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Friday, February 19, 2016 | Comments (25)

By Cameron Buettel

Tim Tebow was featured on the cover of the July 27, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated, decked out in his Florida Gators uniform. But what made the image so striking was the message written in Tebow’s eye black—under his right eye was the word “Phil,” and under his left the numbers “4:13.”

That inscription may have been meaningless to the average football fanatic, but Tebow’s large evangelical constituency certainly recognized it as Bible reference. As he explained years later in an interview, he chose Philippians 4:13 because “‘There’s not a better verse for an athlete.’ It reads, ‘I can do all this [sic] through Him who gives me strength.’” [1] http://www.christianpost.com/news/tim-tebow-explains-why-he-tebows-uses-bible-verses-70824/#96Qczp0O7LZR8jsT.99

It’s not hard to understand the gravitational pull a verse like that could have on an athlete. No doubt countless men and women invoke God’s power for their various feats of strength and stamina. Even Jon Jones—a notorious MMA fighter who pummels people for a living—has it tattooed across his chest.

And in this era of unbridled self-esteem, who wouldn’t want the power of God enabling and animating the fulfilment of his hopes and dreams? Celebrity pastor, Joel Osteen, does nothing to quench such optimism and enthusiasm.

It is possible to see your dreams fulfilled. It is possible to overcome that obstacle. It is possible to climb to new heights. It is possible to embrace your destiny. You may not know how it will all take place. You may not have a plan, but all you have to know is that if God said you can . . . you can! Today, why don’t you begin to open yourself up to possibilities in your future by simply declaring this verse, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength?” [2] http://devotion.wedaretobelieve.com/2013/01/i-can-joel-osteen-ministries-daily.html

Osteen’s interpretation begs an important question about Philippians 4:13. When Paul wrote that he—and by extension, we—can “do all things” through Christ’s strength, was he promising victory and success in all our personal endeavors? Does “all things” essentially mean anything we want? And if so, why does any Christian ever fail at anything?

The preceding verses make Paul’s true intent quite clear:

Not that I speak from want, for 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. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13).

Christ’s strength wasn’t just a vague force enabling Paul to whatever ends he desired. It strengthened Paul to be content in spite of the harsh difficulties he faced. He wasn’t talking about hypothetical goals, but about the very real adversity he faced on a daily basis.

Specifically, he was talking about his unfair imprisonment at the time of his writing to the Philippian believers. Here’s how he described it at the beginning of his epistle:

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. (Philippians 1:12–14) 

Paul wrote that he could do all things through Christ strengthening him when he was confined to the squalor and oppression of a Roman prison cell. And through his divine strengthening, He was able to look beyond his own suffering and rejoice in the gospel’s furtherance as a result of his imprisonment.

Paul never “discovered the champion” in himself, nor did he long for the fulfillment of his personal dreams. His delight was in extending the reach and influence of the gospel, and he labored to that end whether he was free or incarcerated. He was the benchmark of suffering for the sake of the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:23–33), and he rejoiced in the strength Christ gave him to endure all of it. John MacArthur elaborates:

No matter how difficult his struggles may have been, Paul had a spiritual undergirding, an invisible means of support. His adequacy and sufficiency came from his union with the adequate and sufficient Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). . . . Paul was strong enough to endure anything through Him who strengthen[ed] him. . . . What he is saying is that when he reached the limit of his resources and strength, even to the point of death, he was infused with the strength of Christ. He could overcome the most dire physical difficulties because of the inner, spiritual strength God had given him. [3] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001) 303.

Philippians 4:13 doesn’t lose any relevance just because we’re not allowed to define “all things” as everything we want to do. On the contrary, Paul’s example of suffering has the broadest possible application for Christians: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV, emphasis added). Suffering shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Christian. Whether or not we end up in a prison cell like Paul, we can embrace Philippians 4:13 as he did—the promise of Christ’s strength to endure all suffering for His sake.


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#1  Posted by Tony Griffin  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 3:36 AM

Awesome article. I am thankful that you have chosen to discuss all of these clichés thrown out by people in the church. This problem is the fault of unlearned pastors and unqualified leaders in the church. Thank you for your honesty and zeal for truth.

#25  Posted by TJB  |  Sunday, February 21, 2016 at 2:55 PM

I agree with you Tony G. There are church cliches that the unlearned and unqualified use and apply in an un-biblical way.

#2  Posted by Dan Schroeder  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 5:32 AM

So true!! - Fundamentalists (ab)use these verses too; just don't read the context.

#3  Posted by David Barrow  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 5:52 AM

We, in this country, are not imprisoned, flogged, or stoned for our faith in Christ. That is both good and bad. Acts 5 - 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. The only persecution I've encountered, if you can call it persecution, is the rejection of the gospel message with anger, to the point of yelling. I was not evangelizing a group where many people just go along with the tempo of the crowd; these verbal outbursts all occurred on a one-on-one basis, making it more personal.

One more thing. Hate crimes throughout the world against Christians are not necessarily persecution. Unless the perpetrator hates us because (s)he hates the gospel message, then we are not being persecuted for our faith.

