“I Can Do Everything” – A Look at a Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verse (Philippians 4:13)

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 333

There are many different passages in Scripture that are commonly misused and misinterpreted. One of these is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Many interpret this in a way that makes them believe that God will allow them to accomplish absolutely anything. Think about it from an athlete’s point of view. You have two Christian athletes who are on opposite teams. Before their game, both of them use Philippians 4:13 to help get motivated. Both believe that they will win the game because God will give them the strength to do anything.

However, as we all know, there has to be a winner and a loser. One of the teams will lose, and the Christian on that team will wonder where God was. Why didn’t God accomplish his promise in Philippians 4:13? This kind of thinking can cause a lot of problems for the faith of that young person. They may start questioning whether God can be trusted or not. This is an example of what misinterpreting a passage in Scripture can do to someone’s faith.

In order to properly understand what Paul was teaching, we need to study the verse in context. First off, Paul was under house arrest in Rome when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. Secondly, he had just received a gift from the Philippian church and he thanked them in this letter for that gift. He uses this occasion to teach them a valuable life lesson. Take a look at Philippians 4:10-13:

“10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Paul teaches them something that every Christian should know – no matter what kind of situation you find yourself in, learn to be content. Whether you are rich, poor, hungry, or well fed, be content with what you have. And how do we do this? Through the strength that Jesus Christ gives us – the one whom we can do everything. That is the context of our verse. God enables Paul to do all things through contentment. What does “everything” refer to? The answer: Life’s struggles.

Essentially, “God gave [Paul] the power not to worry.”[1] That is a powerful thought. All Christians worry about something during their lives. Whether it is about paying the bills or about health issues, we all do it. Yet, as Christians we should not worry since God will provide for us everything we need according to his will (Philippians 4:19). Although we do not understand his will all the time, we are to trust God and not to worry (see Matthew 6:25-34). Even Paul had to deal with this. He says in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,

“7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God gave Paul a “thorn” in the flesh (usually thought to be a health issue that Paul had). God was teaching him to be content with his situation and trust in God. “[Philippians] 4:13, then, does not mean that Christ enables Paul to do anything, but to endure any problem he encounters as he seeks to be faithful to his apostolic calling.”[2] The verse is about contentment in the struggles that Paul faced as a Christian. The verse has nothing to do with winning a game or having a successful career. To interpret Philippians 4:13 in this way is to give it a meaning that it does not have, and to hold God to a promise that he never made.

What do you think? Have you ever taken this verse out of context to mean that God will help you do absolutely anything? If so, did your view of this verse change after reading this article?

[1] Eric J. Bargerhuff. The Most Misused Verses in the Bible (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2012). 114.

[2] Frank Thielman. Philippians. The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 1995). 236.

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