Is there a more misquoted verse in the Bible than Philippians 4:13? I don’t think there is. I think people want to apply that to everything. A Christian businessman might say, “I’m going to be a CEO. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Well, that’s kind of a swing and a miss. That’s really out of context.
When I was a teenager, there were these Christian T-shirts that had pictures of athletes on them with the caption underneath, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I wonder what exactly this conveyed to the kid who always struck out.
There are things that I just can’t do. Right? This verse isn’t evidence that I can do whatever I want. Now, can Christ do the miraculous? Absolutely. But this text isn’t saying that you can be a major league ball player through Christ. This is not what Paul’s saying at all. He’s saying that if you are in the big leagues, then praise His name, and if you’re too weak to even lift the jug to be the team’s water boy, praise His name.
You can’t take Philippians 4:13 and make it mean you can do anything you want. That’s not what Paul is saying. In context, he is saying, “I’ve learned to be content when I received everything I want; I learned to be content when I got nothing I wanted. I can do either one by the power of Christ.”
When Paul says, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain,” he means it. If you want to kill me, I will be more than fine: I will get to be with Jesus. My death will be filled with Christ. And if you want to let me live, I will press on in mission. My life will be filled with Christ. If you want to torture me or imprison me or mock me, I will trust in God. My suffering will make me like Christ. I will see it as a sharing of His own suffering.
Through highs and lows, better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, when Christ becomes your all. A gospel-shaped life fills every space it takes with unconquerable faith and unfailing love. If you are united in Christ through His gospel, you are then as secure as Christ is. In fact, according to Jesus, even if they kill you, you won’t die (John 11:26).
More than likely, there is no one reading this book who has consistently in life experienced these extreme polar opposites as Paul did. But consider his life. There is something profoundly helpful about looking at his life, being aware of what he lived through, walked through, and seeing how God sustained him through all of it. My hope is that in the future, every time you open up your Bible and read one of these letters—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, or 1 and 2 Timothy—you might be struck not just by the fact that they are God’s Word, but that this man lived those words out. Paul’s not just blowing smoke. When he says you can be content regardless of your circumstances, he knows what he’s talking about!
What about you? As we continue to look for “developmental deficiencies” in our maturation in Christ, how are you doing in the area of contentment? How quick is your impulse to find satisfaction in Christ, to go to the joy of the gospel in times of stress, frustration, disappointment, and trouble?
Matt Chandler and Jared C. Wilson, To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013), 9–11.
We have just released a new Bible Study based on the book: To Live Is Christ (A Study of Philippians), by Matt Chandler
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #1
Philippians 1.1 – 5
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #2
The Worthy Life
Philippians 1.6 – 30
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #3
The One God Exalts
Philippians 2.1 – 18
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #4
What the Humble Seek
Philippians 2.19 – 30
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #5
The Passionate Pursuit
Philippians 3.1 – 11
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #6
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #7
Philippians 3.13 – 16
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #8
Centering the Gospel
Philippians 3.17 – 21
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #9
Philippians 3.1; 4.4
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #10
Philippians 4.6 – 7
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #11
Christ Is All / I Can Do All Things
To Live Is Christ, Lesson #12
Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.
Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.