“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
– (Philippians 4:13 ESV)
How many times have we seen this verse plastered on a picture with a man holding a trophy while the crowd is cheering him on? While the scope of the verse seems universal, the context would prove otherwise. Is Philippians 4:13 the call of Christians to boast in their achievements, standing on top of the mountain with their cape flapping in the wind? Surely the Apostle Paul had more in mind when he wrote to the church at Philippi.
CONTEXT IS KING
The problem with taking and memorizing verses here and there is that you miss the context of not only the chapter and book, but also of the grand narrative of Scripture. In order to understand the context of this verse, we must look at the book as a whole and also the preceding verses. First and foremost, what is the context of the book?
Paul is writing to a beloved church that he holds extremely dear to His heart. In fact, in all the other letters, Paul offers a rebuke to the churches in areas they are failing. In this letter, Paul continues to praise and thank God for the Philippians in their partnership (1:5), assistance in Paul’s imprisonment (1:7) and their willingness to give generously to Paul’s mission (4:15-16).
Paul is a man who is governed not by changing circumstances but upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sovereignty of our God. Paul writes in 1:12, “I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.” Paul doesn’t looking at the dim and dark situation he is in, rather, he trusts that God is in control and constantly uses the evil of this world to spread forth His Gospel.
Secondly, the preceding verses really tell us that Paul isn’t writing this well-known, coffee cup verse at a mountain high. Paul writes two verses earlier, “I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content.” He then goes on to explain that in the high and the low, Paul rejoices in Christ, “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.” Yes, there are good seasons when we can confidently declare, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” but Paul’s overarching point is that in whatever situation—even in the most dismal of situations—you should be able to content and rejoice in Christ.
Now, I am not trying to bring forth shame or condemnation on those who use this verse. Don’t go and take down that Instagram picture of you after a workout with the hashtag of #philippians4:13. We should rejoice in the good that God is doing, including the small and big things in our lives. But I would love to see more and more believers know and live the truth of verse 11 rather than verse 13, that in every situation, they have learned to be content.
Philippians 4:13 is a great source of encouragement to the believer because when trials strike, the believer has an anchor to cling to for strength: Jesus. This verse isn’t about you rising victoriously over your horrible situation. It is about Jesus triumphing in your weakness and doing what only He can do. Believer, are you in a valley with no foreseeable future? Lean upon the strength and power of Christ, who will strengthen you in the difficult days ahead.
Let us learn to be content in every situation, accepting weakness and hardships as God’s refining mercy in our lives. Let us look to Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Let us look to the incarnation of the eternal Logos. The eternal, immutable, incomprehensible God has taken on human flesh, humbling Himself by dwelling amongst His people. We do not simply look to Jesus as our example of living this kind of life. We look to Jesus as our Representative and Advocate.
For when we fail to live in weakness by His strength, we cling to the Cross, where Jesus emptied Himself on our behalf. Philippians 4:13 is simply the fruit of Golgotha, where Jesus has taken all of your sin, guilt and shame away.
“When you satisfied with the Giver, you are freed from the ravenous quest for satisfaction that is discouraging existence of so many people. Yes, it is true that your heart will rest only ever when it is found its rest in him.”