I Can Do All Things… (on Philippians 4:13)

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Apparently this week’s most favorite misunderstood bible quote, I’ve run into it multiple times recently, from multiple sources:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

(Philippians 4:13 NIV)

What an empowering thought. Isn’t it great that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to, through God’s strength? Bzzt. Wrong! What Paul is talking about here involves much more depth, a much more profound message.

In uncertain times such as these, we seek to be empowered. Because with power comes control and certainty. World and national events sometimes make us feel as though life is slipping away from us. Wars on one side, injustice on the other, and economic tornadoes touching down right over our heads. We fear for our lives, our families, and our communities, and we may even feel these slipping away from us. And we react, as all humans do, to reassert ourselves over our environment, to try to maintain personal empowerment in the midst of circumstances we have no control over.

But this verse from Philippians is not about empowerment. It’s about peace of mind. Not calmness of thought, as we commonly think of “peace” in western society. Paul is talking about a sense of fulfillment, a sense of stability, a sense that all is right with the world. This peace is the opposite of war, the opposite of oppression, the opposite of poverty, and the opposite of loneliness. Peace is having your needs met.

But he refers to this peace in the midst of war, in the midst of oppression and persecution, and in the midst of economic uncertainty. He talks about peace in the midst of disempowerment, the precise opposite of what we usually think he’s talking about.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

(Philippians 4:6-14 NIV)

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” In other words, I can live in any circumstance, in any situation, whatever God calls me to. He will not put me in a situation I cannot survive. He will take care of me.

And a key part of this taking-care-of is the community support we receive from each other. Maybe that’s a different blog post…