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Have we misunderstood this well-known Scripture? Could it be even more than we think?

You can’t actually “do all things” in Christ.

Not the way you think you can anyway.

I realize this sounds like sacrilege given the suburban spin we’ve put on this biblical expression, but it’s true. Paul did not intend some sort of personal triumphalism here.

Flatly, the Apostle Paul couldn’t “do all things” either. Paul could not get out of prison—which is where he penned this verse (Philippians 4:13)—no matter how intensely he believed in Jesus. He was stuck there until God determined otherwise.

But, he could “be imprisoned” in Christ who strengthened him to be imprisoned. Prison is such a good place to discover Christ’s sufficiency.  

The true meaning of “all things” might disappoint contemporary Christians. But, it shouldn’t.

The actual point is even more glorious than the suburban legend. It gets us so much closer to grace. We normally take it to mean something like, “I can do anything I set my mind to if I simply believe.”

That is … I can achieve any personal goal by faith.

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Get this job.

Win this game.

Ace this test.

But, the verse has little (or nothing) to do with our personal achievement in the face of severe odds.  It’s not about our achievements at all. It’s about Christ’s achievement and a constant dependence on him regardless of one’s station in life—good or bad.

Besides, there’s a real danger in applying it the way we’re prone to.

What if you can’t “do” it?

What if things don’t work out—no matter how much you believe?

Read the full article on Christianity.com here. 

Byron Yawn Byron Yawn is the senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, Tennesse. He is the author of What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him, and the forthcoming Suburbianity: Can We Find Our Way Back to Biblical Christianity? (Harvest House) You can follow him on Twitter@byronyawn.

More from Byron Yawn or visit Byron at http://www.cbcnashville.org/

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  • al g pedroche

    WHEN the Bible says “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” it is understood that we can surely do all things that are according to God’s will through our Lord Jesus. There are in facts more things than one that we cannot do in Christ like continuing in sin. To write a treatise that sounds like opposing the verse of scripture is I think unsound even if it means to catch ones attention.

    • Annie

      I think that you may have missed the point of the article. Christ’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses, not in our personal accomplishments. The apostle Paul rejoiced in weaknesses, difficulties, challenges, etc. Because this was when God’s power was strongest in him. 2 Corinthians 12

      • Dalia

        amen, Annie!

    • Wendie C

      There was nothing unsound about this message or its approach. Within the first sentence or two, it becomes evident to readers that Pastor Yawn is not opposing the verse itself but opposing the wrong interpretation of that verse. We are cautioned to read scripture in its true context without adding or subtracting meaning. Taken in the context Apostle Paul gives us, the rightly divided interpretation of the truth that is being revealed in Phillippians 4:13 is exactly as Pastor Yawn expressed it . . . and nothing more.

      Apostle Paul was not speaking about our being able to do or accomplish “all things” according to God’s will for us. Certainly, that is a divine truth that is supported throughout the Bible. But it is not the subject of Paul’s teaching in this particular verse whether “understood” as such or not. As Pastor Yawn insightfully mentioned, sometimes even our failure to accomplish certain things IS God’s ordained will for us.

      Rather, Apostle Paul was clearly addressing our ability to ENDURE and properly HANDLE all types of situations of life under the empowerment of God’s grace working through our faith in Christ.

      I am extremely thankful for those teachers within the Body of Christ who keep us grounded in God’s revelational truth (in its proper context) rather than merely encouraged or subtly misled by our tradition. This message came for me as an “on time” clarification that I really needed to hear.

  • Stronghold

    The intention of the writer was that he has the ability to live in all life circumstances being it good or bad by the fact that Christ strengthens him.

  • peterhamm

    EXCELLENT explanation of this. I grow weary of people who use Phil 4:13 as a life verse with no idea of what it meant in context. I wish Paul had written “I can put up with anything through Christ who strengthens me” because that’s what it really means.

    • DaveEkstrom

      Good paraphrase

    • http://www.facebook.com/juanantoniogo Juan Antonio Go

      Or “I can endure all things through Christ who strengthens me”

  • philtuthe

    I can suffer all things through christ.

  • http://www.facebook.com/toddvossen Todd Vossen

    I think that when this verse is truly studied out, the meaning should be “I can do all things (everything that comes across this journey called Christian life) through Christ(for His purposes and His glory) which strengthens me.(living a life for Jesus Christ, gives me strength)!!!! …it’s not “who” gives me strength…. it’s “which” gives me strength.

  • William Perkins

    Oh the power of scripture when used in its true context, scripture is meant to lift us up not take us down. This was and should remain in our minds as a truly wonderful explanation of how God works. Thank you for the encouragement through your letter showing how God can change the heart when a believing body surrounds a hurting member for we are one body with many members. This is the week of our holiday, Thanksgiving, let us be thankful we have a God who loves us so much that in our weakness He sent perfection to save us. Thank you for a word of encouragement during this time of year may we all take it to heart as the holiday shopping season begins and shine the true light for others to see. God Bless Pastor Bill

  • Olusoji Sosanya

    Hi
    I think the writer of this piece need to look at the original rendation of that verse. It says” I can do all things (that God asked me to do) through Christ who strenghten me .
    The emphasis is what Christ ask you to do.
    Let’s try and be finding out the Hebrew and Greek meaning.

