I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
There’s a funny little sign on my bookshelf right next to my desk that says, “I run marathons to deal with stress. Just kidding, I eat chocolate.” It makes me laugh, but it’s kind of true. I have run several half-marathons, one full marathon, and lots of 5k races. Just as surely as you will see someone at a baseball game holding a sign that says, “John 3:16,” at a race you will see shirts and signs declaring, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me —Philippians 4:13.” I appreciate the good intentions of those who wish to display their faith at a public event. But if the meaning is that “I can run a marathon because Christ gives me strength,” then I’d like to offer a gentle correction.
Let’s consider the context in which Paul wrote this passage. Throughout Philippians, Paul is writing from and to stressful situations: separation from friends, prison, persecution, potential martyrdom, interpersonal conflict. Both his living example and his loving exhortations have centered on Christ. More specifically, they have centered on the mindset of Christ and the life-changing power of the gospel.
Follow me through some of the highlights of the letter with Philippians 4:13 in mind:
The only way Paul can rejoice in the proclamation of Christ, even by his detractors, declaring that his imprisonment has served to advance the gospel—without any shade of resentment—is through God who strengthens him.
The only way Paul can press on with full courage, now as always, not being ashamed of the gospel, but hoping that Christ will be honored in his body whether by life or by death, is through God who strengthens him.
The only way believers can live in a manner worthy of the gospel, standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by our opponents, is through God who strengthens us.
The only way we can do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves, looking not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others, is through God who strengthens us.
It’s too obvious in its original context, but I’ll repeat it here in this context: the only way we can work out our salvation with fear and trembling, both to will and to work for his good pleasure, is through God who strengthens us.
The only way we can do all things without grumbling and disputing, being blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, shining as lights in the world and holding fast to the word of life, is through God who strengthens us!
Being genuinely concerned for others’ welfare, selflessly serving in the gospel, counting everything as loss for the sake of Christ, agreeing in the Lord, rejoicing always, reasonableness, freedom from the thousand anxieties which plague us, minds guarded by God’s peace, meditating on the true and beautiful and practicing what we learn in Scripture—none of these are possible without the strength that comes only through God in Christ.
Strength for the Impossible
Yes, there are many things in this world for which we need God’s strength to accomplish. Things involving our family life, our vocations, and our hobbies. I could not have run all the miles I did without God strengthening my body and mind for the task. But Paul is speaking here of things which are impossible to do without the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit. He is speaking to those who believe by faith in Jesus Christ and are therefore strengthened by God in him.
This is the secret of Christian contentment: knowing that God is at work in us to complete the good work he began, working in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure, and strengthening us to do all things which he has called us to do in Christ. Our sovereignly ordained circumstances may be accompanied by plenty or hunger, abundance or need, but the God who is at work in us has promised to be near as we humbly follow the example of Jesus Christ. And he has also promised his children that the sufferings and anxieties of this present world will not follow us to our heavenly home. At the end of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy:
“the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6–8).
Beloved, what more could we ask?
Father, Thank you for your near presence, working in me and completing in me the good work which you began through Christ, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Grant me, I pray, the soul-deep contentment which comes from you alone, guarded in my heart and mind by your enduring peace. And please strengthen me in all things which you call me to do, so that I too may fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. To you be glory forever and ever. Amen.
About the Author:
Barbaranne Kelly is a reader, writer, retreat speaker, and hospitality enthusiast. She and her husband Jim are members of Christ Presbyterian Church in New Braunfels, Texas where she serves on the women’s ministry team and leads women’s Bible studies. She has been blogging ever since she accidentally registered for a blog while attempting to comment on a friend’s post and figured, “Why not?” She now writes for her own blog, Grateful, and for Women of Purpose, the women’s ministry blog of CPC. God has blessed Barbaranne and Jim with five fascinating children, two awesome sons-in-law, two amazing daughters-in-law, and four delightful grandsons. In all her roles it is Barbaranne’s sincere hope that she and those to whom she ministers may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.