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…