Recall some of these Simple-Truths which we have considered, ones which turn out to be most profound: The Lord is my Shepherd. He has shown you, O man, what is good and what God requires of you. … Here, we look at Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength [that Him is God, or specifically Christ Jesus]. This seems like a very simple text, the kind of hopeful Bible verse we expect to find stitched onto a knitted pillow case! What could be confusing or complicated about such a comforting and assuring promise?
- Well, I do hope that you love this verse (for what it really means, in its fullness), but when the Lord God finds us in this wicked world, the attitude of each one of us is more like this: I can do all things … period! I am awesome, wonderful, sufficient, capable, and independent … so why would I need the help and strength of an invisible, distant Being?! Thus thinks the arrogant man of this world.
- But for His chosen people, the Spirit of God brings us to the place where we confess the opposite of what we were believing (or at least claiming) before, and so we are now agreeing with God (a linguistic description of repentance): I cannot do anything! This is an admission of total inability, at least in the spiritual realm of doing anything to merit God’s favor. I am incapable of saving myself from the pit in which I have fallen, from the troubles which I have chosen. But if the world mocks such an attitude of weakness, the Bible holds it out as the necessary testimony of the lost man who must be born from above, raised from the dead by a sovereign act of the living God.
- I am sorry to admit (this is my personal issue; perhaps it is yours too?) that many believers then move from confessing their total inability, through salvation in Jesus Christ, to this kind of false confidence: I am a Christian now … so now I CAN do all things [in my own power]. As if Jesus gave my battery a jump-start, so now I am good-to-go for another year. But this is the false-to-reality attitude of The Arrogant Christian (which is an oxymoron, for morons).
- Slightly better (we imagine within ourselves) is the attitude of the believer who has been around for awhile, so he knows some of his own weaknesses, but he still misses the big idea of this entire universe. So he claims: I can do all of MY things with the power of Christ (as if the highest use of the powerful authority and glorious attributes of God is to meet my selfish demands and to fulfill my self-centered desires).
- May God bring us, in His time (but soon, please!) … to grasp our continuing need to believe and to act upon every part of this simple verse: I can do / all things / through Christ / who gives me strength.
- Extending, and not contrary to this verse, and not inappropriate to the verse, but expositing this verse in light of other ones … aim for this spirit: I can do all of Christ’s things, through all of Christ’s strength which is at work in me (for it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me). The “all things” of Philippians 4:13 should be thought of as Christ’s things, all of Christ’s things.
- And the context of Philippians 4:13 guides us to this understanding. Many will assume that this is a verse about the believer’s ability to control his environment through a kind of self-talk or mind-control (which ends up in a version of matter-control), by which a faith-filled person can change his reality, making life or the world better for himself. And if Christ’s power helps us get to this better state more efficiently, then that is most useful! Well, Philippians 4 is actually about Paul’s resolve to be content, whatever the circumstances. Paul praises God because God has taught Paul (through many years and many trials) how to be satisfied in God, even when Paul was in a state of need, even when Paul was hungry, even when Paul lacked. I dare say (this is another rebuke to me; you?) that most Christians do not even want to have such a power (to be content with little). Have you ever prayed for such a gift?! And if we read beyond this favorite (but misunderstood) verse, we find ourselves in the midst of a thank-you note, from Paul to the church of Philippi. Paul expresses his gratitude and thanksgiving, that God used their generosity to meet Paul’s need. So this pillow verse is not (again) about the power of mind-over-matter, but it is about the power of the Holy Spirit over our typical self-centeredness, to convince us that others matter, and that my more-than-enough at this moment may be God’s very provision to supply the need of another … in order that all of God’s people are sufficiently supplied, so that God gets the glory.