One of the most quoted verses from the book of Philippians, or maybe even the entire Bible, is scarcely understood.
As a Biblical counselor, this passage in Philippians is one of my favorites. However, I never advise anyone to memorize this popular verse out of context. So, what does Paul mean when he says, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” in Philippians 4:13?
Our answer can be found in the previous verses:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. – Philippians 4:11-12, ESV
What’s the secret to Paul’s contentment? Paul is reminding us that no matter the circumstance, Christ is our strength. Paul’s life was a roller coaster. Whether he was preaching his first sermons, deepening his spiritual relationships, being put in prison for the gospel, being poisoned, or beaten, or shipwrecked, or starved, or anything else, Paul was content in Christ.
When I compare my life to Paul’s, even though I’ve had some lows, I realize that I cannot come close to his experiences. Indeed, I can’t even compare to some of you reading this. I take that as encouragement. To see that Paul experienced the deepest betrayal as his friends tried to murder him, the deepest hunger, and more than likely deeper pain than I’ll ever face, Paul learned this beautiful promise.
I am also encouraged that Paul says he learned this! He didn’t write to the church in Philippi and say “You idiots! Don’t you know that you can do all things through Jesus?” Instead, Paul tells them that he learned this secret through all of his highs and lows. Another beautiful truth that we glance over is that Christ strengthens us. Paul is not relying on some super strength Paul possesses. He is relying on Christ’s power to strengthen him.
A few years ago, I was told to replace the word “do” in verse thirteen with “endure.” This really helps me remember the context of what Paul is saying. “For I can endure everything through Christ, who gives me strength. I can endure the heartbreaking loss of a family member when I trust in Christ. I can endure losing my job when Christ is my strength. I can endure when I am persecuted for His namesake. Our circumstances will change, but our God and His promises will not. There is no sweeter truth than knowing we are a child of the holy God.
My prayer is that we too would learn this secret. When Paul said “I can do everything” I do not think he had a football game in mind; Paul was talking about real life. I desperately need to find my strength in Christ when my circumstances don’t make sense, and even when they do.