Monday, July 06, 2020

Anonymous Asks (100)

“Can I really do all things through Christ?”

The question is a reference to a familiar Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, which reads, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” It is often quoted by sports celebrities after a win in the big game, or in other situations where someone who has been successful wants to make sure he gives appropriate credit to God for his help along the way.

But is that what the verse is saying: that any Christian can become proficient in any realm whatsoever because God will make it happen? Not really.

The Meaning of “All Things”

When I read “all” in scripture or even in an email from my mom, I need to remind myself that there is almost always a contextual limitation involved. That’s not a cheat; it’s simply the way human beings speak to each other. Rarely does anybody say or write “all” meaning by it “every single one in the universe at every point in history”. What we usually mean is “all the ones we’ve just been talking about”.

So Paul is not telling the Christians in Philippi that he can beat the New England Patriots singlehandedly, or fit a certain number of angels on the head of a pin, or lift a rock bigger than he is, or perform some despicably wicked act. In Philippians, “all” is limited not just by context, but also by character. Paul can do “all things” one would expect a faithful servant of Christ to do in the course of being obedient to his Master, everything necessary for life and godliness.

On Being Content

In the immediate context, Paul is speaking about how he had learned how to be rich and poor, to be generous in prosperity and react to deprivation with grace, and above all, to suffer faithfully. He says:
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
So then, in every situation in which God had placed him throughout his years of service to Christ, Paul knew there was an appropriate Christian way to be while in it. He had proved that and worked it through in his own life and experience. That’s what the verse teaches us.

There is, sadly, no promise in Philippians that Christians can be universally awesome. Sorry. It’s probably a good thing. If we could, we’d really be insufferable.

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