As far back as I can remember, “Superheroes” have been extremely popular. In 2015, “Superhero comic books produced roughly 500 million dollars in the U.S. alone, and movies featuring all sorts of “Superheroes” generated 2.5 billion dollars in 2017. Visit your local mall and go into the children’s department at any store and you’ll find superheroes on everything from t-shirts, underwear, socks and shoes, to lunch boxes and backpacks.
Children all over the country pretend to be superheroes while they play. They wear Halloween costumes year around, or simply tie their blankets around their neck and run around their yard, pretending to be Superman, or some other character. When I was younger, much younger, a boy in my neighborhood broke his arm and received several stitches while jumping off the garage trying to fly because he thought he was Batman. He had a blanket tied around his shoulders, jumped, and ended up landing on the driveway, head first.
I think so many of us like superheroes because we enjoy the idea that we may be exceptional in some way. We like the thought that we might have some secret strength or ability that allows us to do something spectacular, something that no one else can do. There’s nothing wrong with imagining or believing that we are special, or that we can accomplish greatness, the danger lies, when we begin to believe that we are self-sufficient, when the truth is that we must never rely only on our own strength to do anything.
The Apostle Paul had come to understand this truth and wrote about it in his letter to the church in Philippi in a verse that many people use incorrectly and out of context. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” The fact that Christ is the one who gives us all strength is not in question here, what many people have trouble with is the first part. “I can do all things.”
Philippians 4:13 is probably one of the most misunderstood and/or misinterpreted verses in the New Testament. To understand the true meaning of what the Apostle Paul was conveying in verse 13, it must be examined within the context of the surrounding verses, and the cultural context of that time. So, let’s examine the context of Philippians chapter 4.
First, we will examine the cultural context. The book of Philippians is an ‘epistle,’ or ‘letter’ written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi, a city in eastern Macedonia. Letters written during the first century were organized in a much different way than the letters, or emails, that we write now. Most letters written today are generally formatted: recipient, message, author. The body of the message could include all kinds of information, all mixed together. For example:
Please tell your church I said thanks for helping me last week. I heard the brothers and sisters
there were having a specific problem in your body, though. Here is my advice...
Your Brother in Christ.
Chaplain Clayton Hall
A letter from Paul’s era, was organized in a much different format. The traditional format then would have been: Author, recipient, then message – and the message would have been divided in two parts. Part one would have been the main purpose for writing the letter, and the second part would have been personal thoughts of the author unrelated to the primary purpose of the letter. For example:
Chaplain Clayton Hall, Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and President of Reconciled Motorcycle Ministry.
To ‘The Church by The Side of The Road,’ in Podunk, MS.
This is what the Word of God says regarding the spiritual crisis you are facing in your body, and this is my advice to the brothers and sisters of your congregation...
Also, please tell the brothers I said thanks for helping me fix my roof last weekend, and the sisters for providing all with a delicious lunch.
The reason that it is important for us to understand the difference is because Philippians 4:13 is in the last chapter of the book. That means that the entire chapter is devoted to personal thoughts and greetings from Paul to the members of the church that are unrelated to the primary purpose of the letter.
Continuing our examination, next we will look at the textual context surrounding verse 13. Let’s look at verses 10 – 14:
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. 14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
Here, Paul is thanking the Philippians for their concern over his wellbeing. He acknowledges that they have always wanted to help, but in past times, have been unable to. Then the Apostle switches topics, slightly, and starts speaking in a way that may sound odd to some reading this letter. After acknowledging their help, he says that he was never really in need, because he had learned the secret of being content in all of life’s circumstances. The Apostle Paul had, as the Christian Standard Bible paraphrases it, “learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself.”
At this point, Paul leaves the reader wondering, what is this secret? How can I learn to be content no matter how much or how little I have?
Finally, Paul lays the truth on the reader, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Jesus is Paul’s secret to contentment. But then Paul continues, “Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.”
Wait a second, Brother Paul, didn’t you just say that things weren’t really that bad? Didn’t you just tell us you were content? Yes, he did, and he was content, really, because he has the indwelling power of Christ, the Holy Ghost, in his life. But then he says that they have done well to share with him in his “affliction.” How can he be content, if he’s suffering affliction? The definition of “contentment” even means, “a state of happiness and satisfaction”. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word affliction, it doesn’t produce thoughts of happiness and satisfaction in my mind. So, how can he be content?
Paul is emphasizing that things are not always sunshine and blue skies. Bad days happen, the Word says the Father, ‘sends rain on the just and the unjust.’ Difficult seasons come upon all of us. But even when these things happen, we can still find contentment. James even goes so far as to call it joy in his letter: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers’ temptations;” (James 1:2). Count it all joy when troubles of any kind come our way? Seriously?
Yes, seriously! This doesn’t make sense to the world, in fact from a purely human perspective, it seems impossible. And that is why we can’t do it ourselves. We need the strength of Christ, the power of the Holy Ghost, living inside us to think and live, like Paul thought and lived. Paul is saying here that no matter what happens, Christ will grant you the strength you need to get through it. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost, when we call on the name of Jesus it changes everything! Living faith in Jesus redirects the focus of our thoughts. Instead of concentrating on the negative circumstances that so often surround us, His presence in our lives through the power of the Holy Ghost assures us that God’s got it under control.
Once again context here produces full understanding of verse 13: Paul writes a few verses prior to verse 13:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again, I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
We know this final verse -- it’s another one that’s commonly quoted. When you read it along with Philippians 4:13, though, the whole chapter begins to fit together.
How can we be content regardless of our circumstances? How can we do all things? Because we have prepared our lives for the presence of the Holy Ghost, that’s how! We are prepared for his presence because we have praised him, not just once but again and again, and all the time and in every circumstance, we practice His presence through praise.
We are prepared for His presence when we practice holiness by seeking to live moderate and modest lives. The world is watching to see if God is real to us. We must live lives that proclaim His presence is real to us, and that we can live victoriously in all things, even when evil is all around us, our lives must, as a witness for Christ, demonstrate to the world that His presence is within us.
We are prepared for His presence when we refuse to accept the lies the devil wants us to believe. ‘you’re not worthy, you’re not going to make it through this, you’re all alone, or look at the mess your God has left you with.” When we get knocked down, we pray ourselves back up, we encourage ourselves in the Lord as David did, and through fasting and prayer we take back what the enemy has stolen from us. By prayer, we say I am unable, but through Christ, I can do all things! Prayer stokes the fires of God’s presence in our lives, and His Word says the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous are powerful and effective! Prayer says I can’t, but my Jesus can!
Praise, holy living, and prayer invite the presence of God into our lives, daily. And that presence produces a peace that surpasses all the understanding of man and guards our hearts and minds so that we can focus on the promises and blessings of God, even when external circumstances say, ‘I am never going to make it through this.’ The presence of the Holy Ghost says, “I can do all things!”