Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Can Believers Do ALL Things?

There is a famous Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Over the years, countless Christians have been inspired by this verse, especially when facing a daunting challenge. There are professional athletes who cling to this verse before the big championship game, as in, “I can score four touchdowns through Christ who strengthens me,” or, “I can pitch a no-hitter through Christ who strengthens me.”

I’ve heard about some Christians in the business world who turn to this verse. “I can close this big sale through Christ who strengthens me.” “I can become a millionaire by age 40 through Christ who strengthens me.”
If you take this verse literally, then it’s probably not exactly true. I mean, we really can’t do ALL things through Christ. Can I suddenly sing like Josh Groban, even if I pray for Christ to strengthen me? Nope. Can I hit a baseball 450 feet (something I couldn’t even do when I was 21 years old playing ball in college)? Nope. Can I compose a symphony? Hey, I can’t even spell symphony.

Being curious about this Bible verse, I looked it up online. In the original Greek, the language St. Paul used when writing his letter to the folks at Philippi, it does not say, “I can do all things through Christ…” Instead, it says, “I can do all through Christ…” The word “things” was added later on by translators. 

A commentary I read explained that a better way to understand Paul’s message would be to render the sentence, “I can do all this through Christ…” rather than, “I can do all things through Christ…”

Of course, this begs the question: what then does the word “this” refer to? It may come as a surprise to those people who love to cite single Bible verses in isolation, but when Paul wrote the sentence that eventually would be labeled “verse 13,” he really expected people to first read the sentences that became known as “verse 12.”

Verse 12 in the 4th chapter of Phillippians says, “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.”

The main theme of verse 12 is Paul’s ability to accept and be content with wildly different situations: being well fed or being hungry, being wealthy or being poor. Also, Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison!
The natural, human reaction is to be content and happy when we have lots of food and money and freedom, and to be depressed and worried when we have no food, no money, and are behind bars. Paul, however, joyfully declared that regardless of his circumstances, he knew how to be content and at peace. How? Through Christ who strengthened him.

You’ll notice that nowhere in verse 12 does St. Paul mention singing like a famous recording star, scoring four touchdowns, or making a million bucks. No, Paul’s focus was very narrow. He was making the point that the power of Christ filled him with peace and serenity whenever he was hungry and broke and had no idea where his next meal would come from.

So, it seems we should not read too much into this famous verse and think it is telling us that we can do ALL things through Christ – especially the desires of our hearts that will make us successful, rich, and famous. 

This is not to say Philippians 4:13 is a bad verse. It’s awesome. We just need to understand what Paul was getting at. Since some translators added the word “things” long after St. Paul wrote this epistle, let’s take the liberty to add a few more words. The verse could read, “I can gracefully accept all things – including the really bad stuff that happens in life – through Christ who strengthens me.”
That translation is not quite as spectacular as the conventional interpretation of verse 13, but it’s a lot closer to what St. Paul wanted us to understand.

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