I Can Do All Things Through Christ?
A Misinterpreted Verse
Jesus is not a Genie
Adoniram Judson Gordon, who was an American Baptist preacher, used to frequently tell a story. The story was about an American and an Englishman who had been traveling together and were visiting the Niagara whirlpool rapids. When they were standing near the Falls, the Englishman told his friend: "Come and I'll show you the greatest unused power in the world. " Then he took him to the foot of Niagara Falls and said: "There is the greatest unused power in the world!" "Ah, no my brother", came the reply. "The greatest unused power in the world is the Holy Spirit of the living God!"
The truth of the matter is that we have the power that raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead living right inside us. We are the temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19,20). Yet most Christians either act as though they are powerless, or they treat God as if He were their own personal genie who is there to grant them any wish that their hearts desire instead of allowing Him to give them strength in any situation to do God's will.
Much of that mentality comes from one of the most misinterpreted verses in the Bible. Philippians 4:13 states: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. People use this verse as a promise that God will help them succeed in anything. For example, if they go into a contest of some kind, like a football game, they can say "I'm going to win because I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength". Or the business owner may say: "My business will be successful because I can do all things through Christ."
In this way, they symbolically rub on the magic lamp and recite this verse, and poof, they automatically become successful! Or so they think.
The truth is, this is not a verse about success at all, at least not as the world would define it. It is a verse about the ability to live under any circumstances, good or bad, no matter what the Lord may allow in our life. Our circumstances don't define us. Our true identity is found in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. The General Context of the Book of Philippians
To understand where Paul is coming from with this verse, we need to understand the context of the letter to the Philippians.
Philippians is one of the Apostle Paul's prison epistles, probably written around 61 A.D. Paul was actually in prison at the time of writing. There is some argument over where, but undoubtedly it was in Rome.
Paul mentions in 1:13 about the palace. This is literally translated praetorium which is a Roman body of troops assigned to the emperor in Rome. It is quite clear from the context of this epistle that he is going to face a trial and that his life is at stake (1:20). The context would indicate that the trial was to be before Caesar himself.
Paul's primary purpose in writing this epistle is to thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent upon learning of his imprisonment. He does, however, make use of this occasion to do other things as well:
1. He wanted to report his own circumstances (1:12-26; 4:10-19).
2. He desired to encourage the Philippians to stand firm in the face of persecution and to rejoice no matter what the circumstances (1:27-30; 4:4).
3) He exhorted them to be humble and unified (2:1-11; 4:2-5).
4. He wanted to commend Timothy and Epaphroditus to them (2:19-30).
5. He warned the Philippians against the Judaizers, or legalists as well as the antinomians or libertines among them (chapter 3).
To clarify these words, a Judaizer was one who believed you had to obey the law of Moses and be circumcised in order to be saved. An antinomian was a person who taught that there were no moral laws that God expects Christians to follow. And libertines are persons who reject moral boundaries and live without constraint. So they live a very sinful lifestyle.
All these beliefs are clearly unbiblical and needed to be addressed by the Apostle.
So it is obvious that Paul was not preaching a health and wealth gospel, or one in which God will give one success as defined by the world.
Living for Jesus Despite Our Circumstances
II. The Immediate Context of the Verse
If we look at Philippians 4:10-13 Paul is telling the Philippians that he is rejoicing that they had shown a renewed concern for him by sending him a gift. Apparently, Paul had not heard from them in a while, although it isn't certain from the context why. It obviously wasn't something they had control over, because Paul said this:
"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" (4:10).
The great Apostle then goes on to say something very profound. He says that even though he appreciates the gifts from the Philippians, ultimately he isn't dependent upon them. He has learned to be content in any circumstance in which the Lord has placed him (4:11).
He goes on to say that;
"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" (4:12).
Then comes the famous verse we all like to quote:
" I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
When taken in context, we have a far different and richer verse than most people realize. It is the power to accomplish God's will no matter what is happening to you in life because you have the ruler of the universe who is giving you the power to do so. He doesn't always promise to deliver you from circumstances. He rather promises to give you strength to get through and to live above those circumstances for His glory.
There is an old song that goes: "I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine; there's gotta be a little rain sometime." That is true of the Christian life as well. God never promised us perfection, this side of heaven. As a matter of fact, we are told that there will be suffering and persecution (Romans 8:18; II Timothy 3:12). But God does promise Christians that He will use all of our circumstances for His glory and for our good (Romans 8:28). It will ultimately transform us into the image of Jesus Christ (I John 3:2,3). And God will not rest until this occurs (Philippians 1:6).
What Philippians 4:13 should tell us is that no matter what situation God brings our way, we should be content. We should rest in His arms, knowing that Christ will give us the strength to endure. If He brings us prosperity, all well and good. However, we should be humble, knowing that this too is not our doing but is from the Lord. And if He brings us poverty or ill health, we should still rejoice and thank Him that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us one day (Romans 8:18).
So let us not use Philippians 4:13 ever again as a magic formula that can grant us our every desire. May we see it for what it truly is meant to be. It is a promise from God that no matter what may happen in life, Christ will give you the power to live for Him and bring praise to His name despite the circumstances. That is true power for living. For most Christians, it is the greatest unused power in the world!
© 2013 Jeff Shirley