I ran track in high school. I wasn’t the fastest kid in the school, but I did receive a varsity letter as a Freshman… I was the only one to try out. And the varsity team needed a hurdler, and since I was the only option I got the spot. As a freshman hurdler I knew I needed a lot of help. So I turned to God.
I’d be in the blocks getting ready for the gun. The starter would raise his hand, “READY…” (pause) “Set…” Whenever he said “set,” that’s when I’d recite it. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I’d say to myself. “BANG!” The gun went off and we were off and running.
I quoted Philippians 4:13, so I knew that I’d win. But then I didn’t. I put up a lot of 4th & 5th places in track. I was too short to be a good hurdler. I had to really fling my leg up to clear the bar and on top of that, I wasn’t the fastest kid in the world. Occasionally, I’d get lucky and get a blue ribbon… But not often. Why didn’t God come through for me? Why didn’t he give me the strength to do the impossible and actually win a track meet?
Maybe because that verse is was taken straight outta context?
We often do a disservice to Scripture when we take verses and isolate them from the verses surrounding them. We need to look at the context directly surrounding the verse in question. Beyond that, we look to the context of the letter or book in which it is written, and then we look at how it fits into Scripture as a whole. When we fail to read in context, we end up thinking that reciting a verse before a track meet will make us really really fast.
So what does “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” really mean in context? Let’s look at just the two preceding verses: Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. (Philippians 4:11-12 NLT).
Already you can begin to see the context. As Paul writes this letter, he has in mind his physical circumstances. He’s sitting in prison. Life is difficult. But throughout the entirety of the letter, we see that Paul maintains joy and contentment because of everything he has in Christ (see 1:14, 1:25, 2:14, 3:7-10, 3:21, 4:4-5).
So when Paul says “I can do all things through Christ,” the “all things” refers to persevering and remaining content no matter the circumstances by the power of Jesus. He knows that when his focus is on Christ he can endure prison, beatings, and shipwrecks. No matter what happens, he has all he needs in Christ. Through the promise and power of Christ working in Paul, he chooses contentment in all situations. Whether he has plenty or little, he can thrive in all circumstances through Christ who gives him strength.
So what’s that mean for us?
Well, hopefully this is an encouragement for you. This is a reminder that no matter what you’re going through, even in your weakness, Christ is strengthening you. If you’re in the middle of financial crisis, focus on what you have in Christ. If you hate your career and are looking for a way out, remember what you have in Christ. If you’ve lost a loved one recently or have a horrible diagnosis, you can persevere through Christ. Does it mean it’s easy? Absolutely not. But it’s a reminder that you can push through. You can endure. And you can still have a joyful life in Christ who gives you strength. Nothing can steal your joy when you’re in Christ.
I was reminded of this in a big way last week. Maybe you’re familiar with the name Ravi Zacharias. His ministry has been instrumental in bringing people to Jesus through logic and reason. I owe a lot to Ravi, because his teachings and writings helped build the foundation of my own faith. Sadly, he passed away last week. He’d been sick for a while and knew that physical death was imminent. So how does a man of great faith face death?
A few months before his death he recited this poem by Robert Baxter:
“Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?
Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.
Come Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessed face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet
What will thy glory be!
Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior’s praise.
My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him.”
His focus was on Jesus. His prize was Jesus. His joy was Jesus. When Jesus is your source of life, you can persevere and endure anything. True, lasting joy is found only in Christ. And the truth of this verse is worth repeating; no matter what happens, you have all you need in Christ.