Contextual Healing: Philippians 4:13

| 5 min read


It’s been far too long. It’s time for another installment of Contextual Healing here on the blog. This is a big week for UFC fans as they debut on a new channel with a loaded show on basic cable, so what better than to tackle a prominent verse in not only mma, but all sports. Today we look at Philippians 4:13.

Most of the confusion and misuse from this passage stems from reading it out of context. It’s a really snappy sentence and it looks great as a tattoo. It sounds cool when you say it after you’ve hit a home run or knocked someone out. “So you know, I’m only able to drop Lyoto Machida to the mat like a sack of laundry because of Jesus.”

I understand the desire to give glory to God and share your faith while you have the spotlight. Unfortunately, this verse is not a great way to accomplish that. Let’s get into it.

Background and context

As most of us are well aware, Philippians is a letter Paul is writing to the church in Philippi from prison. Ironically, it then goes on to use the words joy, rejoice, and glad a total of 16 times. The overarching theme of the book is that no matter what our situation, Jesus is our source of life, joy, peace, and strength.

By the time we get to our verse in question, Paul’s wrapping the letter up. He starts by thanking the church for the gift they sent him in verse 10.

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.

–Phil 4:10 (ESV)

The church has just sent him some food. When in prison, the Romans left care of the inmates largely up to their friends and family, so the church’s gift means that Paul is going to be able to eat again. He is thankful for it, but takes the time to point out that he is content no matter his situation. His joy comes primarily from the fact that the Philippians gift means that they are committed to partnering with him in the Gospel.

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.

–Phil 4:11-12 (ESV)

Ron Swanson has nothing on Paul. He would get the grand prize for stoicism if awards weren’t meaningless pieces of metal that only fools appreciate. It is only after making this claim, giving this list of things he can do that he says…

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Let’s take a look at the whole thing in context and read it as the paragraph it is.

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.

Now, when you put it that way, it really changes the meaning. Specifically, “all things” seems to not necessarily mean scoring touchdowns anymore. What is interesting, if you start poking around the Greek is that the word “things” doesn’t necessarily show up. It’s implied by the word pas meaning “all”, but given the rampant misuse of this text it might need to be tweaked. In fact, if you have a version of the NIV that was printed after 2011, you can look and see that they have indeed made a switcheroo.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

So what?

So, what is Paul trying to say? He’s taking the shine off of himself for his list of things he knows how to do that he’s just given in verses 11 and 12. Yeah, he knows how to have a lot and have a little, how to be content no matter what. The only reason he knows this, though, is because of the strength and ability given to him by Jesus. He can do all that, but only through Christ.

What does it mean for us, then? It means that no matter what we face, we can handle it because Jesus has empowered us to do so. It means that, maybe, if you’re a pro fighter, you need this verse more after a loss than you do after a victory.