This post is part of a series looking at misquoted verses of the Bible. Click here to see others.
As we’ve seen in other passages I’ve looked at in this series, many of the misquoted verses we know are the result of bumper stickers or t-shirts designed to inspire and encourage Christians. There’s nothing wrong with that desire. However, many of the verses or expressions that are used in these examples are more catchy than they are Biblical. Today’s verse is a great example.
Consider the way most translations handle Philippians 4:13:
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” NASB95
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” ESV
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” NIV84
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” NRSV
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” NLT
Here we see the great challenge that translating teams must address. Part of creating an accurate translation is being fair to the original text and the other part is using words that communicate accurately for the new language. While these versions of Philippians 4:13 may be accurate to the original Greek, they are incredibly misleading for many English speakers (at least in America).
From these versions many Christians claim God’s power for any possible challenge before us.
- Want to dunk a basketball but you’re only 5’5″ tall? No worries. You can do all things through Christ.
- Want to get that new promotion with a corner office? You can do all things with Christ.
- Want to get ripped in the gym? You can do all things with Christ (seriously, see the tattoo pic above).
- Want that girl to notice you or finally accept your invitation to go out? You can do all things with Christ.
- Want your company to be wildly successful? You can do all things with Christ.
Now, is it possible that God will in fact help you with any one of these things? Sure. But using Philippians 4:13 as your justification is a huge stretch. More often than not this verse is used to aid our own selfishness in our prayer life.
The new NIV version more accurately addressed this ambiguity by translating it, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Which begs the question, what is the this Paul is referring to? And as you can imagine, this translation doesn’t work nearly as nicely on a bumper sticker or meme. But what makes it a poor bumper sticker (or shirt, or tattoo, etc) is what makes it a good translation.
That’s where our friend context comes in. In the verses immediately preceding this passage we see an interesting perspective Paul builds for us. The two verses right before it go like this:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.“
Paul is talking about the power of Christ getting him through tough times. He’s learned to be content in situations where most of us wouldn’t be content. And he’s done it through the power of Christ. The verse right after it makes it even more obvious when Paul says “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” Whenever you rely on Jesus to help sustain you when life feels overwhelming, when things don’t go the way you’d desire, when acts of selflessness leave you shorthanded, and when it seems like your faithfulness to the Kingdom is going unnoticed, then you can confidently claim Philippians 4:13.
When you are in the gym, that’s probably more of your own strength.