we need to enjoy it; it is because our eyes are on the wrong place. They are upon our circumstances instead of upon our Savior.
This Verse Is For You, Too
Do you need to be living above your circumstances or are you pulled down in a whirlpool of emotional collapse? Do you need to experience joy in the midst of your situation right now? Do you need to know what it is to say, "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me"? If so, then remember that all joy for your soul and all power for your life is found in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you need to get as close to Christ as you can.
If you will look to him, trust him, live for him, worship him, adore him, serve him, follow him and obey him, then this joy will increase by filling and flooding your soul. I need this; you need this; we all need this. You are either in a very difficult set of circumstances right now, or you are about to head into one, or you have just stepped out of one momentarily to head back into one again. God had only one Son without sin, but he has no sons without sorrow. You will know what it is to be hungry. You may know what it is to be full. But this is the secret which Paul has let us know: you have all you can ever need in Christ, and you can do all things through Christ, who strengthens you.
Adapted from Philippians For You by Steven J. Lawson, a new expository guide to the book of Philippians, with accompanying Good Book Guide for small groups.
This article originally appeared on TheGoodBook.com. Used with permission.
Dr. Steven J Lawson is President and Founder of OnePassion Ministries and Professor of Preaching at The Master’s Seminary in California. He preaches and leads preaching conferences around the world. The author of 24 books, Dr Lawson served as Senior Pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama. He and his wife Anne have three sons and one daughter.