Philippians 4:13

 

Today we continue our summer series on favourite verses from members of the congregation.

 

The verse today is Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

 

That verse is Ngaire’s favourite verse. Let’s hear why….

 

Charles Spurgeon preached: “There is no boasting in this declaration; Paul only spoke what was literally the truth. The first part of the sentence would be a piece of impudent daring without the second part to interpret it.”[1]

 

“I can do all things” say the plethora of self-help books in bookshops, both Christian and secular, from Tony Robbins and Oprah right through the gambit of writers. A Google search on self help brings back 53 million hits. A search on the term ‘self-made’ brings back 101 million hits.

 

But the truth is I cannot do all things. That is a lie.  It is a lie of pride.  It is the original sin. 

 

Satan told Adam and Eve to eat the fruit that was forbidden to them because he suggested that they could be like God if they did. So they did, and ever since people, puffed up with vanity, have in their hearts said, “I can do all things.”  And like Adam and Eve, and even the serpent, their destruction has been complete.

 

Nebuchadnezzar, the most famous king walked through the midst of the great city Babylon, where the hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the 7 great wonders of the ancient world.

 

Daniel 4:30 30"The king reflected and said, 'Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?' 31"While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you  32and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.'…

 

Think of the Persian king Xerxes. He led a million men against Greece; he wields a power that he believed to be omnipotent; he lashed the sea with chains and told it be his slave. “I can do all things!” But the bravery of Greece was too much for him. He returned to his country in dishonor.

 

Think of Napoleon. He marched to Russia; he defied the elements; he marched across the snow and saw the palace of the ancient monarchy in flames. No doubt as he looked at the blazing Kremlin, he thought, “I can do all things.” But he came back to his country alone; he left strewn on the frozen plains his army; they were utterly wasted and destroyed. [2]

 

So how can Paul write that he can do all things?  The truth is that the first part of the sentence has to be read with the second part – through him who strengthens me.

 

If we read our verse in context, Paul writes that he has learned how to be content in all circumstances. He has known what it is to be in need and what it is to be in plenty; what it is to be hungry and what it is to be well fed.  And his summation of why he can be content in such diverse circumstances is that it is Christ who gives him strength.

 

One commentator reminds us that this statement does not make Paul a wonder worker, a spiritual superman, who towers so far about the rest of us…but here is a man who had boundless confidence in the ability of Christ to match every situation.[3]

 

Remember Paul elsewhere wrote:

2 Corinthians 12:9-11 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In that same letter to the church at Corinth he describes how the strength given to him through God allowed him to be strong.

 

with far greater labors, with far more imprisonments, with beatings to a much greater degree, in danger of death many times. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. A day and a night I have spent in the deep water. I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own people, in dangers from the Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers because of false brothers, with toil and hardship, often in sleepless nights, with hunger and thirst, often going hungry, in cold and poorly clothed. Apart from these external things, there is the pressure on me every day of the anxiety about all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:23–28).

 

Ngaire’s verse could be read as “I am able to bear all things through Christ who strengthens me, or it could be read “I am able to cope with all things through Him who strengthens me”.

 

As one commentator writes: Our wonderful helper is standing by him as the great enabler. The Lord is for Paul the fountain of wisdom, encouragement and energy, actually infusing strength into him for every need.[4]

This year we are focusing the efforts of the church on spiritual growth and this verse can speak into that focus.

 

For Spiritual growth to happen, we must be intentional. We must have a commitment and expend effort to grow, we must want to grow, we must decide to grow and make an effort to grow.[5] But we cannot do it alone by our own effort alone.

 

Philippians 2:12-13 work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

Spiritual growth doesn't happen by accident. It is a result of an intentional pursuit and a cooperation with God. He is the active agent, moving us forward in spite of our weaknesses and failures, but we must cooperate with him. [6]

 

Only wholeness that is rooted in God can produce the wholeness of personality that we need.”[7] It is God that enables us to grow.

 

Spiritual maturity is only mine only when I yield my life to Christ and recognise that he indwells me to use me for his own purposes.[8]  Paul writes this in his letter to Galatians:

 

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

Again, to expand this thought, think again of Paul: he was able to praise God that …

 

1 Timothy 1:12-14 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

 

Our verse says that we can do all things through him who strengthens us.  In whose strength? God’s strength.  What things? All things.

 

Illustration: One day a small boy was trying to lift a heavy stone, but he couldn’t budge it. His father, passing by, stopped to watch his efforts. Finally, he said to his son: “Are you using all your strength?’ “Yes, I am,” the boy cried, exasperated. “No,” the father said calmly, “You’re not. You have not asked me to help you.” The child needed to learn to depend upon his father, as an added source of strength.

 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

 

Another story: The Scottish missionary Daniel Crawford had a challenging task—following in the steps of David Livingstone, the missionary who gave his life in ministering the Word of God in Africa. Crawford didn’t have the imposing personality of his famous predecessor, so at first he had trouble winning the loyalty of the tribal people. Even the people in his church back home weren’t sure he could carry on the work. With God’s help, however, he did a magnificent job. When he died, a well-worn copy of the New Testament was found in his pocket. A poem, evidently his own, handwritten on the inside cover, revealed the secret of his success:

I cannot do it alone!

The waves dash fast and high;

The fog comes chilling around,

And the light goes out in the sky.

But I know that we two shall win in the end—

Jesus and I.

Coward, and wayward, and weak,

I change with the changing sky,

Today so strong and brave,

Tomorrow too weak to fly;

But—HE never gives in! So we two shall win—

Jesus and I!

 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

 



[2] Spurgeon. 157–159).

[3]Ralph Martin Philippians  178

[4] William Hendriksen Philippians 206

[5] Rick Warren The Purpose Driven Church 332

[6] Gary Thomas Thirsting for God 34

[7] David G Benner, Care of Souls  81

[8] John E Hunter Limiting God 144