You’re (probably) misquoting Philippians 4:13 – and why it matters

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I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
-Philippians 4:13
According to Bible Gateway, Philippians 4:13 is the second most popular verse in the New Testament, only behind John 3:16.
It’s a verse memorized and beloved by many.
But for as popular as this verse is, it’s also often misunderstood and taken out of context.
The context of the passage must always influence how we interpret it.
And what’s the context?
Paul has just said, in verse 12 that he knows the secret of how to be content in both good and bad circumstances. And it is in the light of that that he says these glorious words. The secret to being content: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
I did some searches online of people quoting this verse.
Instagram, popular photo sharing sight, people have quoted this verse over 56,000 times. The most common references I saw were people quoting it in regards to some sort of exercise or fitness goal. I saw others quote Philippians 4:13 after winning beauty pageants or graduating from college.
Some people, to my surprise, used it in reference to their diet: “Pre workout meal coming up. Healthy creamy chicken with mushroom and sundries tomatoes + brown rice” Philippians 4:13.
I think this verse almost always gets quoted in conversation with some sort of goal.
“This is what I want to do. And it’s me and Jesus.” I’m going to win that pageant, I’m going to run that marathon, I’m going to get that promotion because I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
And certainly, Jesus is the God of everything in our lives. It’s GOOD to look at everything we do through the lens of walking with Christ.
But Philippians 4:13 has nothing to do with accomplishing your personal goals.
Philippians 4:13 is a verse that’s not about us. It’s about Jesus.
The verse is not about the power of positive thinking, that you can accomplish your goals with Jesus. It’s not saying that you can overcome hurdles because of Jesus. It’s not telling you that you can do anything you set your mind to because of Jesus.
Those things might all be true also.
But that’s not what this verse is saying.
The verse isn’t saying you can accomplish your dreams, it’s saying that you can survive your nightmares.
And again, I know that goes against the popular keychain, coffee mug, t-shirt, poster interpretation of this verse.
My point isn’t to ruin a verse for you that you might love. It’s to point you to the glorious Lord Jesus.
Because our life is more than personal goals. It’s that when we have been run over, conquered, defeated, everything is going against us, that we can be content and walking in joy because of knowing Jesus.
And that’s something else I notice when I look at people quoting Philippians 4:13. It’s always when something really good is happening in someone’s life.
I don’t see people saying “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” when they’ve just lost a job. When they can’t afford to pay utilities.
Philippians 4:13 is just as true in the bad times as it is in the good times.
Because our contentment and joy and satisfaction need to always be found in Christ.
This verse isn’t just calling us to be cheerleaders for God when we’ve finally gotten to the top of the mountain. But to always be praising the glorious God who invites us into life when we are at the bottom of the valley.
But how do we do at embracing the reality of it?
The secret of contentment in good times and in bad is knowing that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
When things really do get tough, when there is total upheaval and uncertainty, are you still able to walk confidently in faith knowing “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me?”
In America, things are so comfortable for us, you have people living their lives thinking that they don’t need God. That they’re fine on their own. But what about when you’ve lost everything? What about you’re at your lowest?
What about when you’re going through the worst experience of your life? In those moments, do you turn your back on God. Do you get mad at God? “Why would he do this to me?” Or do you walk with God? Do you rely on God more fully? Do you trust in Him more deeply?
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Are you still able to say that when the going gets tough?

Originally published April 26, 2018

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe! 

Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.

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Categories: Christian living, Church, Commentary, Faith, Gospel

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