Two rival Christian school basketball teams get revved up for their annual match.
All day long they hear Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (KJV).
Someone quotes it at the pep rally. Both coaches share it in the locker room. Some players repeat it to themselves. Some write the reference on their person.
Both teams hit the court trusting God to help them win the game.
But one will have to lose.
Did Philippians 4:13 fail the losers somehow? Did they not have enough faith? Did God not hear their prayers?
Have you ever read Philippians 4:13 in context? Switching to the ESV now, here’s the rest of what Paul said:
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.
Notice, Paul wasn’t just trusting God for grace in abundance and plenty. He also relied on God’s strength when brought low, in need, in hunger.
Hunger? Wait—doesn’t God know we need to eat? He made us to need food. Why would He let people hunger for a time?
Well, in one case He said:
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).
So He might let us suffer need or fail in an endeavor to humble us. Sometimes not getting what we want or need causes us to do some soul-searching. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Perhaps a victory would have done us more harm than good.
He might be bringing sin to our attention. Israel faced a stunning defeat at Ai, which they should have won easily, because there was “sin in the camp.”
He might be working to make us more dependent on Himself. Sadly, when things are going well, we tend to forget we need him. We lean on our own strength instead of His.
He might be trying to help us remember that everything we have comes from Him. In order to strengthen our faith, sometimes God has to put us in situations requiring faith.
He might be teaching us to lose graciously. To honor others. Not to envy someone else’s success—especially when we think we deserved that success.
He might be spurring us to work harder or better. Our salvation depends on God’s work in us and not our own efforts. And He miraculously delivers us out of some situations. But in others, He wants us to trust Him and put forth effort. Someone said, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw food in their nests.” We can’t ace the test without studying. We can’t lose weight without exercising and making wise food choices. We can’t grow in grace without spending time in God’s Word and obeying what it says. Paul said, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29).
He might be drawing us closer in our personal relationship with Himself, reminding us that that’s more important than whatever it is we’re hoping for.
He might be reminding us that His Word is not a talisman or good luck charm.
There are a number of reasons why God might say no to our prayer or expectation.
I’m thankful Paul that he learned contentment in any situation. That tells me that contentment doesn’t come naturally, that it can be learned, and that it is a process.
Yes, it’s good to rely on God for strength, to remember that without Him we can do nothing. When a situation doesn’t come out like we hoped, when we have legitimate unmet needs, we can go to our good Father in faith, ask Him what He wants to teach us through the situation, and rest in Him to provide in His good time.
(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Legacy Link-Up,
Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)
This line stood out to me; “Sometimes not getting what we want or need causes us to do some soul-searching.” Indeed. Soul searching might make us realize we want or need something else or that God has a better plan or the timing is not right, etc. Soul searching can be good for us.
Indeed it can. We should do it more often.
Wise interpretation, Barbara. This verse is often one of the most misapplied ones (my opinion) that there’s nothing we can’t do. I take it to mean that whatever happens, Christ can teach us to be content in him, regardless. I’m not there yet! 🙂 I do still have things I complain about. But it’s my goal.
I’m not there yet, either. That makes me thankful that Paul said it is something that can be learned. I’m afraid I’ll have many more lessons ahead.
Thank you Barbara – love this whole article, pinned. The secret of contentment is one of my favourite verses – in need and in plenty, a great lesson!
this is an awesome post Barbara, thank you!
Thank you. 🙂
Wonderful post, Barbara. I need to follow Paul’s example and find contentment in any situation. I agree that this verse does not mean you will always “win”. In fact, it implies just the opposite. We may “lose” for any number of reasons, most of which we will never know in this lifetime. God is with us – win or lose. By the way, I see this verse on signs at races all the time. It must be popular with runners! 🙂
I can see how runners would like it. I would definitely need to lean on it myself if I were running. 🙂
Yes, contentment may be the hardest of “all things” we need strengthening for! Thanks for debunking the blank check mentality that has dogged this verse.
