I Can Do Incompetence Through Christ Who Strengthens Me
Is this a joke? Has someone hacked the blog and messed with the title? Those who know their Bibles, and probably even those who don’t know their Bibles, will most likely recognize the verse that the title is drawn from. Philippians 4:13 reads, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” It stands there so inspiring, so uplifting. No wonder it is the go-to verse for the business man, the weightlifter, the athlete, the disabled and so many more. It seems to promise the abilities and success we all chase after, but are still so far from. The problem is that is nowhere close to what Paul is talking about. In fact, it is the exact opposite of what God says in that verse. After hearing that verse raped and pillaged for the thousandth time, I wanted to write again for the freedom of a verse so often subjected to abuse and limitations.
What exactly is the “all things” that Paul is talking about in 4:13? There are actually 8 features that “all things” point to. In verse 11 and 12 those 8 features are “whatever circumstance,” “humble means,” “prosperity,” “every circumstance,” “being filled,” “going hungry,” “having abundance,” and “suffering need.” Notice that “whatever circumstance” and “every circumstance” are two ways of saying the same thing. And also notice that Paul defines “whatever/every circumstance” with 6 descriptions of the two opposite poles of existence. “Humble means,” “going hungry” and “suffering need” are on one end of the spectrum where there is pain. “Prosperity,” “being filled,” and “having abundance” are on the other end of the spectrum where there is pleasure.
So the “all things” that Paul is speaking about is any place on the spectrum spanning hardship and ease, pain and pleasure. How to live wherever you find yourself on the spectrum is what the verse is about. It is not about moving up the spectrum toward pleasure. It has nothing to do with catering to the American dream, or ascending the corporate ladder, or gaining an ability you wish you had. Wherever you are on the spectrum, and however long you stay at that point, you can live there with grace, with godliness, and with spiritual fruitfulness through the strengthening of Christ.
Now think about that. That will completely overturn how people normally use this verse. If you are a physically weak person, who has no public speaking skills, and who can only hold a minimum wage job, this verse is gloriously for you. It is not promising that you are going to get physically strong, that you will be able to woo hordes of people, or that you will finally land the 6 figure career. No! It means that, in God’s providence, there is a lot of incompetence in your life. Not sinfully so. It is just how you were created. And right there, in all the obscurity, weakness, and deficiency, Jesus is going to strengthen you. He is going to strengthen you to not become bitter, to give even in your neediness, to serve through your weariness, to spread the gospel in obscurity, to rejoice in your pain. This is going to bear all kinds of spiritual fruit. What a glorious Savior!
But don’t forget the other end of the spectrum. Those who are rich, who have influence, and who have powerful abilities need this verse also. If they bow before Christ, He will strengthen them not to become proud, to generously give without the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing, to serve the lowest of the low, to not be swayed from truth by flattery, and to resist the siren calls for constant pleasure and willingly suffering for the sake of Christ. This is also going to bear all kinds of spiritual fruit. What a glorious Savior!
Philippians 4:13 has been forced to serve the idolatrous pursuits of sinful man for far too long. May it be freed from these eisegesis shackles and become a rock of promise for all of God’s children, on every point of the spectrum of existence. Because of this verse, we can expectantly live for the advancing of God’s kingdom right where God has put them.