It was going to be a tough conversation, but it had to happen. I was watching a church leader spin out of control, but I had a hunch he was not going to appreciate my intervention. I grabbed from my jewelry case a pendant I’d bought at a Women of Faith conference a year earlier. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) was engraved on the back of a black lacquer circle which I hung from my neck and clung to through the conversation that happened a few hours later.
Philippians 4:13 inspires me and emboldens me. It’s short and memorizable. It centers me in Christ’s power rather than my own feeble capacity. It is Christ’s strength–not my own–that can carry me through any and every tough situation.
Nevertheless, as I am reminded regularly by well meaning exegetes on social media, I stand in judgment by others putting it to such use. “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context,” read the memes again and again.
I get it. Proof texting is bad. Proof texting is when we take a Bible verse, pull it out of the passage of story in which we find it, and use it to mean pretty much whatever we want to mean.
Proof texting can twist the meaning of a scripture beyond recognition. But, is that what’s happening with Philippians 4:13?
Philippians 4:13 comes at the end of a letter addressed to a church in Philippi that seems to be getting it right: they’re living out their faith with generosity, hope and abundant good will.
Don’t think I needed your money, he tells them. I’ve learned how to be content no matter what, in bad times and good, when my plate is full and when I’m going hungry. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13).
I remember walking into that meeting years ago with that church leader, clutching my Philippians 4:13 pendant. “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.” No. “Christ can do this, Christ can do this, Christ can do this.”
So, with all due respect to my trusted colleagues and their memes, I have to disagree with them. In or out of context, Philippians 4:13 is about contentment and courage in all the everyday ups and downs of life.
I have yet to meet anyone who recited this verse on their way to buy lottery tickets, but I’ve known several people who’ve held onto like a life preserver on the first day of chemo. I’ve heard it going into job interviews, and on the first day at a new school. “Christ can do this,” says the little voice in our heads, “even though I can’t.”
Golden State Warriors player Steph Curry puts the chapter and verse on his shoes. He’s wildly successful, but he knows, like any other professional athlete and decent human being, that losses follow wins. The Warriors are 10-35 this season. They’re terrible. But Philippians 4:13 is still on Curry’s shoe.
In or out of context, in or out of danger, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer (as they say), we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
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