The meme attached to this blog posting is ubiquitous in the online world. Various forms of it are found with ease by way of a simple web search. I have no idea who deserves credit for the graphic and struggled mightily to find the originator. But it was just too funny not to share, even not knowing who is deserving of the credit.
Those of you who are familiar with my writing and speaking know I cringe at scripture being wrenched from its context. It is a disingenuous and dangerous practice.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
– Philippians 4:13, ESV
A few years back, Alean gave me a coffee mug for Christmas with a variation of the verse above that read, “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context.” I love it, but it is suffering from numerous battle scars, much like the verse from which it is drawn.
Philippians 4:13 is used to justify all manner of bizarre behavior and teaching, not the least of which is to suggest that every Christ-follower should be materially wealthy, suffer no health issues, and that if these things are not true for you, something is terribly misaligned in your faith. Not only are these ideas not found in this verse, they are completely devoid of support in scripture.
In context, Philippians 4:13 is part of a discussion of the apostle Paul’s trying circumstances he had faced, everything from poverty to wealth, shame to glory, hunger to plenty. Paul’s point is that he has learned how his contentment is not tied to his circumstance. Nor should ours be! Paul says he can be content in each of these circumstances, and it is in that thought-line he says he “can do all things” through the strength the Lord provides.
When Paul says he can “do” all things, what he is highlighting is not his ability to perform parlor tricks, but rather the prevailing power of God that sustains us and enables us to function effectively within any circumstance in which we minister. Consider Paul’s statement to the church in Corinth:
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant.
– 2 Corinthians 3:5-6a, ESV
The gospel spread like a blaze through dry grass in the early days of the church. It would be easy to point to the activity and conviction of the believers as the force behind that growth, but doing so would be to draw a misguided conclusion.
So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
– Acts 19:20, ESV
In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
– Acts 19:20, NIV-1983
However else we read this, what is clear is that it is the word, the message that grew, and it is the message that has the power, not the messenger. Theologian, Warren W. Wiersbe, highlights this reality in a chapter he titles, “Seven Men with Inadequate Power.”1
The war in which we battle is not a physical war. Likewise, the empowerment and blessing of God is usually spiritual in nature rather than physical. We prevail in life when we don God’s armor and thus become “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”2
1. W. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Vol. 1, p 481). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books
2. Ephesians 6:10