In my morning reading this morning I came to the passage in Phillipians 4:13 that reads, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (from the ESV) Now I've been around long enough to know that this is a very popular verse. It was a rallying cry in the "Word of Faith" type churches we used to be associated with. And why not? Who wouldn't want to be able to "do all things?" Indeed, as I read this verse on my Kindle, there is a feature that tracks popular passages that others have highlighted. This verse has been highlighting 113 times by those Kindle readers who own the ESV Study Bible. The problem is that when you take this verse out of its immediate context it tends to promote selfishness and an attitude of desiring power, wealth, health, etc. Quick, who can tell me what the previous verse says (without looking it up)? Here is verse 12:
"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."
Wouldn't you know it, this verse has no recording highlighting. Verse 11 gives us an even greater clue to the real meaning of verse 13. "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." The Holy Spirit, through Paul, is instructing us here on the virtue of contentment. Read these passages again. Paul is not saying that he has never lacked. He is simply saying that the Lord has strengthened him through his times of lack and enabled him to be content in the midst of want.
So the next time you are suffering need or want and you are tempted to reach for this verse, remember what it is that God has promised you here. It's not a magic gift certificate to enable you to "do all things" (walking on water...pulling coins out of the mouths of fish...healing eyes through the smearing of mud). It is rather, an assurance that God will bear you up and strengthen His own in their times of trouble.
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