Strength for Whatever

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“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” –Philippians 4:13.

This is one of those Bible verses you find on those little daily flip calendars with pretty pictures and a different Scripture each day to inspire us to face our day with courage, optimism, and a go-get-‘em attitude. I doubt there is a daily Scripture calendar anywhere that doesn’t include this verse.

But we have to be careful whenever we pull a verse out of its context, because then it can mean almost whatever we need it to mean. Not that we do this intentionally, but it’s a danger that is present whenever verses are used as captions for pictures, calendars, and daily devotional guides.

I’m not talking about proof-texting, where you have a point to make and you go looking for a verse to make that point, regardless of whether the Scriptures as a whole support the point or not.

What I’m talking about is when we find a Scripture standing all alone, and we take it to mean something that may very well be true and valuable, but it’s not the point that the writer was trying to make when he wrote the verse.

Take this verse, for instance. On our best days we use it to encourage us to achieve mighty things for Christ, to have faith to move mountains, or to have confidence during difficult days that brighter days are ahead.

On our not-so-good days we use it to mean that Christ will give us the strength to pursue and achieve our greatest goals and wildest dreams—a better job, a promotion and raise, health, wealth, and the American Dream. I can do all things!

Well, sometimes “all” doesn’t necessarily mean “all”.

In the section in which this verse is included, Paul is writing to the Philippians about their concern for him when he was in a difficult spot. He’s writing from prison, and even before his imprisonment he has experienced poverty and hunger as a result of the Gospel.

Now, anybody in prison wants to get out. Anybody who is hungry wants to be full, anybody who is poor wants, if not wealth, at least some measure of financial stability and security. As this verse is often interpreted, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me means that Christ will give me the strength to get out of prison, or to achieve financial stability, or get to the point where the issue with the next meal is what to eat rather than if you’re going to eat.

Except that’s not what Paul is saying. Remember that in a sense Paul chose these situations for himself. He knew that in pursuing the Gospel that he would face strong opposition from those who had the power to arrest him. He knew that in choosing to follow Christ that he would probably end up poor, not knowing where his next meal would come from or when it would come.

There might have been a time when that bothered him, when he worried about being in prison or worried about being poor and hungry.

There might have been a time when, finding himself hungry, all he could think about was food. Or finding himself in prison all he could think about was getting out. After all, he was called to be an emissary of the Gospel to the Gentiles—that meant he had to go to the Gentiles, and he couldn’t go anywhere when he’s stuck in prison.

He might have felt that way at one time but not anymore. These things are no longer an issue for him. Rather than merely enduring hard times he’s learned that he is actually all right during hard times.

Here’s what he says: I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

“I’m all right with this. I’m so all right with this that I can choose it if need be. And it is Christ who gives me the strength to be all right with this.”

This is what Paul is saying. I don’t know that it is a thought suitable for an inspirational calendar.

But it’s something we all need to remember.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / SergeyNivens

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