Ok, my title is slightly misleading. . .and this post is going to read more like a rant, because it is a rant.
I do not hate the verse but I do hate when people use it like duct tape. Philippians 4:13 is not a fix all verse! It has a specific context and a deliberate meaning. Dr. Lytle, a professor of mine in college, once said, "[a verse] cannot mean what it never meant". Meaning we do not get to choose what an author meant when he wrote the words he did (valid point to remember in all literature, I think).
Too often our presuppositions are never investigated. We trust others to have done their own research and we are too lazy to do our own. Philippians 4:13 is one of many verses that causes me to cringe as it rolls off someone's lips. Well meaning people have used this verse to talk about how God gives them strength to do hard things. In the sports world especially this verse has a top shelf priority. I have seen it put on medals, trophies, cleats, gloves, eye black strips and more as the athlete's mantra to work hard and do well. But Paul was not competing in a sport. He was addressing. . . .drum roll please. . .finances. I just blew your mind did I not? Well, welcome to the club.
I too had my mind blown when I discovered the intention and context of Paul's words. When I was young, I fell into the Philippians 4:13 battlecry club too! Not doing well in school? Philippians 4:13. Trying to excel in a sport? Philippians 4:13. Ready to give up on trying your hand at something and feeling like you will never reach your goal? Hey! Philippians 4:13! In college I started learning how to read my Bible critically. I focused on the context. As I read through Philippians, I still saw 4:13 as that "God and I can tackle anything" slogan (confirmation bias, you know?). But then I studied the book on its own and dug into the words and verses. Uncovering the meaning was a process.
It involved separation without destruction.
Including verses 10-12 and 14-20 is really helpful in understanding exactly what Paul means when he first penned the words, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Php. 4:13 ESV).
First off, Paul writes chapter 4 as a closing appeal to his friends in Philippi. This is a chapter including his final remarks of joyfulness about these beloved friends of his. He is exhorting them to be steadfast! In verse 10 he begins a section of thankfulness for the gifts they have provided him with during his missions (remember, he is a missionary).
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
(Philippians 4:10-20 ESV)
10 - I rejoice in your renewed support of my ministry. You had been concerned for me but you were previously unable to give.
11 - I am not saying that I have been in need (this is NOT a guilt trip), for I have learned contentment
12 - I know what it is like to live in poverty and abundance. In any circumstance I know the secret of living in plenty, hunger, abundance, and need.
13 - "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (THIS is the secret! Christ's strength!)
14 - Yet you were kind and shared my trouble
15 - You know what it is like to live in need (recounts their beginning as a church without help)
16 - Even when I was not with you you helped me
17 - Not that I seek what you give, I simply desire to see what comes of it for your behalf
18 - Confirmation of receiving your gifts and assurance that I am well
19 - Exhortation to trust God for all needs (emphasizing the principle of v. 13)
20 - Glory to God
If we are going to say something let us first understand what we are trying to say. When we want to say, "Christ is my strength", find a verse to fit that. If we want to say "I will do well if I depend on God", find a verse to fit that. If we want to say that we can "do all things" because Christ is giving us strength find a verse to fit that.
Consider using a verse that means what it means.