Sunday, May 17, 2020

the trivialization of philippians 4:13

it's gotta be one of the most cheapened and misused verses in all of scripture.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

most often, we see philippians 4:13 used to motivate achievements, accomplishments, and winning.

what a crime to trivialize something this profound.

consider- paul wrote the book of philippians while imprisoned in rome.  we know paul's missionary journeys included near-death beatings, sickness, hunger, being shipwrecked at sea, running from killers, etc. from what he wrote in the previous 3 chapters (1-3), we can presume he had been beaten badly, to the point of death's door, as he wrote this very book.

as he pens chapter 4, before the famous verse 13, paul lays out several encouragements on how to live the christian life.
  • rejoice always.  paul is not talking about happiness based on circumstances here.  he is referring to deep joy, despite circumstances.   
  • give thanks in all things.  in all situations, good or bad, maintain a thankful heart towards God, knowing that he is working it out for your good.
  • do not be anxious about anything.  it's tough for anxiety to coexist with the peace and joy that come from the Lord.  paul is saying that true contentment in Christ thwarts anxiety.
  • let the peace of God guard your hearts.
  • be careful what you dwell on, as it will be produced in you. spend your time thinking about honorable, pure, praise-worthy things. don't waste time consuming garbage.
after setting that grand stage, paul leads us into some of the deepest waters of the christian faith.  he closes it out with the famous verse 13.

i have learned to be content in every situation. 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 Christ who strengthens me.

in other words...  because of Christ who strengthens me, i have learned to find as much joy, peace, and thankfulness while suffering, as when everything in my world is perfect.

in other words... because of Christ who strengthens me, i am content no matter what happens to me. whether i feel TERRIFIC or i'm being TORTURED, my joy in Christ remains the SAME.

what paul is saying defies all common sense.  it's completely unnatural.  it actually flips the generic, cliché version of 4:13 directly on its head.

athletes put 4:13 on their shirts, shoes, and under their eyes.  albeit well intentioned, the context is incorrect and the point of 4:13 is being missed entirely.

instead of a charge to "success" or a motivation to achieve and accomplish, 4:13 is more of a commitment to losing well.  it's a conviction to endure, and praise Jesus in the losses.

instead of pointing up to give glory to God after throwing a touchdown, 4:13 is about the fortitude to point up and give glory to God after getting sacked.

accurate representations of 4:13 look more like:
  • my friend Cesar who worships Jesus as deeply and joyfully as anyone i've ever known, while agonizing in constant physical pain from a terminal disease.  "i can do this through Christ who strengthens me."
  • my friend Johanna worshipping Jesus with all of her heart, hands lifted high, singing at the top of her lungs, at her husbands funeral who had tragically taken his own life.  she say's to her 6 year old daughter who is suffering from a broken heart, "the devil won't steal our joy, we'll get through this, through Christ who strengthens us."
  • a mother and father who recently lost their 4 year old precious baby girl, praising Jesus and sharing their confidence in His sovereign will, the very day that she passed away.  "today their is sadness and hope; it is Christ alone who strengthens us."
4:13 is about praising God - even giving thanks to God - amidst unthinkable tragedy and pain.  it's about being content in any and all circumstances.

4:13 is usually misused because its easy to be content when we're pursuing or receiving the things we already want.  contentment when "all is well" comes naturally!

but the "secret" paul is referring to?  it's about unexplainable joy and thankfulness in the midst of failure.  supernatural peace in the midst of the pain.

"i can do all things" is not motivation to succeed and achieve, its resolve to praise Jesus no matter what.