One of the most familiar and popular verses in scripture is found in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV): “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We see it on church walls, t-shirts, and bumper stickers. Sometimes, it is the title or theme of a church or Sunday school retreat. It is a wonderful verse, but it seems to me that the connotation it’s often given is more of an exaggeration than an encouraging statement from Paul.
The way I’ve heard this verse used is to say that we really can do all things through Christ–even great things–if we truly believe in Christ as our Savior and Lord. I have not found this to be the case. Maybe that’s because I’m too weak or just don’t believe with enough conviction. I hope not.
Philippians 4:13 is a powerful verse. It causes us to desire that the spirit of Christ become part of our spirit. It makes us think of being in Christ and having Christ in us.
But this verse is a portion of a paragraph that should be read in full to give the verse the context I think it deserves. “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV) The wording of this verse is different in the NIV (“I can do all this” from that in the NKJV (“I can do all things”), but putting that aside, I believe that the context of this verse links strength with contentment, not strength with the ability to do anything.
And what a gift that is! Contentment is difficult to find. It was difficult in Paul’s time; it’s certainly difficult today. We so often look for contentment in the wrong places and things. It’s in Christ Jesus, who gives us the strength to find it.