“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” ~Philippians 4:13

This might be one of the most popular verses in the whole Bible. I’m sure you’ve seen this verse printed on inspirational posters and gifts, silk screened on T-shirts and hoodies, emblazoned on coffee mugs and bumper stickers. You might have a Philippians 4:13 tattoo. We are very familiar with this verse. Seemingly everybody knows this verse. And it’s used, mainly, for personal motivation. Tim Tebow wore this verse on his face while he quarterbacked the University of Florida. Boxer Evander Holyfield was decked out from head to toe in this verse when he fought Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. This is primarily how the verse is used.

“I can do all my pushups through him who gives me strength.”
“I can win my baseball game through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I can complete the marathon through him who gives me strength.”
“I can be strong through Christ who gives me strength.”

This verse has become for a lot of people our Superman verse. “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” So that if I say it enough and believe it enough, I’ll be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound; I can go where no man has gone before. And in our overly individualized western culture with its overly emphasized focus on personal achievement and individual success, this thing has turned in to, first, “I can do all things…” or “I can do everything…” or I’ve even seen it as “I can do anything…” and, secondly, “my faith in Christ is going to get me there.” So we jump out of the phone booth with the big “S” on our chests and “Phil.4:13” on our capes, appealing mainly to our reliance on positive thinking and will power, ready to conquer the world!

“I can get that new job!”
“I can have the perfect marriage!”
“I can get that college scholarship!”
“I can beat this cancer!”
“I can dominate the defensive lineman on the other side of the ball or the lady in the office who stands between me and the bonus!”

There’s nothing wrong with positive thinking and there’s nothing wrong with hard work and doing your best. I’m all for that and I believe our Lord is, too. But this passage is not “I can do anything I want if I set my mind to it and just believe.” It’s not “I can accomplish any goal by my faith.” This is not about making the sales numbers or passing the semester exam or winning the golf tournament or losing 20 pounds. This verse is here not to tell you that you can be rich, but to tell you that you are already rich, even if you don’t have a penny. It’s not here to tell you that you can be powerful and strong, but to tell you that you’re already powerful and strong, even if you’ve never worked out in a gym.

Notice, the apostle Paul is not concerned at all in this passage with what he himself wants. He doesn’t write, “I can get out of jail, I can beat this rap, I can escape death through Christ who gives me strength.” He doesn’t say, “I can find a steady job, I can get married and settle down, I can stay off of those ships through him who strengthens me.” When Paul proclaims he can do everything through God in Christ, he talking about doing everything God’s called him to do. He’s talking about serving others in humility and sacrifice, regardless of his own personal circumstances. Whether he’s in need or whether he has plenty, well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want, either way, I can do what God is calling me to do. I can put the needs of others ahead of my own, I can consider others better than myself, I can look to the interests of others, no matter my own personal situation. Paul is saying, “Whatever I happen to be going through, good or bad, has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not I’m living the Gospel and extending God’s love and mercy to others.”

Can you imagine? Patiently listening to the grumbling neighbor, serving my grumpy neighbor, when I’m not sure how I’m going to pay my bills this month? Taking a cake or writing a card to the sick lady from my Bible class when I’ve got tons of reports stacking up at work? Forgiving my cousin when what she said about me has wounded me so deeply? Visiting and loving and encouraging others when the Multiple Sclerosis is wracking my body with so much pain I can barely walk? Flying to Africa to serve orphaned children when my husband was just killed in a motorcycle accident last month? Does anybody really live like that? If so, how?

Certainly not with their own strength. That’s impossible.

We are not in charge. We are not the masters of our destiny. We are not the captains of our lives. God didn’t die and make you boss. If we are Christians, Christ Jesus is our Lord. We are not our own; we are bought with a price. It’s not about our dreams, our goals, our agendas, and then getting God to help us with them. It’s about Christians like Paul, Christians like the brothers and sisters in Philippi, Christians like you and the people at your church, doing God’s will, working out God’s salvation, persevering in God’s mission in God’s way, no matter our circumstances.