Next to John 3:16, having been printed on millions of apparel, coffee mugs and almost anything, the next most popular verse would probably be Philippians 4:13. Helping to fuel the popularity of the verse are Christian athletes such as Evander Hollyfield who had the verse written in his boxing robe, popular football quarterback Tim Tebow who had the verse written in the black grease beneath his eyes, NBA super star and Stephen Curry who had the verse printed on his own brand of shoes. Notorious MMA fighter Jon Jones even has the verse tattooed in his chest.
Unfortunately the verse is one of the misinterpreted, misused and misunderstood verse in the Bible. A lot of Christians use it as some kind of mystical incantation. And just like Green Lantern’s ring, a lot of Christians treat this passage like a Talisman, reciting it like some sort of magic formula whenever they need power to conquer something that is challenging. In this modern day seeker sensitive Christian era, every evangelical Christian wants to have the “power of God” to enable them to fulfill their own goals, dreams and ambitions.
I am sure everybody here is familiar with the verse, but what does the verse really mean? We need to apply the rules of proper Biblical interpretation in order that we might know what the Bible actually means but what it says and why it says what it means. In order to know this, let us look at three things, the passage, the context, and Paul’s changed perspective: First of all,
1.) The Passage – The verse in it of itself is a very powerful verse. In fact a lot three point outlined can be spun from the verse itself standing alone. To be consistent with alliteration one could easily spew out an outline of “P’s,” The Promise, which can be derived from the words “I can”, the Potential – which can be derived from the words “Do all things”, and The Power – which can be derive from the words “Through Christ.” Nice little outline, cute little deal, whola ! Hearers of this sermon can get a seeming psychological boost no different from what they get from hearing a self help guru or a life coach. But examining the verse closely, if fulfilling a Christians goals, wishes, dreams, ambitions and desires were the point of the verse why do faithful godly Christians who we can see has relied on and has given 100% of their life to Christ still fail in some things ? When the Apostle Paul wrote that we can do “All Things” does he mean we can achieve victory and success in all our endeavors? Does “all” things really mean “all”? Why is it that we succeed in some things and fail in others even if we relied on Christ strength? So what does the passage really mean? To answer this properly, secondly, let us look at the context.
2.) The Proper Context – The preceding verses from verse number 11 to 13 gives us a clue on what the Apostle Paul is trying to say here, it 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
In other words for the Apostle Paul, Christ strength is not just something that enabled him to get whatever he desired, it strengthened him during the difficult circumstances that he faced. What he is talking about here are not future goals but rather difficult circumstances he faced on a daily basis. More specifically he was referring to his unfair imprisonment. The strength of Christ has kept him going through his imprisonment and we will see how this has changed his perspective in the third and last point,
3.) Paul’s changed perspective through the Power of Christ – In Philippians 1:12 to 14 the Apostle Paul writes “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
Despite being confined to a prison cell, Paul wrote that he could do all things through Christ. He never found himself a champion to achieve his personal dreams. Christ divine strength enabled him to be content in his situation and to look beyond his own suffering and rejoice. What was the purpose of his rejoicing? Verse 14 says that his imprisonment has resulted to the furtherance of the Gospel. No matter how difficult his situation is, Paul was content with his situation and he was able to endure it because he relied on the strength that our Lord Jesus Christ gave him.
Tim Tebow actually got the interpretation of the verse right when he says and I quote “A lot of people know Philippians 4:13 . . . but a lot of people don’t interpret that verse the right way, Most people think it means I can do anything … on the football field, or I can make a lot of money. But that’s not exactly what it’s talking about there. It’s saying I can be content with anything. When you’re a Christian, you can be content because God has put you where you are. That’s really a different view…. I know that I have Christ in me, so I can do whatever He wants me to do, and that’s how I approach everything.” – end of quote
As I close, let me leave you with this timely and classic verse the very essence of which oftentimes gets forgotten, the Bible says in Galatians 2:20 that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” All our personal dreams, our ambitions and our future plans we all gave up for the cause of Christ. Philippians 4:13 is not a magic formula or incantation to help us reach our goals and dreams, it’s a passage of hope, a passage of assurance, a passage of comfort that whatever difficult circumstances we will go through in life, whatever sufferings we encounter and mind you the Bible repeatedly warns us that we will endure suffering for the cause of Christ, and whatever trials we may go through, the strength of Christ is there to sustain us, to make us content and to change the way we will look at things. There is no “champion” or “victor” in ourselves with Christ only as our “supplement,” there’s only Christ and Christ alone. His Plans, his Purposes and his Power!
(Note: The above is an 8 minutes preaching piece which I made and delievered by my son, Zed Avalon Diaz at the 2016 Accelerated Christian Education National Student’s convention held in Davao City where he got 5th place)