One of the most misunderstood verses in all of scripture is Philippians 4:13, which reads,
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Many Christians, including me, love this verse. And many Christians, including me, have misapplied this verse to our lives.
If we were to add whatever difficult thing is before us into this verse, it sounds really affirming and encouraging. For example, “I can take this Algebra test through Christ who strengthens me.” “I can do well on this job interview through Christ who strengthens me.” “I can shovel this snow, through Christ who strengthens me.” There is nothing wrong with asking God for clarity while taking a test, calmness while interviewing for a job, or strength for a hard task. But those are not the kinds of things Paul was refer-ring to.
Let’s look at the greater context of Philippians 4:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (4:10-13)
Paul is speaking of his ministry, and how, throughout his ministry, he has known ease and hardship, hunger and plenty, peace, and anxiety. He expands on some of those experiences in 2 Corinthians, where he describes beatings, imprisonments, and other hardships as regular experiences in his work for Christ.
We do well to rely on Christ in all things, especially when our confidence is lacking. We should pray for clarity, confidence, strength, etc. We must also be careful to rightly apply scripture to our lives. If we are talking about doing the work God has called us to do in uncertain and/or changing circumstances, then yes, Philippians 4:13 is the verse to go to! And for other occasions when we need encouragement, there are many other scriptures we can turn to, such as Matthew 28:20,
“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Regular reading and studying of God’s Word is important for every Christian, because it trains us to understand the importance of context to help determine meaning and application. I hope and pray that each of us will know the Lord more deeply through his Word and will depend on Him in every difficult circumstance.