I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. I memorized this verse, Philippians 4:13, as a child, and I’ve read it many times. I’ve heard it quoted by athletes after a successful competition. It has been offered as an encouraging word to those who are struggling to accomplish a task or just trying to make ends meet financially. It is frequently offered in the context of the American tradition of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, with a little help from “the Man upstairs.” But having read it multiple times recently in its context, I think we have a tendency to misinterpret what Paul said. It is often quoted as a statement of power, meaning “I can succeed at anything because Christ gives me the strength to accomplish anything I want to accomplish.” But if that is true, why do we sometimes fail at things we try to accomplish?
As I was growing up, I loved to play baseball. As a lefty, I was limited in the positions I could play. Lefties can generally play outfield or first base, and are valued as pitchers. I had poor eyesight, so outfield was not an option. My coaches that tried to play me there discovered that pretty quickly. It also made first base a challenge. I was blessed with a strong throwing arm, so I was a pitcher. I had a smoking fastball and a natural curve, as do most lefties. However, my control was not always the best, and sometimes just didn’t exist. I can recall one game when I was very young when I had hit so many of the opposing batters, they cried when their coach made them go to the plate.
I wanted to be a major league ballplayer. Every chance I got, I would throw to my dad, my brother, my sister, my uncle, or anyone that was willing to put on a mitt and catch me. The desire was there, but I just didn’t have the talent. I would pray that God would help me strike out the next batter, or at least not hit him. By the time I reached high school, I got to pitch only occasionally. What had happened to “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me?”
Paul didn’t say that he could do all things. Here is the full context of what he said:
“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.”
The final sentence is the secret he had learned of how to be content. The secret of “facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” He relied on Christ to give him strength to be content. He was happy to be serving God, no matter what his circumstances were. This is because all that mattered to him was that he was doing what God wanted him to do.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!