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. Empowered in Christ



Philippians 4:13 (ESV) 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Our text for today is well known to all, and I guess one of the few verses that most Christians can quote from memory. This verse appears in promise boxes, on coffee mugs and on bumper stickers and posters. It is often displayed in some art form and is one of the verses that mostly makes its way onto walls in offices and homes. It is one of the verses that I cannot live without, and in a sense, it is true. I remember when Shannon my youngest daughter had her final service when she finished school, the school had a preacher  addressing the kids on this verse, and his challenge was to all of them, pretending they all are Christians, to tackle whatever they want to in life, and that it will go well with them, and that they will achieve, and that they will receive the desires of their hearts as they CAN DO ANYTHING they set their mind to on the basis of this verse.

This verse is one of the most grossly distorted verses as far as its original intentions are concerned. It is one of those typical verses that is used to imply that Christians have a lot of power and can do supernatural kind of stuff. With Christ, we can achieve the insurmountable. In a sense this verse as it is often quoted makes us kind of invincible. I have often heard this verse preached and quoted alongside verses like Psalm 18:29 (ESV) 29 For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.” I remember watching a church service on TBN years ago, and this church in America had the pastor read this verse and then they were chanting: “We’ve got the power, we’ve got the power…” It is based on this verse that I have seen Christians embark on irresponsible business ventures, and activities because they believe that they can do anything through Christ.

My family and I drove past Rhema Bible Church in Randburg a few years ago, and they had posted on a big bill board outside their church the following statement in exactly the format I am typing it now.I CAN with a little help from God.’ Phil 4:13.

Now, whatever their intention was I cannot judge, this was on a billboard outside their property, and the public are left to interpret for themselves. I just imagined Superman in a Christ suit, as the emphasis was clearly on I CAN while God helps a little.

I have heard sermon after sermon on this for more than 50 years and not once have I ever heard this verse preached in context of the surrounding verses or Paul’s intentions in this statement. The ‘superman’ rendering of this verse is all too typically Western and it does not sit well in a struggling rural community. It assumes that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to, perhaps with a little help from above and a little luck. Generally, Christians love to attach this verse to their dreams, goals, agendas and problems and getting God to assist them with it.

An emphasis is not only placed on the words “I CAN” but it is also placed on the words “all things”: I can do all things. All things” easily becomes synonymous with whatever I want or have my heart set on. Literally, these two words become interchangeable with anything and everything. Seen this way, the verse is used to proclaim an assurance of future success in a job, athletics, career, ventures, adventures, relationship, or any other desire of one’s life.  Philippians 4:13 is reduced to a meaning that says any dream or desire is possible with God’s strength. I need to inform you right now, that I will be doing the Iron Man competition this year, and I will win. Right? Wrong!! But based on the way some use this text, I should be able.

One example is seen in this graphic on the screen, where a sports team's cheerleaders claim victory based on Romans 8:31. It brings us to a mindset that 'God is on my side, no matter how many Christians are on the other side.' While this verse does not bring about victory, the question needs to be asked. What happens to their theology when they lose?

Now, I am not saying that there are no pastors preaching this in context. Sure, there are, maybe even thousands. But here is the test once again. Somebody is bound to quote this verse to you and if you were to ask them what the preceding verses are about, they possible will not know. We, might even be guilty of it ourselves. Let’s be honest, all of us easily become slaves to the Promise Box mentality, where we just pull a card out of the box, and whatever it seems the verse is saying to us becomes the beginning and end of all.

Now, this is a great and powerful verse, if understood in context. It might even become your favourite verse today but for the right reasons. It is one of mine.

Here is the verse in context.

Philippians 4:10-14 (ESV)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.”

