Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (KJV)
If you asked a dozen Christian friends to share with you their favorite Bible verses, Philippians 4:13 would no doubt be mentioned by more than one person. It’s one of those verses that people hang on to during tough times. It’s an encouraging word to remember when you are getting ready to step out and do something in faith. However, it is not a word that gives us license to do just anything. Certainly, I am not going to jump off a skyscraper and expect to survive – an extreme example, I know.
Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Philippians. He was thanking them for their financial support, not necessarily because he needed it, but because it was a good thing that they do it. Paul had achieved a state of being that most of us find hard to reach – contentment. In the verses preceding Philippians 4:13, he says: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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.”
Some might say that it is easy to be content in times of plenty. I can rattle off the names of many rich men and women who had everything in terms of materials goods that they possibly needed or wanted, and yet they turned to drugs, killed themselves or otherwise self-destructed. The majority of people are not billionaires or celebrities, or on the flip side they are not homeless – those who are have their own unique issues respectively. Most of us are regular people who are living our lives and making our way through the ups and downs that life brings our way. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum – rich or poor – everyone needs the strength of Christ to do all things. In John 15:5, Jesus says, “for without Me you can do nothing.”
As Christians, we know that the joy of the Lord is our strength. We know that we are to trust in Him and seek Him. Psalm 31:24 says: “Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord.” Not only can we trust and lean upon the Lord, but also He makes us stronger. This is sort of the litmus test for “I can do all things.” After you did the thing you said that you could do through Christ, did it make you stronger? Let me give you an illustration.
We live up on a hill. The road to our house is very narrow and it winds around through the hollow (aka holler) and then up the steep hill. There are several of us who all go to the same church and at the time we always rode together to every service, potluck dinner or other activity that might be going on at the church. We didn’t let anything stop us from attending, including snow. As you might expect, we had quite a few harrowing rides in the winter time as we drove home in the evenings in snow and tried to make it up that hill. As we approached the hill, we would start praying that God would get us up that hill safely and we would speak Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ! Keep in mind that this was a regular car and not a four-wheel drive, even though we were praying it would operate like one. After we made it safely to the top, we thanked God and promised we would never do it again. We lied. We would do it again and I would be just as scared driving up that hill as I was the first time. I would cry and pray and promise, and I was lying because we would do it again. Finally a time came where we didn’t make it up that hill. I remember the car sliding backward down the hill and all that I could think about was the lives that were in my hands. In addition to my friends, my daughter was in the car, as well as my friend’s son. God was looking out for us though, because we stopped in a part of the road where the road levels off before it goes up again and it was wide enough to park the car and get it off the road. The husband of one friend and his buddy came in their four-wheel drive vehicles to take us home. It was several days before the snow melted enough to retrieve my car.
I had learned my lesson, and this time I meant it when I promised God I would not put myself or anyone else in that potentially dangerous situation again. So does that make me stronger or smarter? Yes. If you look up “strength” in the dictionary, these are the first few definitions:
1. the quality or state of being strong; bodily or muscular power; vigor.
2. mental power, force, or vigor.
3. moral power, firmness, or courage.
We’re not really talking about physical strength here, but numbers 2 and 3 apply. Yes, I am smarter now – smart enough to know that if we are expecting an accumulating snow I should stay home and be safe. This also makes me stronger, because I know that is sound and wise decision making. God let me learn it the hard way and I have grown from that and can apply it to other decision making. Yes, I can do all things through Christ because He strengthens me, but that doesn’t mean I can do stupid things that could be harmful. I have to make decisions that demonstrate a strong mind and strong character.
If you are not getting stronger or growing, then maybe you aren’t doing it through Christ, but in your own strength or wishful thinking. 1 Chronicles 16:11says: “Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore!” Unfortunately, sometimes we jump into things without seeking Him about it, and then we are pleading to be rescued, like in the example above, because we thought that surely we can do all things through Christ since we are, after all, Christians. However, that’s not the same as operating under the strength of the Lord. Once you are strengthened, that strength should stay with you. You should be able to build upon it. In Acts 3, Peter and John encounter a lame man at the gate of the temple who is asking for alms (charity). Peter tells him he doesn’t have any money to give him, but he does have something better – Jesus Christ.
Acts 3:7-8: And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God.
This man received strength from the Lord in his feet and ankle bones. After a lifetime of being lame, he could not only stand, but also walk and leap. He was changed and he was strengthened both physically in his body and spiritually in his faith. Where do think he was the next day? Was he sitting at the gate begging alms because he was lame? Of course he wasn’t, because he was healed and he was strengthened. He didn’t go back to being lame. Christ and His strength became a part of who he was. It wasn’t a momentary fix – it was a permanent condition. When you are truly strengthened by God, you are not just rescued in the moment but you are filled with His strength. How could you not be permanently changed? We may sometimes forget that we have that strength or forget to draw upon it but it is still there. Isaiah 40:31says: “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”
You can do all things through Christ, which strengthens you. You can face whatever trial or triumph that comes your way. You can learn to be content in any and every situation. When God is the source of your strength, then you have the power of the Holy Spirit guiding you. Just don’t use this scripture as an excuse to do something that is out of the will of God and then pout and wonder where God was and why it didn’t turn out right (and by right, I mean the way you wanted it to turn out). David wrote in 2 Samuel 22:33 that “God is my strength and power, And He makes my way perfect.” It may not be your idea of perfect, but it is perfectly what God knows is best for you. He is your strength, not your “genie in a bottle”. He will be with you and strengthen you and grow you into the person he called you to be. You’ll build those “faith muscles” with each experience He brings you through. You can do all things because you are operating in His strength and the strength He has imparted in you.