Often times, people tend to look at a Scriptural text without having any interest in the context of the passage. Instead, the passage is used to reflect one’s own view or to teach something that is not the intended meaning for the text. I call these specific texts that are associated with improper exegesis “misread texts”, for most of the time they are indeed misread. This will be a recurring series on the blog as there are far too many verses to deal with in one post.
In the last post of the Misread Text, I attempted to give a defense of the true context behind the most misunderstood verse in the Scriptures, Jeremiah 29:11 (to read click here). In it I tried to explain that the verse didn’t validate the prosperity gospel in any way, but rather pointed to a greater hope that the nation of Israel, which was the return of God’s favor to His people. Jeremiah 29:11 could only apply to us in this way: we await for Christ’s return, so that His Kingdom would be established and that the Church of God would no longer be exiles of the earth, but reign over the earth with Christ.
Nevertheless, the Word of Faith preachers and even most of Evangelical pastors tend to use another verse as a confidence-booster among Christians. The verse is Philippians 4:13 (ESV) which says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 is very much similar to Jeremiah 29:11 because they are both texts that are presented as texts that promote self-esteem, texts that supposedly make God seem like He revolves around our desires, and texts that are perfect to print on coffee mugs and pillows (I am still waiting for a Romans 3:23 pillow to be sold at Family Christian store; that would be funny). I have even seen godly men use Philippians 4:13 out of context on the pulpit to try and sway the audience into positive thinking.
As I stated in my previous post, I believe that positive thinking is not a bad thing. In fact, the Bible records how God has even commanded His people to rejoice and take refuge in Him. He wants us to trust in Him, but there is always a specific message that God is conveying when it comes to passages of Scripture that becomes clear only when read in context. So, the best way to find out what the message of Philippians 4:13 is trying to communicate is by looking at the previous verses as well as the following verses. When looking at a passage from the whole, we are able to open our hearts to the illumination of the Holy Spirit and His inspiring words.
Christ’s Strength When Suffering For the Gospel
Generally, when a person is greeted in America, there is a question that follows which is usually one of the following:
- How are you?
- What’s up?
- How’s it hanging?
Typically someone responds with one of the following:
However, the Philippians (unlike many church bodies such as the Corinthian church) truly cared for Paul and his struggles. They most likely contacted Paul and found out about his ailments. So now, the Philippians church is probably wondering how the apostle of the faith is holding up. Beginning from Philippians 4:10 (ESV) all the way to verse 13 (ESV), Paul is sharing His experiences with the church to discuss his past sufferings and to answer their worries as to their wondering of how things are…hanging: “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.”
Many Word of Faith preachers are saying that Philippians 4:13 is proof that God wants us to conquer all ailments and for us to be courageous in defeating our bondages in life, but that is not at all what the text implies. In fact, Paul clearly states that He is not in need for anything concerning physical health or finances. So, what is Paul is saying then? During the time of Paul’s sufferings, he was on mission trips preaching the gospel across the Roman Empire. During that time, Paul went through great suffering, but Paul isn’t focusing on the hunger, nakedness, and the needs he always had. He is in fact perfectly content. It seems that Paul, according to Word of Faith of preachers, doesn’t even properly understand what he wrote.
Interestingly, Paul is more focused on the gospel and we know this because he makes mention of it in verse 15. Paul wasn’t telling the Philippians to dream big and to conquer great fears in Philippians 4:13. Paul has only one exhortation for the Philippians which is to preach the gospel. The apostle, in his meekness, is trying to make a bold statement which is this: despite all the troubles I’ve been through, Christ gives me strength to continue to preach the gospel. Did Paul have dreams and ambitions? It is most likely since he was human, not some superman. However, Paul’s concern was not inspiring the Philippians to start dreaming about a bigger money bag, a bigger church building, or for great feasting, but his biggest concern was to make sure the Philippian church knew that nothing would stop him from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
Christ’s Strength During Abandonment
Right after Paul made a bold statement in Philippians 4:13, he jumps right back unto the subject that caused him to write the letter in the first place. The Philippians, in their concern for Paul, were unlikely to be strangers to rumors and opposition of the meek apostle. The Corinthian church doubted his apostolic authority after his rebuke in the first letter and the church in Colossians seemed to try to bring in some sort of legalistic idealism which was against the advisement of Paul. There were also friends that abandoned Paul during his travels as a missionary for the sake of the gospel.
Why I love reading Philippians is because I see a church that is not only concerned for Paul, but is actually eager to help him in anyway they can. In verse 13, Paul says that Christ gives him strength to strive for the gospel’s proclamation. In Philippians 4:14-18 (ESV) it is written about apostle Paul’s experiences with people, being a missionary, and the help of the Philippians: “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Notice the Philippians were unwilling to abandon Paul during his ailments during the gospel. This goes to show that Christ does want to help us with great things and we are able to do all things, but only all things that are for the sake of the gospel. God strengthened his messenger, so that Paul could be a great pillar of faith. God did this through the Philippian church that was willing to be generous and understanding of Paul’s suffering. They knew he needed compassion, support, and friendship. Often times we forget how important people are when it comes to our work to spread the gospel, but we absolutely need communion with believers and Christ was able to provide that for Paul.
Paul was content with what he had because God watched for him and would never let him be abandoned. Whether it was spiritual or physical loneliness, Paul would receive the help he would need. Thankfully, God had great mercy for a man who labored for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for a man who poured out all the strength he had to go to the ends of the earth. Ironically, the one he labored and toiled for, was also the one that strengthened Paul with companionship, payment, and even contentment.
Philippians 4:13 is not a testament to how ambitious we can be and how far we can go with making God fulfill our “gimmes”. This is a text that is intended to remind us that Christ is with us when we labor for the gospel. Don’t think one can substitute the laboring of the gospel with other ideals one could have (for example: “I can buy a new car through Him who gives me strength”). God doesn’t want us to be concerned with vague intentions, but to glorify His name to the ends of the earth. In this, He will be most willing to strengthen us during our suffering and loneliness. Christ will guide us and help us to stand firm on His truth and continue to proclaim the gospel to which we have been called.
Soli Deo Gloria.