I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Significant Context: Philippians 4:11-14 (ESV)
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.
I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me. (ASV)
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (NASB)
For all things I have strength, in Christ’s strengthening me. (YLT)
For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power. (TLB)
I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength. (CEB)
When Paul was writing his letter to the Philippians, he was in prison, chained to a Roman guard, facing false charges and possible execution. He had received a financial gift from the Philippians, and he wanted to express his heartfelt thanks to them. However, he did not want to give the impression that the Lord was not sufficient in meeting his every need. He appreciated the gift, but regardless of that he was content, even as a prisoner facing death.
Philippians 4:13 may be one of the most frequently encountered Bible verses, appearing on tattoos, jewelry, inspirational internet image art, and a variety of Christian posters, plaques, and t-shirts. This is understandable, as who wouldn’t want strength from Christ? It is ranked #54 as one of the most frequently searched verses on the internet on TopVerses.com.
Philippians 4:13 may be also one of the most frequently memorized Bible verses, and is one that people often call upon during times of need. It is essentially used as a prayer for strength during the trials of life, and to provide comfort during periods of physical, emotional, or spiritual pain or distress. It is used as a call for Christ to intervene in our lives to provide power or relief.
However, it has also become one of the most misused Bible verses. As if commanding power from a superior deity, or ordering one of three wishes from a genie, some people think this verse can be used to control God, and how God and the Holy Spirit works in our lives. After all, we know what is best for us, and this verse can help us to achieve our goals, wishes and desires regardless of God’s will, right? Is it God’s will that I can make a great play in a football game, or get a job promotion, or to get someone to go out on a date with me? Maybe these things are in God’s will, but have I even prayed to learn what God’s will is for me? And what if I fail? Is this God’s fault, or is it because God doesn’t care or love me? So this misinterpretation of Philippians 4:13, that it can be used to invoke some sort of divine power play without even consulting God in prayer, is clearly wrong.
Bible scholars correctly look to the context of the verse in the Bible to explain its meaning. Paul is emphasizing Christ’s sufficiency and Paul’s dependence on Christ to give him strength to accomplish Christ’s goals for him in his ministry. For Paul, to live IS Christ, so we know that his goals and wishes are Christ centered and directed by the Holy Spirit. Paul is not praying to be released from prison and to be comfortable, but instead he is praying to be used in whatever situation he is in to preach and glorify Christ, and to be given the physical strength to endure. It is of note that Paul emphasizes strength from Christ regardless of circumstances, both good and bad, in times of abundance and in times of need.
So in application to our lives, Philippians 4:13 is a call for strength to endure hardship and to be fully dependent on Christ, so that Christ can be glorified and preached through us, like He was through Paul. In Barnes Notes on the Bible, several specific ways are mentioned that we might be strengthened through Christ:
- That we need not sink under any trial, because Christ can strengthen us.
- That we need not yield to temptation. Christ can provide a means for our escape.
- That we need not be harassed or tortured with improper thoughts and unholy desires. Christ can banish these disruptive thoughts from our mind and restore balance to us.
- That we need not dread what is to come. Christ said that believers will face trouble, which can include trials, temptations, poverty, want, persecution, and more, even including death. But Christ is able to strengthen us, and can bring us triumphantly through. We need not shrink from duty because Christ can bring us successfully through.
Paul endured severe physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual trials after giving his life to Christ. Paul’s physical abuse was more that almost any Christian would have to endure today (though there are exceptions). It was through Christ that Paul could succeed, and we too should be dependent on Christ.
However, many Christian authors end the power of Philippians 4:13 there. Some go so far as to say, “You Cannot ‘Do All Things’ Through Christ”. Here, these authors are going back to the false idea of using Philippians 4:13 as a means to accomplish our will, not Christ’s will. Nevertheless, I believe that this mindset cheapens the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our lives. Do we fully know every facet of God’s will? Paul did endure many trials, but he also performed a number of acts that were no less than miracles. Were these not too through the strength of Christ? Some examples include:
- Paul’s own blindness was healed in Acts 9 and he was resistant to the bite of a poisonous viper’s in Acts 28:8-9
- Paul healed a lame man in Lystra in Acts 14:8-10 and raised Eutychus from the dead in Acts 20:9-12
- Paul performed other healings and cast out demons from people in Acts 16:16-18 and Acts 19:11-12
- Paul was able to travel endlessly spreading the gospel, was able to successfully plant many churches in many countries and even return to visit them later to see how they were doing, and was able to train many others to effectively spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Matthew 21:22, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Mark 11:24, ” Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
All of these verses point to Christ working through us, with faith and prayer, to accomplish things. Without Christ, we can do nothing. And to emphasize the point, it is not us that accomplished a particular goal, but Christ working through us. If we pray to accomplish God’s will, then indeed all things can be done through Christ who gives us strength! We can both endure the trials and do great work to further God’s kingdom.