One of the most quoted and known verses in the entire Bible is Philippians 4:13. It says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is a great verse, it is encouraging, it is empowering, it makes us feel good about ourselves. This verse could be summed up as, “God has my back, I can do anything.” Well that is true, but it isn’t at the same time. I grew up in a Christian home and went thirteen years to a Christian school. This verse was the Christian athlete’s battle cry. It was written on the underside of the bill of our baseball hats, it was written in sharpie on the athletic tape on our wrists, it was written on to our basketball shoes, and just about anywhere else. This verse told us that we could win any game, hit any pitch, make any shot just because it was God who was giving us strength. Honestly, God doesn’t care if the shot goes in, but He does care about us.
To fully understand what the Apostle Paul is saying in this verse we have to fully understand the context of what he is talking about. This principle applies for every verse. While studying the Bible you should know; who wrote it, who is the recipient, when they wrote it, where they wrote it (i.e. what was going on in society, in that church?), and why they wrote it. Without knowing these things it is impossible to fully understand what is written. So for us to understand Philippians 4:13 we need to know those things. First of all Paul wrote the book of Philippians, and he wrote it to the church in Philippi. Philippians was written in the year 61 A.D. This is important because of where Paul was at the time, during the time that Paul wrote this he was in prison in Rome facing certain death. The reason that Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi is so he could encourage and strengthen them and to teach them that true joy is only found in Christ.
So what does all of this tell us about this verse and what it really means. Throughout the first three and a half chapters Paul goes over his life devoted to Christ, joy in serving, joy in believing, and finally joy in giving. It is within this passage about giving that Paul gives his famous words. Let’s look at the context. 4:10-14, “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 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. Yet it was kind of you to share in my trouble.” So Paul is not talking about making a shot or anything like that, he is talking about surviving in this life. He is talking about God giving him the strength to get through what he is going though. Paul wrote these words while in chains in a prison in Rome because of his faith in Christ and his proclaiming the gospel. Paul wrote these words knowing that he was soon to die. Imagine yourself in his place, would you be able to say I can do all things (sit in chains in prison and soon die) through Christ (the reason you’re in the chains) who strengthens me. God is our ultimate sustainer, no matter where we are in life. It is through Him that we can get through the most dire circumstances or the greatest of circumstances. It is through Christ and Christ alone that we have our strength.