Philippians 4:13 is an often quoted verse. The New King James Version reads in the way in which it is probably most quoted: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
But what does this verse mean? And what does it not mean?
Does it mean that you can beat Michael Phelps in a race through the pool “through Christ who strengthens” you? Does it mean that you can win a wrestling match with a grizzly bear “through Christ who strengthens” you? Does it mean that you can fly through the air like Superman “through Christ who strengthens” you?
As always, context determines meaning. In the context of this passage, Paul is basically thanking the Philippians for sending him a financial gift.
He says, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12 NASB).
It is then that Paul makes his statement, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
But, based on the context, what is it in particular that Paul is talking about that he can do? It is not flying, or winning an athletic event, or just any imaginable thing. It is simply being content — even in difficult situations.
The latest edition of the NIV (that is, the New International Version) makes this clearer. Prior to 2011, Philippians 4:13 in the NIV read as follows: ‟I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
But with the 2011 edition, a change was made to this verse. The verse now reads, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
The words “all this” force the reader to read and consider the words that Paul spoke before this verse. In other words, it forces the reader to read the verse in its context — which is always a good thing.
This is specifically addressed on the NIV website, in a document called, “Updating the New International Version of the Bible: Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation.”
This document gives insight into the changes that were made for the 2011 edition of the NIV, and include this sentence: “And one shouldn’t be as easily able to misapply Philippians 4:13 now that it reads, ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength’ (i.e., to be content in all circumstances, whether in riches or in poverty), rather than ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’”
I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but you will not be able to do just anything imaginable through Christ who strengthens you.
But you can, like Paul, be content — in any situation in life — through Christ who strengthens you.
(Jake King is the preacher at Seneca Church of Christ. He can be reached at (417) 776-3077.)