  • Pastor John

    I see the problem with ripping this verse out of context for any and every seemingly impossible situation. But I don’t see a problem “borrowing” Philippians 4:13 to go beyond the immediate scope of Paul’s context. I remember the movie Soul Surfer applying this verse to Bethany Hamilton being able to successfully surf after having one of her arms bitten off by a shark. I understand that Paul was taling about enduring any and every kind of suffering as a result of being a 1st Century apostle / missionary. But I’m not going to tell Ms. Hamilton that she shouldn’t use this verse as motivation to get back on her surfboard! I also want to be careful not to minimize the omnipotence of God by downplaying the “all things,” of this verse. Jesus also said, “With God, all things are possible.” Whether or not He breaks apostles out of prison or grows back missing limbs, He still can!

    • Annie M.

      Well said, John. I think we’re too quick to take things out of context on the one hand but we also need to apply the Scriptures to current personal situations which will bring God the glory; in Ms. Hamilton’s case, she did suffer more than most of us can imagine – 3 years ago the journey I was on took an unexpected turn when the Lord moved me into living in a crack/whore house for almost a year – as a single woman pastor this was very difficult but He showed me a whole new perspective on life – poverty, humiliation by association – and I learned that it was only by HIS strength that I could do ‘all things’, in this case endure for the season – Ms. Hamilton’s is more than a season, its a lifetime yet it has brought God the glory.

    • estar

      So so true, John. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/deb.mcfarlin Debbie Scott- McFarlin

    Amen. This is the way I have been taught and believe this scripture. Life isn’t always fair and it is rough and throws you for a loop, but if God brought you to it, He will bring you through it. We must continue to trust God’s wisdom and insight over our own. My life has been like a soap opera and sometimes I wonder when it will ever make any kind of sense but time and time again I gather strength from knowing that God loves me, and He promised never to leave me nor forsake me! Through that kind of trust, I can do this.

  • Susan Nordin

    The Amplified says it best: 13 I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self- sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].

  • Dalia

    Wow! I was just thinking about the meaning of this verse in depth, and I came to the same realization. It’s through Christ’s strength, understanding Him, and being “imprisoned” in Him is when we can weather ALL things through Him. On our own we cannot. And thats the point we must accept. Excellent article!!

  • KK

    The latest NIV translation puts this verse in the context of the previous verse … i.e. I can do all this (be content) through Christ who gives me strength. This makes more sense.

  • Duane

    Thanks for the article. It is very important for us as pastors and teachers to interpret and explain Scriptures in context, taking in consideration the history, background, and even the grammar. Too often do I hear passages taught by teachers or preachers who rip a verse out of context and say this is what “this passage means to me”.

    However, I do caution us not to become the Scripture police slapping the knuckles of young or growing believers with a ruler every time they misplace a Scripture. I think it is a growing process for believers that they do begin to read the Scriptures devotionally. I truly believe God will meet them where they are through the Spirit. Then we as teachers help them grow into a stronger expositional understanding.

    I think God gives us a perfect opportunity to help others grow when their devotional understanding fails to work in a universal way. I think this passage is perfect. So when things don’t turn out as they thought it should and the Scripture no longer makes sense, then we can come along side and give them a better understanding.

  • ljbaker

    I agree wholeheartedly and have been preaching and teaching this for years. I appreciate the way it was presented here.

  • Ralph Leavers

    This is great explanation of a much misused verse. We do great damage to people when we misuse scripture to teach that God promises success and protection from trials if our faith is great enough. The promise is to protect and sustain us in trials not keep us from trials. Faith in Christ gives us access to that amazing Grace that covers us regardless of the situation we are in, be it good or bad.

  • ceebee

    Mr Yawn-I do not agree that ‘most’ people take this verse to mean that WE can do what WE want b/c WE have convinced ourselves WE can do it (oh, ya, and BTW, with God’s help of course). Surely there are some that misunderstand it, as you described in your article. But for many Christians, especially those Christians who seek and are actively learning from God’s word, they DO know what this verse is Biblically saying. I keep this verse on the dashboard of my car. As I rush to and from work, taxi my daughter and her friends all around and run the endless list of errands, Philippians 4:13 is a poignant reminder to me of this temporary, earthly life and that everything I accomplish each day is not b/c of my abilities, but rather b/c of God’s grace. I do not have the strength to do everything nor do I have the knowledge or the ability to, but getting through each day relatively unscathed, well that is by the grace of God alone.

