Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (NKJV)
As we continue in our series of the top ten most searched Bible verses we come to number four - Philippians 4:13. Back in 2008 I had done a piece on this verse which I present today with modest edits...
One of the most adored bible verses is Philippians 4:13. It is probably one of the most quoted and referenced. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems that we can lose the true meaning of these great words from the Apostle Paul. We tend to use this verse as a means of encouragement for something that we feel we need or want to do. You have a big exam coming up? Don't worry; you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! You want to be a lifeguard but can't swim? Don't worry; you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. While encouragement is always welcomed, this usage misses the mark greatly. There is so much more we need to learn from this verse.
For starters taking a closer look at how the sentence is constructed we actually see that it implies the opposite of what it says. How? It does indeed say that we can do all things but it attaches a precondition to it; specifically, through Christ. So the oxymoron in the sentence is that we can indeed do all things, if we are willing to admit that we can actually do nothing without Christ! It is only through Jesus Christ that we can do anything, let alone all things! A good example of this is when Peter walked on water. The story goes that the disciples were in the middle of the sea when Jesus approached them, walking on the water. After Jesus assured them He was not a ghost, Peter speaks:
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." -- Matthew 14: 28.
Peter knew full well that he could not walk on water. He knew if he just stepped out of the boat, he would drown. Yet he also knew that through Christ, he could do all things. The result after Christ bid him to come to Him on the water?
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" -- Matthew 14: 29-30
As long as Peter was allowing Christ to work through him, he walked on water. Once he took his eyes off of Jesus and onto his present situation, he could no longer do all things. Why? Because he was no longer working through Christ but rather believed his own understanding; the fact that the wind was against them.
This is how it is in our own lives as well. Philippians 4:13 is not saying that we can do all things. It is actually saying that we can do nothing, except through Christ. Christ can do all things through us, IF we allow Him to work through us. Why? Because He strengthens us. One of the greatest bible stories of strength is the story of Samson. Samson was set apart for God; a Nazirite. He once slew 1000 men with a donkey jawbone. He led Israel for 20 years and fought constantly with the Philistines. Because he was a Nazirite, no razor had touched his hair and Samson attributed his legendary strength, to his hair. He was in love with Delilah who was trying to find out the secret of his strength so she could betray him to the Philistines. Eventually, Samson relented:
So he told her everything. "No razor has ever been used on my head," he said, "because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man." -- Judges 16:17
Delilah then had his hair shaved off while he slept in her lap. When the Philistines came upon Samson this time, he could no longer do all things:
Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I'll go out as before and shake myself free." But he did not know that the LORD had left him. -- Judges 16:20
The secret was not in his hair, but that he had been set apart for God. The secret was that he allowed God to work in him. Once the Lord had left him, he could no longer do all things. He no longer had his legendary strength. It is God that strengthens us, not our own power or any external thing we attribute it to. It is through Him that we can do what He wants us to do. Eventually, Samson would be made sport of by the Philistines. They had gouged his eyes out and were having him entertain them one day when Samson pleaded one more time for God to work through him:
Then Samson prayed to the LORD, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. -- Judges 16: 28-30
It was only through God, that Samson had his strength. It was only through God that he could do all things. When he forgot that and relied upon himself, the Lord left him to his own devices and the price he eventually would pay was his life. We need to always remember that Philippians 4:13 is not only encouragement, but a stark reminder that it is only through Christ that we can do anything at all.
But going even deeper, Philippians 4:13 means even more. What we usually forget is the context. The preceding verses to 4:13 are as follows: