“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”
It’s on coffee mugs, Etsy prints, jewelry, and may be one of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible. And – it’s also one of the most frequently misinterpreted verses!
We typically recite this verse as some sort of “super-mantra” to make us “super-human,” like we’re superman/superwoman who can conquer all things. We use it to pump ourselves up, “I can achieve anything, I can win anything, and I can claim victory over all things!”
Of course, positive self-talk and positive self-image are important. But if emphasize the “I” part of this verse, instead of “Him” then we have completely missed this point of Paul’s message! Philippians 4:13 is actually not about setting out to accomplish something for ourselves, and to use God as a means to achieve those goals. Nor, is it like a “Christian Gatorade” to refuel and re-boost our energy.
This verse is not about what we can accomplish through God – but rather what HE can accomplish through US.
Let’s take a step back and unpack this verse for ourselves!
First, we should consider the context of when, and where, this was written: Paul was in Rome, chained in prison for two years awaiting his trial for preaching the gospel. Facing each day not knowing if it would be his last. So, he wrote to the church in Philippi – not to motivate them towards achievements, accolades, and awards – but to encourage them to press on with endurance. His letter wasn’t about goals and personal success. It was about pressing on in hardship because of a greater Kingdom at stake.
Next, let’s look at the surrounding chapters and the book of Philippians as a whole:
- Chapter 1: Paul encourages the church that as long as the gospel advances, he will continue to preach boldly no matter the consequences
- Chapter 2: He emphasizes Christ’s example of humility and to rejoice in the face of challenges
- Chapter 3: He appeals us to press on, to forget what lies behind, and look to what lies ahead
- Chapter 4: He ends with a war cry, “I can face, handle, and survive anything in life through God’s strength in me.”
Lastly, what I personally love doing most is using Blue Letter Bible to examine the Greek and Hebrew roots of the words. The English language is actually very limited compared to other global languages and it always astounds me to learn the depth and breadth of the original text’s meaning.
“I can do” = ischyō (esh-WHO-all)
= to endure; to be strong, robust, in sound health; to exert and wield power; to overcome; to be a force; to avail
“strengthens” = endynamoō (EN-duh-nah-MA-oh)
= to empower; to enable; to endure with strength
Therefore, Philippians 4:13 actually translates to:
“I can overcome and wield power over all through Him who helps me endure with strength.”
Or another translation speaks of how the word “strength” references both a present tense, and a continued act, which translates to:
“Through Christ, who is strengthening me, and does continually strengthen me; it is by His constant and renewed strength I am enabled to act in every thing; I wholly depend upon him for all my spiritual power.”
So Philippians 4:13 is much more than a super-mantra.
It means we have a supernatural ability combined with a supernatural capacity that results in supernatural strength to handle whatever God allows in our life in a supernatural way.
But this mindset is not natural – it’s learned (“For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” Phil. 4:11). So as we walk daily with God (and only if we walk daily with God), then like Paul, we will have the supernatural ability to be brought low and how to abound, how to face plenty and face hunger, how to face abundance and face need. (Phil. 4:12)
And it gets better! Philippians 4:10-13 is the mark of a mature believer – to refine, reflect, and then share what the Lord has taught you to uplift your brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s what Paul did. And as we grow in our strength and endurance, we can do the same!