  • Erin

    Byron, when I first started to read this article, I was admittedly annoyed. But as I read further, I got what you were trying to say. You see, this scripture has been my “mission statement” since seminary and it has helped me through thick and thin. If I take in only the first part of the sentence, “I can do all things…” then I am merely glorifying and depending on myself and my own abilities. But when I add the second part, “…through Christ who strengthens me.” Then the partnership is complete. I need to first believe that I can do (be strong and healthy physically) but only through the One who gives me the endurance of strength (Gk) to do it. It is a matter of being able, and “serviceable” to do what we need to do. Strong in our belief that Christ is there with us, and in times of trials, the body of Christ, the church, is there with us too. We are dealing with our second youth leader who is going through stage four cancer and it is tough to watch her go through this after losing our other member just 3 months ago. You article is a great reminder that we are never alone, even in the darkest times, just as Paul was exhorting the followers even as he was in prison himself.
    Lord, give us the courage to endure!

  • notbuyinit

    After wading thru all this ‘commentary: verse & comments’, it STILL means what it says, and Paul, in ‘tighter spots’ than most of us will every be, meant what he said…… anybody remember ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit’–? or do we need to re-interpret taht too?

  • Ken Idehen

    The word of God is spirit and life. We must realize that even though Paul said it, it is the word of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Any one can interpret what he likes, if any one applies this scripture by faith believing he CAN DO through Christ’ strength, so Brit according to his faith. god will always honour His word if mixed with faith. If it words for you, apply it. The word of God is sharper than double edged sword, if you wield it for courage in times of pain, it will soothe you, if you apply it as faith for possibility through Christ, it will work for you. I appreciate the effort to expand scriptures differently, but I am afraid to put God’s word in a straight jacket.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.schillaci1 Ben Schillaci

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THIS LETTER AND THE SISTERS LETTER HOW WONDERFUL IT IS TO READ A LETTER OF SUCH COMFORT THANK YOU IN JESUS NAME. IN PHILIPPIANS 4 PAUL SAYS I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH JESUS THAT STRENGTHENS ME ISN’T SUFFERING PART OF THE STRENGTH I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH JESUS.BEN

  • DaveEkstrom

    Wonderful article!

  • Confronting with God’s word

    I do not agree with Byran Yawn in his modernistic dissertation concerning (Philippians 4:13)
    It make me think of the words of Jesus…
    Mar_9:19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?

    The definition of Salvation in Hebrew is….

    H3444
    ישׁוּעה
    yeshû‛âh
    yesh-oo’-aw
    Feminine passive participle of H3467; something saved, that is, (abstractly) deliverance; hence aid, victory, prosperity: – deliverance, health, help (-ing), salvation, save, saving (health), welfare.
    .
    Faith is what gives substance to that which we hope for….

  • JDAdams

    I’ve been in ministry for 17 years and a Christian a lot longer and rarely have I heard someone loosely appropriate Paul’s powerful declaration in Philippians 4:13. Generalizations are a killer. In my observation, the more common error is in not applying Scripture at all rather than is mis-applying it, as you suggest.

  • Stan

    I think what written is infested with the devil I will not even bother reading it all…If the Bible says all things are possible that is simply true…get ur act right…thanks

  • JC

    I think the key here is really “What God says you can do”….Most people don’t dig deep enough to find out their rights and privileges in Christ. Ephesians states that when Christ was raised so were we. When he was placed above all power, principality, might, dominion, every name that is named in this life and that which is to come….so were we..seated with him at the right hand of God…the things we can do through Christ, are everything that he won the victory over. However, the reason most people have a tough time with these passages is because they judge the Word according to peoples experiences rather than Scripture.

    • estar

      Well said, thanks for sharing!

  • Angeluv

    I have been blessed by your shaing and would like to give a perspective to it. I can also agree with John Whittington that, one can be inspired by this verse (rhema) to achieve personal goals. This verse is not different from the many others we take out of context to support our messages and teachings. But my experience with it gives me the understanding of your teachings. I believe in prayer and love it to the extent that I have written a book that is a blessing to others and myself. I had to go through a tough time in my life after this publication and when I resort to the prayer technigues I have learnt over the period, the Lord ask me to drop it because He is sovereign and His grace is sufficient in that situation. I never understood it until He worked His plan in my life. I have come accross people who read the bible and the books available to us and do not get the same experiences and think that it is not possible. I would want to exhort one another to carefully and prayerfully receive God’s inspired word to them in all situations than to stay out of context. Yes it is true that Paul was in prison when he said this, but God can inspire this word in you for something else. When the bible is read without the help of the Holy Spirit, it becomes like any other book. But with Him working through the letters of the bible, even “IN” somewhere in the scripture is worth a motivator to get you what you desire.

  • Sheena

    This article has encouraged me so much. I was born with Cerebral Palsy and I’ve have that verse quoted to me since before I could speak. It wasn’t until I gave my heart to Jesus and started reading the Bible that I discovered the true richness of this verse. Out of context, it is encouraging…but in context it is truly life changing! The moment I read it, I stopped being a victim, handicapped, defective and pitied! I was made new! How blessed I am to have been born into this body so that the power of Christ could be upon me. God has used Cerebral Palsy for my good and for His glory! It’s not always easy…currently my health is worse than it’s ever been, but, I can live with Cerebral Palsy through Christ that strengthens me! Blessings!

  • Shar

    On Saturday night I heard one of the Notre dame football players quoits this verse in regards to their season. I thought of this article.

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