The following post is the first in a series called “Bible-ish.” This series is designed to help bring light to passages of Scripture that are often taken out of context.
Philippians 4:13 is not about winning a football game. It’s not about passing a big test. It’s not about getting accepted into a certain college. And its not about getting in one more rep for your workout. I have stood on the floor of a Christian school gym in which this verse is painted on the court. I have listen to locker room motivational speeches by coaches using this verse to fire up the team. I have seen it tattooed on the bicep of football players at both the college and pro level.
For too long Christians have referenced this verse like it gives some sort of superpower. The truth is that by invoking Phil. 4:13 we cannot dodge bullets, gain super strength, or leap tall buildings in a single bound. So what was Paul talking about when he wrote, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me,” in the letter to the Philippians?
That’s right, Paul was helping the Philippian church know that no matter the circumstances, whether poor, or hungry, or in prison, he was able to endure through Jesus. It was not about achieving anything. It was about being content no matter what comes your way through Christ’s strength. Just picture that baseball player stepping up to bat getting ready to swing and thinking to himself, “I am content whether I hit the ball or I strike out.” That would be proper context. But what coach is going to give a halftime speech in which he says, “Hey guys, win or lose, its OK. We don’t find our contentment in a win. We find it in Christ.” The truth is, that would be pretty awesome. And I am sure somebody has said that to their team, but certainly not to the same extent that the out of context version is shared.
So how can you reclaim this verse for your students? How can you help them navigate what the bible actually means in Philippians? Here are a few ways:
- Preach or teach the verse expositionally and in context. Unless your students know what the passage is really all about then they have no reason to understand what Paul intended.
- Encourage those you know that use the verse out of context to stop. Help them see the error in taking passages out of context.
- Encourage students to study the Bible in view of the audience, author, and context when they read. They need to be equipped with how to handle the Word well.
When students take verses like Phil. 4:13 and use them out of context they get closer and closer to distrusting God. If they believe they can win the big game or pass the big test because Christ will strengthen them to do so, what happens when they lose the game or fail the test? Certainly Jesus empowers people to do great things. Certainly we ought to humble ourselves and yield to His leadership. And of course the Holy Spirit gives us power to live the Christian life. But by helping students understand scripture and exegete difficult passages, you are equipping them to grow closer to God and the truth of His word. Lead your students to know and trust the bible by helping them dwell in God’s word and understand context.