One of the most well known verses throughout America is Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” From teenagers’ bios on Twitter to a flowery picture on Instagram, this verse is posted relentlessly. However, the frequent use of this verse may have caused it to lose its original intent, and can point to a flaw seen throughout Christians of every age: ego-centrism.
The use most common form you will see this verse take is to back up the claim that one can ace any test, become a famous rapper, become an astronaut, and/or etc. Now, I’m not claiming that you shouldn’t pursue your dreams, and that you can’t accomplish your goals. You can ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you that I thoroughly believe that anyone can do nearly anything given enough hard work, patience, and well-placed stubbornness. However, this doesn’t appear to be the original intent of this verse, and using it this way creates ego-centrism. The flaw of using this verse inappropriately creates a focus on the physical, and the character flaw that comes with it (which is seen throughout America) is a focus on what the world offers you rather than what you can offer the world. When putting Phil. 4:13 in context and observing who the author is, you begin to get a different picture than the portrayal that you can be very successful (in a physical sense).
Php 4:9-17 ESV What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (10) I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (11) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (12) 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. (13) I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (14) Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. (15) And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. (16) Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. (17) Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.
Being Content with Nothing
In Paul’s message to the Philippians here, Paul is speaking of his ministry as it pertained to possessions. Paul says that he didn’t wish for payment for any reason other than seeing others be fruitful. What does that mean? He didn’t care about his own prosperity; he cared about the Church there having spiritual prosperity. And in the midst of this exposition is where we find the verse in question, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And what does Paul mean here when he says that? Paul says that he has learned that no matter what is going on, no matter how much money he has (or doesn’t have), and no matter how (un)successful he has been physically; he is going to be content. Why is he going to be content even when he has nothing? Because he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. Paul declares here that Christ’s strength doesn’t give him the ability to gain the world, to be prosperous, to be the greatest mind of the time, or anything like that. Paul declares that Christ’s strength gives him the ability to be content when he has nothing in the world. See the contrast of what Paul is saying to how the modern world uses this verse today?
Success with no Stress
I believe that this verse can be used to feel confident in shooting for the stars in this world; however, I believe that the mindset one must take on is quite different than what you normally find. I believe that in order to use this verse correctly, your mindset cannot be fixated on the fact that you can succeed in whatever you do because of Christ’s strength in you; instead, your mindset should be grounded in the fact that even when failure comes, you will remain content because of Christ’s strength. This thought can empower you by helping you keep stress from impeding your success. The context indicates that Paul relied on Christ’s strength, through a focus on God’s work not his own. Therefore, when failure knocks on your door, you can have strength through Christ by having a focus set upon Christ and his work rather than your own self and your own goals.
Focus on Others
We should never take God’s strength and hide it away for ourselves and our own pursuits; we should always use God’s strength to focus on bettering those around us. Paul was not seeking his own pursuits, but God’s and the betterment of the people. Therefore, to apply Phil. 4:13 correctly, our focus should be on helping those around us succeed rather than only ourselves.
Focus on the Spiritual Battles
God’s strength is there to help you when you’re weak: when you don’t have any possessions, when you’ve lost all that you have, when your goals seem unreachable, and when temptation is knocking on the door. The latter of those options is perhaps the most important and the one that is the most liberating in terms of what God’s strength can do for you. God’s strength is there and is more than enough to push you through temptations, and what a wonderful thing that is.
So what about Phil. 4:13? How exactly should we use that verse? As you have hopefully seen, the concept of Christ’s strength goes beyond worldly success and applies to several different areas in life. We should use this strength to focus on God and not ourselves, focus on helping the world and not ourselves, and to focus on winning the spiritual battles that come your way. In short, we should use our strength in Christ to be like Christ.