A Popular Verse Christians Get Wrong

Posted on April 27, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Much confusion concerning Bible passages can be clarified if more believers would take the time to examine them in context. This involves reading the said passage within its larger “environment,” that is, its surrounding verses, entire chapter, and sometimes the previous or following chapters.

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Then there are verses which are not difficult to comprehend, but because they have been wrenched out of their context they are often attributed an erroneous meaning. One classic verse fitting this bill is Matthew 7:1, which says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Since this article is not about Matthew 7:1, I won’t go into it, but you are probably aware that this verse has been so twisted out of proportion that it has all but lost its true meaning.

Another verse which has been taken out of context and redefined is the immensely popular Philippians 4:13, which reads: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

The Accepted Meaning
There is a reason this verse is so popular and can be found on t-shirts, posters, bumper stickers, and is the favorite verse of many believers. That reason is the unbridled positivity of its perceived message and its seeming green-lighting of any endeavor a believer sets his or her mind to in Jesus’ name.

On its surface, Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” – would seem to enable Christians to run faster than a speeding bullet, be more powerful than a locomotive, leap tall buildings in a single bound, and bend steel in their bare hands. After all, the verse does say “anything,” doesn’t it? Yes, it does, but the “anything” in view here is a direct outflow of the previous verse.

Failure to recognize this has caused believers to set off on some grand project for the Kingdom of God armed with the assurance that “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” only to fall flat on their faces. The reason for this is simple: Philippians 4:13 is not a mandate for believers to do anything they want in God’s name and be assured of its success.

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The Proper Context
The section in which this verse appears ­– Philippians 4:10-19 – deals with the issue of generous giving. Paul, who was in prison, commended the church at Philippi for giving generously to meet his needs despite the fact that he needed nothing. Rather, Paul was pleased with the Philippians’ giving because it was a demonstration of their godliness, love, compassion, and willingness to sacrifice. In other words, Paul was much more concerned with what could be credited to the Philippians spiritually than to him practically. He tells them in verse 17: “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.”

Regarding his personal situation, however, Paul needed nothing. In one of the most beautiful statements in the New Testament, Paul explained in verses 11-12: “… I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

Of course, “the secret of being filled” is Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul, you, and me have everything we need for contentment in life, and that is the Lord Jesus. A complete reading of the Book of Philippians leads to this conclusion without Paul having to say so … but he says so anyway, in Philippians 4:13.

So, it is in the context of learning to be content in any and every situation that Paul utters the immortal words: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” Paul can do all “things” – that is, BE CONTENT IN ALL SITUATIONS – through Jesus Christ who gives him the enablement to do so.

Still a Great Verse
So, as you can see, though a bit more limited than you may have originally thought, Philippians 4:13 is still a great verse, isn’t it? You may not be able to do “all things” you desire – especially if the Lord is not in them – but you know for certain that you can find contentment no matter what life throws at you because it is Jesus who equips you to do so.

I don’t know about you, but this is a verse I’d still be glad to stick on my rear car bumper!