#9  Posted by Jason Larose  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 7:04 AM

Christian persecution can be more personal than being collateral damage when someone lashes out about the gospel message. It is in any way being persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:10). The world hates Christ, and anyone who lives a life in increasing likeness to Christ will be hated directly and personally by a world that hates the light (John 3:20).

That the hatred we experience in America is tempered by "keeping up appearances" for now (and therefore *very* mild) does not rule out the possibility of any persecution. If a person is loved by this world than they are of the world (John 15:19).

#28  Posted by David barrow  |  Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 5:34 AM

Being persecuted for righteousness sake is not necessarily being persecuted for doing what is right. For there are many non Christians who are persecuted for doing what is right. Being persecuted for righteousness sake is proclaiming the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who are righteous in their own eyes and hate the fact that the gospel tells them otherwise. Matthew 5:11-12.

#4  Posted by Darryl  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 6:23 AM

"Paul never “discovered the champion” in himself, nor did he long for the fulfillment of his personal dreams". Preceded your next line of, "His delight was in extending the reach and influence of the gospel, and he labored to that end whether he was free or incarcerated".

This to me seems exactly what he wished to accomplish, and therefore it was a personal dream. This also required a strength within him to finalise the act. Again, this is as your metaphor alludes to "discovered the champion in himself" - Christ. Christ was in him, and therefore he was able to accomplish all things through Christ who strengthened him.

I will lay claim to that verse in all areas of my life, even if I fail. It was merely not the Lord's will at the time. Does that make His promises false? Of course not. Does that make the verse not applicable in that situation? Again, no.

This is picking pieces within the Christian community and finding flaws, or the act of finding flaws more than the edification of the body is seriously starting to cause division within it. Note that I stated "the body". This does not pertain to radical charismatics or snake charmers, but for the likes of contemporary evangelicals.

Your approach was gracious, and that I commend. A lot of people among the reformed community tend to deal with these issues with a spirit that is not from the Lord. So thank you.

#13  Posted by Jason Larose  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 8:10 AM

I agree with you that Joel's message could be stretched to the point of resembling the context of the verse. The appeal is entirely in the flexibility. You could be hoping to take over the world, land a better job, or drop 5 pounds and his message would be equally applicable.

However, Philippians 4:13 explains why we have no need to become global overlord, CEO, or even maintain a prefect figure, because Christ's strength can sustain us in exactly the situation in which we already find ourselves. Instead, let's seek first the kingdom of God and let the rest of it work itself out. We don't need Philippians 4:13 to psych us up into striving for more because, properly applied, Christ gives us the strength to keep on in exactly the situation we find ourselves today.

#7  Posted by Neal Doster  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 6:48 AM

I have to admit in our decline as a Nation it is encouraging to see someone in the public's eye acknowledging God’s word. But as you have pointed out it’s very possible that we can do so because we have an agenda that we want God to bless. The biggest different in how we approach this verse is thinking who’s will is in consideration, mine or God’s. As you have pointed out the christian cultural use of the phrase is so often about our aspirations. It’s good to be reminded that the outcome is not so important (riches or impoverishment, winning or losing, life or death, etc.) as is keeping focus on Him who strengthens us. We can only do that when we have an understanding of His agenda over against our own. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t need God’s strength to accomplish life’s goals, but rather we need to remember that this life will have a lot of disappointments, loses, set backs, obstacles, burdens, tragedies, and so forth. We need God’s strength in all of life’s endeavors, but most particularly in the things we must endure for Christ. That’s the promise of Phil. 4:13. Always depending on Christ in a world who’s agenda is opposed to His. We must concede that the outcome is not so important as the purpose in the “all things.”

#8  Posted by Stephen Cox  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 7:00 AM

This is spot on, thank God for good exposition of the Word of God which exposes the prosperity error.

#10  Posted by Pastor Ray  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 7:08 AM

We must be submission to God's will and to His Lordship in our life. He shall supply all my needs not wants. Our needs must also line up with His will in our life.

#16  Posted by Ed Jones  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 9:25 AM

Pastor Ray,

I would find it helpful in examining your posts if you would be so kind as to proof read them before you hit the submit button. I’m sure you could find the time to be more grammatically correct.

Our needs are not self-determined. They are determined by God therefore they are always in accordance with His will.

In Christ,

Ed

#17  Posted by Pastor Ray  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 12:49 PM

Ed. Thanks for the correction. You must have forgotten to read my last sentence. Quit being so picky and trying to pull apart what I or anybody is saying. We are all subject to His divine will and must be in submission to Him. I hope this explains what my intent is. Blessings

#19  Posted by Ed Jones  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 2:31 PM

Ray,

To be clear, I did not comment on your first two sentences. My comment was directed at your last sentence.

We are assured that our Father will supply all our needs. He knows them even before we ask. Your last sentence is simply incorrect. It’s not picky; it’s an important understanding of God’s word that is at stake. Had you said ‘What we perceive to be our needs…”. It would be consistent with your thesis. The way you used only “our needs” it becomes a de facto form of “wants”. Your last sentence then contradicts your point.