It is. Somehow we keep trying to convince God that our preferred outcome is the better one. But His way, though sometimes hard, really is best in the long run.
Such a good take-apart of this verse, Barbara! I love that you begin with the two teams, pointing out that even if both are trusting God to help them win, one has to lose. I love also the bit about Paul *learning* to be content. Helpful bits for us to chew on mentally …
I’ve often wondered if a player or team claiming that verse gives any thought that the other team might also be claiming it. 🙂 I’m thankful, too, that Paul says we can learn contentment in any situation. I’m far from mastering it and will probably need many more lessons.
Such a good post, Barbara. Two lines stood out to me: 1)”There are a number of reasons why God might say no to our prayer or expectation.” 2) “Sometimes not getting what we want or need causes us to do some soul-searching.” Yes, may I always trust Him and also do the hard work of soul-searching. Blessings!
Thank you, Joanne. May I do the same as well.
God has nothing to do with ball games. That is a purely human concern
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Well, the ball game here was just one illustration of how we misuse Scripture, Philippians 4:13 in this case. I probably should have added more examples to be clearer. My main point was that Phil. 4:13 isn’t meant to indicate that if we just have faith, everything will turn out positive. God also wants us to rely on His strength and be content in even what we think of as negative situations.
However, I do believe God is actively concerned with our character and our walk with Him in everything we do, including ball games, cleaning house, studying for an exam, etc. I would guess He doesn’t care which team wins, but He cares about how individual people act and what they learn. He often teaches very deep lessons through mundane, even secular endeavors. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
So much wisdom – and deeper understanding – when we read verses in context! Paul never implied I can (win/succeed/accomplish) all things…or that all things would turn out great! Helpful post today – thanks!!
Great reflection. I do not know if you are familiar with Jan Karon and the Father Tim series (Mitford Series) but the main characters use this as a source of encouragement to others. It is not unusual for one character say to another, “Philippians 4:13, for Pete’s sake” Also, thinking about what are the “all things” Paul is referring to. Lots of food for thought. Thanks for this post.
I love love love the title of your post 🙂 I second Jennifer’s comment about verses in context. So I appreciate your giving us a much broader and deeper picture.
Awesome post! I always look forward to what you have to say in your posts. This is spot on! God always answers our prayers in a way that builds our character vs. satiating our “happiness quotient.” So many times, the root problem is pride and God needs to humble us in order to be conformed to the image of His Son. Many nuggets of truth here!
Thank you for taking us deeper into Philippians 4:13. I needed to hear the reminder to be more dependent on God. I have an independent streak that helps me believe I can do things on my own. That never works out well for me.
Barbara, thank you for sharing these musings. I enjoyed all the possibilities of God’s lessons for us when we get a ‘no’ from Him. I too have lessons coming to learn contentment in all situations! Blessings! Sarah
Yes and Amen! This is wonderful truth, Barbara! May we praise him when he says no, just as much as we praise him when he says yes…
This was a good teaching. The contentment principle can be easily misunderstood. You broke it down so well with a wonderfully familiar parable. It is not in the outcome that Paul is sharing, it is in the attitude of trusting God to get us through. What a timely message. We have a lot to get through in this upside down world. But, God has it all in control and we can be content, not in the situations but in Him. Thank you for the reminder.
It’s always about leaning on Him, trusting Him, and surrendering our will for His, isn’t it? This reminds me also of the saying that we should thank God for unanswered prayers. Thank you for this wonderful perspective and for linking up with Grace and Truth
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Oh what truth you have found here.
Thanks for sharing at LEgacy Linkup!
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I love your words on this verse. It is a scripture I cling to in times of need or when I feel like giving up. I remember I can do anything as long as God is with me, even the difficult and unexpected. And also when things don’t turn out the way I planned.
I am so glad you were featured on Grace & Truth Link-Up. I read your post last week and almost asked you if you would repost next week so that I could feature you. However, Valerie beat me to it.
I hope many read your post; it was excellent.
Happy 4th of July,
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