“I can do all things …”

Posted by on Apr 17, 2016 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Our capacity for survival and achievement is truly staggering! We’ve all heard jaw-dropping tales of people enduring unthinkable conditions; some as a result of tragedy and others out of a desire to push the physical and mental boundaries of human ability. Perhaps more than any other people group, competitive athletes are notorious for chasing the elusive PR with dogged determination … just a little faster, a little higher, a little further beyond known limits.

IMG_1966In the quest for progress, Christian athletes inevitably look to the Giver of all good things (James 1:17) for enablement (strength, endurance, wisdom, etc.). And where better to look for these things than to the One who made us! That brings us to a passage that is often quoted among athletes, but frequently misunderstood … “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, ESV) If this is a favorite of yours, hang with me; its meaning is even better than most think.

With the best of intentions, this phrase is rehearsed as an assurance of God’s enablement for personal pursuits. It is fuel for a motivational mindset bent on overcoming an obstacle, be that a competitor or a record yet to be broken. It’s positive self-talk that is common – even essential – when flirting with the edges of known ability. But is that what the Apostle Paul intended?

As inspiring as Paul’s words might be all by themselves, they are distorted when applied apart from their actual context. Like any portion of the Bible, the meaning of a passage is determined by the author (not the reader) and limited by what comes before and/or after it. So what does Paul mean?

If we include verses eleven and twelve with thirteen, we get a clearer idea of Paul’s intent. “… 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.” (Philippians 4:11–13, ESV)

Paul’s aim here is contentment, not achievement. Rather than envisioning all that he can accomplish, he is focused on his heart response to his circumstances, whether they be favorable or not. As you probably already know, poverty and prosperity come with serious snares. On the one hand, poverty can leave us bitter, resenting the lack of what we want. On the other hand, prosperity can trigger pride, self-reliance and complacency. Either way, we’re in trouble if we fail to see our circumstances the way Paul did.

Now, keep in mind, Paul didn’t always see things the way he describes in this passage. In his words, he had to learn to be content in the ups and downs of life. I take that to mean he didn’t always respond well, but responded better over time by embracing a “secret.” He learned a timeless truth that served to anchor his wandering heart as the winds of his circumstances swirled around. He spells it out in verse thirteen!

Paul grew to believe with great conviction that all of who Christ was in his life – his Savior, his Friend, his Provider, his Lord – was the essence of what he needed most. The sufficiency of Christ that Paul experienced enabled him to have a strong heart of contentment (joy, peace, and gratitude) in the best and worst of times.

Please understand, contentment here isn’t promoting apathy or mediocrity. This in no way commends half-heartedness in our daily endeavors. If we are to do all that we do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), then it would seem that we should exert ourselves fully. After we’ve left it all on the field, so to speak, Christ enables us to be content with the outcome, win or lose.

Paul could have said it this way … “I have learned over the years that I can do all things – I can be brought low, I can abound, I can face plenty and hunger, abundance and need – with enduring contentment because of the strength I receive from the sufficiency of Christ.

Christ-followers who grasp what Paul is saying here ought to be the most passionate people on Earth! We need never lack motivation regardless of how daunting our task may be. Our motivation, however, isn’t rooted in prize of personal achievement, but in the abundance of what Christ has already achieved on our behalf.

If anything, Paul’s words in Philippians four release us to give our all, knowing that our all is enough to glorify the One who is most definitely enough for us.

One Comment

  1. Appreciate this, been chewing on it for a few days now. Always love to hear your insight

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