I realize Philippians 4:13 is a Christian classic quoted around the world by little leaguers waiting to hit the game-winning home run and high school basketball players ready to shoot the game-winning shot. It’s a passage used by Christian muscle men as they rip apart phone books, and Christian performers as they juggle blunt swords and fiery torches to show young impressionable children that God can help us do anything.
I realize all of that, and it makes me sick to my stomach.
Implying that God is “strengthening” muscle men and trained jugglers as they use tricks to rip yellow pages and pump up the drama with swords for their next act, is a bold faced lie. Not only that, it’s highly disrespectful to God.
You may not think it matters much. Especially when the general consensus is that God can do anything. Indeed, Jesus does say “all things are possible” with God in Matthew 19:26. And we’ve read about him doing some pretty “out there” things, especially in the stories of the Old Testament. One that comes to mind particularly, since we’re talking about strong men, is Samson’s strength when he brought down the house on the Philistines. It is further worth mentioning that Samson was included in the body count of those killed by that miracle.
Which flows into the point I wish to make.
What We Want or What God Wants
The problem with the use of this verse is that we’ve made it about achievements we want. We want to win the game. We want to nail the presentation. We want to get a good grade in school. We want to finish the race, or speak before a crowd, or whatever.
I was watching Soul Surfer the other day and there’s a scene where the young girl who lost her arm cites this verse in a sort of self-peptalk, to help her will her way onto her surfboard. As if God had given her super strength to accomplish the task simply because she wanted to accomplish it. While it may be true that God did “strengthen” her, he wouldn’t have done it simply because she wanted to surf. No more than he would strengthen my legs just because I want to know what it’s like to leap tall buildings.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Antwuan.” That’s what you’re thinking. But what’s to stop me from walking outside, citing this verse (and believing it) and trying to leap the building. What’s the difference? Where’s the line?
Let’s look at the verse in context to see if we can find out what Paul was really saying. In Philippians 4, we find Paul thanking the Philippians for their concern for his well-being (Philippians 4:10), but he wants them to know that he is content. Paul says, in verse 11, “… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” He goes on to explain how he’s learned that it doesn’t matter if he has plenty or has need. He professes to have learned the secret of contentment is that God will sustain him for the work he’s been called to do. In this sense, Paul “does all things,” or obeys God will for his life, through Jesus… not from his own strength.
In other words. Paul is saying he doesn’t depend on physical health and strength to achieve God’s will for his life, but rather he is fueled by the Holy Spirit of Christ. He’s learned that his circumstances are not signs that God is with him. But instead, he’s seen that God has used all things in his life for His glory. The plenty and the needy parts.
So then, when we get to that famed verse 13, we see Paul’s statement is not about the achievement of tasks, rather it is a faith and trust statement that should be made by all Christians who are walking in obedience to God’s will for their lives. A statement underscored by contentment rather than accomplishment. A statement that understands that God gives us strength that goes above and beyond our circumstances. A strength anchored in the powerful will of God.
God is not a power we get to use for our own bidding. The key to unlocking God’s power in your life is living in obedience to Him. When we do that, we will find that nothing can stop what God wants to do in our lives. In that sense, all things are possible indeed.
When was the last time you obeyed God, and it led to him doing something impossible?