I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
There’s no doubt that Philippians 4:13 is one of the most familiar, most loved and most quoted verses from the New Testament.
And I’ve got to put this out there: I’m just as certain that it’s one of the most misunderstood.
We often take St Paul’s meaning to be something along this line: “I can accomplish great exploits through Christ who gives me strength!”
And yet, when we take a step back and read the verse in context, it seems very, very different:
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13 NIV
If you begin at verse 10 and then read at least to verse 14, the true meaning of Paul’s words becomes clear. He is saying that he’s seen plenty of life’s ups and downs–and has, in fact, known what it’s like to not even have enough to eat–and that he knows he can do all this or endure all this through Christ who gives him strength.
Yes, reading it in context certainly does shed a whole new light on the subject.
Sometimes we might see our faith as a tool to do great things, to help us in our rise to the top or to slay all of our temporal and spiritual enemies.
But that’s not what Paul was saying.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that the real message is much better than the one we may have thought we were reading.
And it’s much better suited to real life. To the life most of us live day after day.
Are you–like St Paul before you–struggling from time to time with all kinds of troubles and hardships?
Such things are simply a part of our everyday lives. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not.
We are no better, no different from St Paul. Or from the Master.
And we most certainly do need spiritual strength to endure all of the things that come our way.
The good stuff. The bad stuff. The highs and the lows.
Believing that Christ gives strength to those who need it–especially to those who need it most–is a good thing indeed.
If you’re up against long odds and it’s time to step up and accomplish some great feat of faith, Paul’s letter may well strengthen you to pull off some great exploit!
And if you’re like most of us–most of us who know and experience troubles, sorrows and plenty of fits and starts–this passage is for you, too.
Especially for you.
© 2019 The Fellowship of St Francis