When I speak with non-Christians about my faith, one of the most common frustrations they convey to me (which is also usually used as part of their justification for not believing in God/the Bible/wanting to be a Christian) is: but you’re all hypocrites and you pick and choose which parts of the Bible you believe in; you all have different interpretations. Whilst this is a generalisation, there is some truth in the statement. The body of Christ can be guilty of “picking and choosing”, and in particular, using scriptures (the word of God) out of context i.e. not for the specific purpose in which God intended it for.
Instead, sometimes Christians use scriptures to suit our selfish needs and push particular agendas. This of course is completely wrong and although in some cases misusing scriptures is done out of ignorance or a lack of spiritual maturity, it ultimately still has the negative effect of misleading Christians and non-Christians alike – this is not God’s will.
Today I want to talk about one of the most commonly misquoted/misused Bible verses, ever. Our beloved Philippians 4:13! Here is the same scripture in three of my most-used Bible translations, NIV, NLT and NKJV:
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (NIV)
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (NLT)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (NKJV)
I’m sure even if you’re not a Christian and you’re reading this you’ve seen or heard that verse, or words to that effect, somewhere before. Everyone just loves this verse – from sport athletes to motivational speakers. Personally, I think we love it because it makes us feel somewhat invincible. Most of the time I see Philippians 4:13 being used for self-gratification rather than to glorify God/to show reverence of God’s power. We use this verse to motivate and encourage ourselves in something that we hope to be successful in like passing an exam or an interview or winning a match. Whatever it is, our
need want is at the centre of quoting this verse.
I’m not saying it is completely wrong to assert that you’re capable of achieving anything, far from it! If you are a Christian, then of course you have the Holy Spirit within you, so God’s power literally resides inside you. So the issue is not necessarily that the statement is wrong, it is more that the improper application of the verse leads to an incomplete and inaccurate understanding of it’s original purpose… therefore shifts our focus from God and onto ourselves.
So what does the verse actually mean and what about context?
Firstly, the book of Philippians is written by Paul, an apostle of God. It comprises letters that Paul wrote from prison to the church in Philippi to encourage them in their faith. It’s really important to note that Paul is writing from prison – he isn’t about to do an interview, he isn’t hoping to win a football match and he certainly isn’t embarking on a personal mission for his own gain. Paul is doing God’s work, even from his prison cell.
Secondly, if you read the verses before verse 13 Paul says:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. – Philippians 4:11-12
Then immediately afterwards, here comes our favourite verse:
13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13
So based on what we just read above, when Paul says he can do “all things” or “all this” or “all these things” he isn’t just referring to the goals he wants to achieve or all the nice things in life. He refers to both the good and bad – whatever the circumstance Paul has learned to be content! How amazing is that? Despite being imprisoned simply for preaching the gospel, which I can only imagine aren’t the most ideal conditions or where he desperately wanted to be, Paul knew that regardless of his situation, he was content with living off the enduring strength of Christ.
This verse in isolation isn’t about all the things you can supposedly achieve. Take for example, what would happen if you didn’t get the job? Or you lost that football match? Does the outcome of “failure” mean that God wasn’t with you or God cannot do “all things”? Of course not. I hope you guys are starting to see now that this verse isn’t about success or failure – it’s about being content in everything. There is a consistent theme throughout the Bible that encourages us to always strive to be content no matter what and in all things, to be grateful (1 Thes 5:16-18).
Our contentment shouldn’t derive from our circumstance, our contentment should derive from Jesus – our Lord and Savior. So going back to Paul, Paul wanted to encourage the church that no matter what we go through, we must learn to find contentment through Christ who gives us strength. That means win or lose, hungry or fed. If you want to talk about the ability to do all things with God, more apt scriptures would be Matthew 19:26 (Jesus said: humanly speaking it is impossible but with God everything is possible), Luke 1:37 (an angel of the Lord spoke to Mary: nothing is impossible with God) or Luke 18:27 (Jesus said: what is impossible for people is possible with God).
I have a lot more to say! Perhaps I’ll make a YouTube video about this but for now, you can read more on Paul’s unique circumstances and his positive attitude to strife which he tried to transfer to the church here.
Do you agree or disagree – I’d love to hear your thoughts. And are there any other Bible verses that you often see used out of context? I may make this into a series so if you found this useful let me know in the comments below.
God bless you!
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3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. – 2 Timothy 4:3-5