". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Philippians 4:13: Can I Really Do ‘All Things’?

November 21, 2023

Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” I’m sure you’re familiar with this verse. After all, it’s plastered on all sorts of things. We see it in the locker room as the players prepare to play in the championship game. They can do all things; they can win this game. Or on the lock screen on the phone of the mother of four. She can do all things; she can get these kids to bed. Maybe you’ve seen it on the calendar of the businessman. He can do all things; he can get through this hectic month.

Now, I’m not here to say any of those applications of the verse are bad. However, I will say that they dramatically oversimplify the beautiful message the text proclaims. And yet, this emphasis on the “I” and using it as motivation toward specific goals may be one of the most common interpretations we see. But this verse is so much more than an inspirational mantra. It is, as the Apostle Paul indicates, the very secret to contentment.

Where do we go wrong when using this verse and how can we avoid doing so? There are two primary factors worth unpacking.

1. We go wrong by using Philippians as self-help rather than Scripture.

I don’t know about you, but I have seen this verse used by Christians as well as agnostics. My take is that this passage can be used by anyone, because it is far too easy to read it the same way one would read a self-help book. I mean, what’s more inspiring than to tell yourself, “I can do all things?” But even if you include the “through Him who strengthens me” part, there is very little in those 10 words that would distinguish the religious from the faithful. God is acknowledged even by those who do not love Him, so it says next to nothing about your faith to restate a verse such as Philippians 4:13 unless it is done so in reverence toward Christ.

In other words, it’s easy to regurgitate such a satisfying statement without actually believing it. Or at least not all of it. My concern is that too many believe the first half and skim over the latter. The verse in and of itself describes the source by which we can do “all things” — and it’s not ourselves. It’s Christ (which I’ll come back to in a moment). It’s more glorifying to the self to detach the verse from the fact that God gives you the strength you need. But by amplifying Christ and acknowledging His work to strengthen you, you get Scripture, which will always glorify God — and God alone.

Don’t get me wrong, this verse is inspirational. But believers must acknowledge that it’s not inspirational because we can do all things, but because He is the one by our side through all things. Inspiration driven from any other aspect than that of Christ’s sustaining grace cheapens it. But what’s more important than this is to ensure we read the passage in context, which helps us avoid getting it wrong. It’s not just about being able to do all things. It’s about being content in all things.

2. We avoid misuse of Philippians 4:13 by reading it in the proper context.

I don’t believe this verse was ever meant to be isolated from the paragraph it concludes. Otherwise, you miss the whole point. By just reading, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” it may seem as though the Apostle Paul accomplished something grand. It carries with it a chipper tone and a simple point. But reading it out of context does not explain that Paul did not write this letter on cloud nine, free from trouble. He wrote it in prison. And this passage is not about our own abilities, but contentment. Despite the circumstances in which this book was authored, Paul said he can be “content in any and every situation.”

He wrote, “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” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul did not intend it to be rocket science — the secret is Christ.

He can do all things, in abundance or in need, imprisoned or free, win or lose, because Christ is his strength. By adding only two of the preceding verses, there is no longer room to misread the meaning of the text. Verse 13 is no longer something that applies mostly to what we hope to accomplish, but now we see the passage as a whole relates to anything we could ever possibly endure.

It’s not just about winning that basketball game, getting through a busy week, or working toward that promotion. Goal-oriented things are important and can certainly apply to the verse at hand. But it’s also about battling illness, suffering loss, feeling helpless, lost, and broken. It’s about the times when there is nothing we cando that Paul drives home the message that we can still be content in Christ, despite the circumstances. In fact, when we feel at our wits end, it’s most important to be content in Christ.

Paul wrote from a place where he could do nothing. Even so, he knew the God he served. He knew the promises of Scripture. He knew the words of Isaiah 40:31, which state, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” You won’t see Paul finding his strength in anything or anyone else but Christ.

And it’s not just Paul. All of Scripture reveals God to be the sole source of strength for all who believe. Asaph knew this when he wrote Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and portion forever.” John the Baptist alluded to this, saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Peter reminds us of our Anchor in 1 Peter 5:7, “cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” The emphasis cannot be stressed enough.

We get it wrong anytime we put it on ourselves. We fail daily. There are so many things we can’t do, and I believe that’s what Philippians 4:13 should remind us of.

Can you or I really do all things? I’d have to say no. But Christ can.

Christ can do all things, and He is the one Who lives in me and strengthens me.

Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.