Please don’t blame me for being so “picky”. My sister is an eighth grade grammar teacher. :)

Ed

#20  Posted by Pastor Ray  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 4:18 PM

Ed. I stand corrected. Grammar was not my best subject in school. As long as you understand what my intent was I am ok with that. Thanks you brother. We never get to old to learn. Blessings

#11  Posted by Lynn Russom  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 7:09 AM

Yet another verse taken out of context. Excellent explanation. I bet Mr Osteen would not like his church members to read this article. It might open some eyes and hearts and decrease his bank account. I praise God that He gives me strength to live on my disability check. I am happier now than when I made top salary as an RN working in the ER. It took a few years for me to understand why God had allowed this to happen to me. Reading and studying my Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit I slowly began to understand and see what He had for me to do. It was things I could not do if was working especially in a hospital where I worked a rotating schedule. I never could get "mad" at God. That just was not in me. But when I finally began to understand His plan for me even if it included such a lower class of living I had such peace and I knew He would give me the strength to be happy and content. There are 2 family members I take care of. I have a nephew that lives with me that I convinced to get some much needed help. He is also a blessing to me cause he helps me with the disability I have due to what happened to me. He more than likely will always be with me. I also have an aunt that has no children that now needs someone to help her and I am that person she wants. God is so awesome! And praise God am I ever so happy!

#14  Posted by Jason Larose  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 8:16 AM

Reading this was a blessing for me. It's great to hear from someone who has forsaken the world and found the labor of God to be far more rewarding.

#12  Posted by Frank  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 8:00 AM

But Paul is not just talking about suffering through want because he says he is content when he has plenty and is well fed. Yes, God sustains us in trials of privation but he also sustains us in trials where the world is trying to seduce us with worldly wealth and carnal security. It is my contention that many professors have been seduced into believing they can serve both God and Mammon (because of mixing the protestant work ethic, the American dream and the gospel in an unholy alliance). I don't know of any pastors who are preaching biblical responsibility to the business world. When was the last time we've heard any pastor say that employers are to treat their employees fairly including a livable wage and work environments that are not oppressive. The US is not an anomaly because we are not suffering physical persecution. We are so weak due to being seduced into accepting worldly wealth and carnal security (instead of the Enduring Wealth) that the world has not needed to persecute us. They don't know we're here because we look so much like them. But now that the culture has sunk so low anyone who holds to any standard is going to be a target.

#15  Posted by Allen Sapp  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 8:33 AM

I agree whole heartily with what was said. My question is this: Can a Christian who is an athlete use that gift and talent for the Lord's glory? And if so, how could they do that from a biblical perspective? Or, is it not possible to be an athlete, professional or otherwise and to be able to say that they compete for God's honor and glory and it be biblical? Thanks.

#18  Posted by Dr Ted Chan  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 2:25 PM

How true are your comments. The secular influence of our world permeates into Christians . As a family physician , I see this frequently how my Christian patients have twisted the meaning of this verse to suit their purposes . And they forget suffering will happen in this life

#21  Posted by Ulu  |  Friday, February 19, 2016 at 8:16 PM

Excellent Article.

#22  Posted by John  |  Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 12:59 AM

Thank you Cameron Buettel and all at GTY for this article. Your help in understanding and applying scripture in my daily walk is a blessing. Help me and my brothers and sisters in Christ to overcome and defeat sinful worldly desires, to His glory.

John, A brother in Christ, United Kingdom.

#23  Posted by Suzanne peak  |  Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 6:42 AM

Fantastic correction of most people's erroneous misinterpretation of this verse! It's crazy how we often twist the Scriptures to saying we can just have everything WE want if we just have enough faith or say the "right prayer". So offer Philippians 4:13 is turned into nothing short of witchcraft! So sad!!! Thanks again for this much needed correction!!!

#26  Posted by Ivan  |  Sunday, February 21, 2016 at 6:10 PM

I came to know of this verse because of a professional wrestler who was making his come back after spending 4 years in the side-lines because of a back injury. This verse was one of my first memory verses, and I fear for the wrong reasons.

I can't exactly recall what I thought of the verse then but the gist of it is that we can draw strength from God to face the challenges of everyday, whether at work, school, or any other endeavors.

This verse is more inspiring than what I first made it out to be, I don't remember where it began, probably when I first read the entire Philippians epistle, but I realized that this verse is not about worldly endeavors. It's not about school, work, or athletics. It's about having faith in God in all seasons, whether through feast or famine, through joy or sorrow, whether through hope or despair.

Appreciate any correction

#27  Posted by Archie  |  Monday, February 22, 2016 at 5:51 PM

It is about knowing the will of God: Saved( 1Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9), Spirit-filled ( Ephesians 5:17-18), Sanctified( 1Thessalonians 4:3-7), Submissive ( 1Peter 2:13-15 and Suffering (Philippians 1:29;2 Timothy 3:12). "If all those are true in your life, you may do whatever you want. Psalms 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give the desires of your heart.' That means that if you are conforming to God's will in all the five ways listed above, He will place in your heart desires that reflect His will. So do what you want to do!" John MacArthur- What is the will of God for my life? http://www.gty.org