(This article was first published on the Dallas Primitive Baptist Church website.)
Philippians 4:13 (KJV) I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Philippians 4:13 is, on the one hand, a very powerful and comforting verse, on the other, it is one of the most miss-used texts in the canon of scripture. The comfort and power of this verse is surely embodied in the strengthening that is mentioned within it. Further comfort is derived from the fact that the source of this strength is the savior of sinners, Jesus Christ. However, we must ask the question: We are given strength to do what? I very much appreciate the “can do” nature of this verse. I very much would rather talk about those things that we can do, and those things that we should do, rather than dwell on the things that we cannot do. So as much as I like the “can do” nature of Paul’s teaching in this verse, I have to consider the question: We are given strength to do what?
The immediate answer to that question comes from the verse itself. This strength will allow me to do “all things”. Does this really mean that we can do anything we want through Christ? Is this implying that we can achieve anything and that the Lord will strengthen us to do so? In many Christian circles, that is exactly how this verse is being interpreted. However, I think it would behoove us to be very careful and make sure we understand Paul’s, and the Lord’s, intent when giving us this scripture. Maybe it would be wise to look at the use of the phrase “all things” throughout the word of God. “All things” occurs 201 times through the King James Translation of the Holy Scriptures. The very first occurrence of the phrase is in Genesis 9:3.
Genesis 9:3 (KJV) Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.
This verse is part of God’s instruction to Noah and his family after the flood waters had receded, and they had exited the ark. God tells Noah that every moving thing was given for meat and even as the green herb, he had given him “all things”. The question that needs to be asked – Did God really mean that all things, without exception, were given to Noah to eat? Think on this a bit while we look at another occurrence of this same phrase. The second occurrence of “all things” is found in Genesis 24:1.
Genesis 24:1 (KJV) And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.
Abraham is old and not far from leaving this world. The scripture tells us that, as he enters this last stage of his life, the Lord has blessed Abraham in “all things”. Did God really bless Abraham in all things that he did through his whole life? What about the time that Abraham submitted to the pleadings of Sarah and chose to have a child with Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar? Did God bless Abraham in that?
We could continue to go through example after example from the word of God with regard to the phrase “all things”. What we would learn is that in almost every case the phrase really means “all things under consideration”. It is evident that God meant that all things that are edible were given to Noah and his family to eat. It is also evident that the Lord blessed Abraham in all things that he did in faith. God did not give Noah the poisonous oleander plant to eat, and the Lord did not bless Abraham in his act of fornication with Hagar.
The need to qualify such general phrases as “all things” in scripture is critical to our accurate understanding of the word of God. One of the more famous “all things” verses is Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” The “all things” in this verse needs to be qualified just like any other. I believe that the all things under consideration in Romans 8:28 are things names in Romans 8:29-30. In other words, all things that God has done to secure our salvation and bring it to pass work together for good to them that love the Lord, to them who are called according to his purpose. Those things do not work together for those that do not have the love of the Lord in their heart.
Let’s go back to Philippians 4:13. In this verse Paul says that he can do “all things” through Christ which strengtheneth me. Does Paul really mean to teach us that we can get that next job promotion, purchase that multimillion dollar home that we have always wanted, or drive that fancy luxury car that has been our dream? Did Paul really mean that we could do anything we want to do through through Christ as he strengthens us? I think we can easily conclude that the answer to that last question is no. We can reach for the absurd to prove that this use of the phrase “all things” must only mean “all things under consideration” at the time of this writing and in context of what is being written. What do I mean by reaching for the absurd? Well, consider this. Do you believe that Christ will strengthen you to sin? Sin is part of the “all things” if we are not to put some limitations on it. So, choose your sin and ask yourself, can I do that through Christ which strengtheneth me? Certainly not!! So we know that the “all things” here is not “all things without exception” but rather is “all things under consideration”. So what is under consideration? Just back up a few verses, and we will see.
Philippians 4:10-12 (KJV) But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
The “all things under consideration” is the ability to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. We are not being given strength to rise from poverty to riches, but rather we are being given strength to be content in our poverty and to find the peace of God in it. We are not being given strength to get a job promotion, but rather we are being given strength to be content with our current job and situation and to find peace in it. May God strengthen us all to be content with our current circumstances rather that to continually fret, complain, and worry about our them.