Out of CONTEXT Verse: Philippians 4:13

This is the “holy grail” of out of context verses.  In today’s Christian culture, it’s the verse memorized right after John 3:16. It’s quoted over and over again as we work through whatever it is we’re going through. Believers use it to convince themselves that they can conquer the world for Jesus (metaphorically  speaking, of course).  For those of you who may be “reference deficient,” here it is:

I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 KJV

I don’t want to burst Christendom’s bubble, but what you’ve believed about this verse from the moment you first heard it quoted (or tattooed the reference across your chest) is completely wrong. This verse never says that you can do anything you set your mind to because Christ gives you strength.  Zig Ziglar might be able to inspire to you believe and achieve anything, but this verse shouldn’t. Let’s look at this verse in context.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in 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.

Philippians 4:10-13 ESV

Paul isn’t talking about supernatural power to conquer the world. He isn’t talking about a “name it and claim it” approach to life. This verse isn’t intended to be a supernatural steroid-shot to get your life on track again.

This verse is about contentment. Paul is saying that the secret to enduring every circumstance – both abundance and need; plenty and hunger – is the strength of Christ.

Sorry Joel Osteen, but you might be able to inspire tens of thousands of your loyal fans that God is going to help them “live their best life now” if they only really, really believe this verse, but you won’t be applying this verse correctly. This verse is about learning contentment, not overcoming your problems. It’s about a simple trust in Christ that builds the spiritual stamina necessary to endure through trials and tribulations, and remain faithful.

Jesus’ disciples struggle. They face persecution. They face challenges that seem impossible to endure. This verse should remind us that the secret to remaining faithful during these obstacles is not that God has given us a Christian catchphrase to inspire us. The Spirit of God and the example of Jesus’ sacrifice and endurance should empower us to stand in faith no matter the circumstance.


Next CONTEXT POST: No weapon formed against me shall prosper…