I Can Do All Things

One of the most popular verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This verse is often quoted by people trying to achieve some goal, such as get a promotion at work or get out of debt. It is used by others who want to overcome an obstacle or defeat an enemy.

So in one sense or another, this verse is quoted within the context of a desire for or a pursuit of change. The speaker has a problem or a struggle, and they want to fix the problem or be victorious in the struggle. They look to Philippians 4:13 for hope and encouragement that God will be an active agent in their situation, giving them strength and ultimately success.

This interpretation of the verse is empowering to believers. It suggests that we “can do all things,” and that Christ is right there alongside us, giving us the strength to overcome or succeed.

In many situations, we may find that this is true. Without doubt our Father loves us, and we know from Romans 8:28 that He works actively and constantly for our good.

But having said that, what is the actual context of this verse? What did Paul specifically have in mind when he penned those words?

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

As he closes his letter to the Philippians, Paul thanks them for their gift of support for his ministry. He acknowledges that they had wanted to help him sooner, but for some reason were unable or had been hindered. Regardless, Paul is grateful.

He then points out that he was not suffering without their gift, because he had learned how to be content regardless of the circumstances. Whether in times of want or times of plenty, whether hungry or well-fed, he was content.

And how was Paul able to be content in any circumstance?

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

So we see that when Paul writes these oft-quoted words, he is not talking about achieving a goal or overcoming an obstacle. He is not pursuing a better job or more well-behaved children. He is not claiming the power of Christ in order to improve his lot in life.

He is claiming the power of Christ for the strength to be personally content, no matter what.

Again, he is not teaching his spiritual children that God has promised them the strength to change those things in their lives that they don’t like or wish were different.

In fact, it is more the opposite. The teaching in Philippians 4 is that His strength gives us the ability to accept those trials and struggles that seem to be a regular part of our lives.

And why would God want us to pursue contentment rather than simply change our circumstances? Because God never intended for us to find fulfillment in our circumstances. He intends for us to find fulfillment in Him. So as we learn to be content in our circumstances, we begin to experience ultimate fulfillment in God Himself.

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