Straight Outta Context: Philippians 4:13

In this recurring series, Pastor Jarrod examines verses from Scripture that often get used out of context and what they really mean.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

It’s the official verse of athletes and prosperity gospel champions everywhere. You can find it on t-shirts, coffee mugs, wristbands, posters, and social media posts, but it’s very often used improperly. Let’s look at how this verse is often misused, then let Scripture show what it actually means.

Out of Context

Most often, this verse gets used to mean that we can achieve anything we want if we have enough faith. I can do all things (through Christ, of course.) I can fire off a quick prayer and my team will win our upcoming contest. Need to power through one more set at the gym? I can do all things through Christ. Finals are approaching. I’ve got some pretty terrible grades and need a 98 on the final exam to pass the class. Time to recite Philippians 4:13. I can do anything through Christ if I just pray hard enough.

Prosperity gospel champions use this verse to teach that you can have anything you desire if you have enough faith. After all, God only wants you to be healthy, rich, and prosperous, but you have to speak it into existence and release the power of God to act in your life. 

In these examples, Philippians 4:13 is being horribly misused. It does not mean that you can accomplish anything if you pray hard enough. It does not mean that if you have enough faith, God will bless you with a new car and unending health. I’m 5’ 8” and no matter how many times I recite this verse and pray for the spirit of Michael Jordan to come upon me, I cannot dunk a basketball. That’s not the meaning of the verse. Likewise, to say that Philippians 4:13 is a promise that believers who have enough faith will be rich and prosperous is a slap in the face to any Christian living in poverty or suffering persecution for following Christ. These interpretations ignore the context of Paul’s letter and rob this verse of a much more beautiful meaning.

In Context

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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” (Phil. 4:11-13).

As Paul wrote these verses, he was in a Roman jail for preaching the gospel. He thanked the members of the church at Philippi for their concern on his behalf, but then immediately used those circumstances to teach them of the far greater hope he had in Christ. Paul wrote that he was not speaking of being in need, not because he had received everything he ever wanted through the power of faith, but because he had learned to be content in any situation. Paul knew that he could endure any circumstance. He could weather false accusation, imprisonment, shipwreck, snakebite, or the threat of execution because he knew that his hope was not found in this world, but in Christ.

This is the beauty of Philippians 4:13 that an out-of-context reading steals. This isn’t about getting great stuff or achieving great things. This isn’t a promise that no bad things will ever happen to Christians. This is about knowing that, whatever happens, Christ is the believer’s eternal hope. This is why Paul wrote elsewhere in Philippians that to live is Christ and to die is gain. If we live, we get to serve our great King. If we suffer, we have the opportunity to bring glory to our great King. If we die, we get to finally stand in the presence of our great King. No circumstance can take that away. Paul could, as we can, rest in the fact that the best day on Earth and the worst day on Earth will someday fade away in the presence of the One who redeemed us by His blood.

Don’t make Philippians 4:13 about stuff. Make it about hope – eternal hope in Christ. Let us strive to draw so close to Christ that we can echo Paul: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance…I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

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Jarrod Horne

Jarrod Horne is the Minister of Students and Discipleship at Sixth Street Baptist Church in Alexander City, Alabama. He is passionate about exalting Christ through preaching and teaching, equipping Christ-followers to grow and influence their environments, and encouraging people to explore the depths of the Gospel. Jarrod is pursuing his Master's in Preaching and Pastoral Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a graduate of Auburn University. He and his wife, Amanda, are raising three children: Levi, Rachel, and Miriam.

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