Now, if you look at verse 10, then Paul is thanking the Philippian church for reviving their concern for him. Now, some believe that Paul is referring to the money that they sent him. Others have other views, but what is clear is that they showed him in a tangible way that they are concerned about him. In fact, according to verse 10, Paul acknowledges that they have always been concerned for him but did not have an opportunity to show their concern. So, he is thanking them for sharing in his needs, and if you jump over verse 11-13, and go to verse 14 Paul ends where he started namely for their sharing in his needs.

Now from verse 11, Paul sets a record straight. Basically, he is saying. Hey guys, thanks for taking care of my needs, but I want you to know this, I have never been desperate. Why? Because ‘I have learned (some translations says ‘learned the secret’) to be content in every situation or circumstance.’  Now the circumstances he refers to is when he lacks or abounds, or had plenty or is hungry, or has abundance or need. So, what is the secret? The secret is contentment in all circumstances on the back of the fact that Christ gives him strength to handle whatever life throws at him. Let me rephrase Paul’s words in another way, ‘hey Philippians, thanks for your support, Wow, you have blessed me, so much appreciated, but while I am extremely grateful you need to know I would have survived without it, because whether you are there for me or not, Christ is there for me. In fact, Christ does not choose the times He is there for me, He is always there for me. But hey, I am not ungrateful. It was really kind of you to share in my trouble. Keep, it coming, but whether you do, or whether you don’t, I am okay, because I live, and breath, and move, in Christ, I have my being, and I therefore survive whatever life can throw at me in the strength that God provides.’

Remember that at the time in which Paul is writing this letter he had finally reached Rome. On the journey, he was taken prisoner, shipwrecked, and placed on house arrest and chained to a Roman soldier. Further he was facing potential execution and was mentally preparing himself for the not too distant reality, that He would be leaving this world. Paul is not saying here that through the strengthening of Jesus Christ we can overcome all obstacles or succeed in all things. What Paul is saying is that through the strengthening of Christ we can press forward and endure through all hardships, even death. This verse does not infer that by having faith in Christ we will achieve or prosper in all we aspire to, but rather in Christ we find the sufficient comfort and support to carry on through all adversity.

In short, what Paul is saying to all of us is that we can enjoy the good times in the presence of Christ who gives us strength, and we can endure the bad times in the presence of Christ who gives us strength. We can bear any trial, perform any duty, subdue any evil, and meet all the temptations incident to any condition of prosperity or adversity. His own experience in the various changes of life had warranted him in arriving at this conclusion; and he now expresses the firm confidence that nothing would be required of him which he would not be able to perform. With Paul, this declaration was not a vain self-reliance, nor was it the mere result of his former experience. He knew well where the strength was to be obtained by which to do all things, and on that arm of Christ that upheld him, he confidently relied. It was in the strength of Christ that Paul could bear cold, fatigue, and hunger. It was by the strength of Christ that he met temptations and persecutions; and it was by the strength of Christ that he engaged in the performance of his arduous duties.

Look at some of his trials, and then we think we have it hard.

2 Corinthians 11:23-30 (ESV)23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

So, when Paul says that I can do all things through Christ. He does not have the Word of Faith, name it and claim it, speak to your destiny kind of attitude in mind. The verse is not a mantra, it is not a magic wand. It is simply Paul saying, that his life is not governed by circumstances and material belongings whether good or bad. His life is governed by the strength that Christ provides no matter what life throws at you. You do not throw Phil 4:13 at your circumstances as if it will determine your circumstances, rather you quote it in your circumstances and thank Christ for His sustaining power.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV) 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong,” and then we can gladly add: - because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

In all circumstances, Christ, our unchanging Friend, can uphold us. Let the eye and the affections of the heart be fixed on him; let the simple, fervent, believing prayer be directed always to him when trials come, when temptations assail, when duty presses hard upon us, and when a crowd of unholy and forbidden thoughts rush into the soul: and we shall be safe. And in the good times, when it goes well, thank Him, for by His strength alone can you say ‘it is well.’

Ephesians 3:14-16 (ESV) 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being...”


Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church:- 09 May 2021