Christian Sayings: I Can Do Everything

But, isn’t “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” in the Bible? Yes, that would be Philippians 4:13. However, many people make it into a motto that means something other than what the Bible means. What’s so bad about that?

Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is.

–A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

God doesn’t make us into superheroes, being able to do everything. The main problem here is that it’s taken out of context and given a meaning that people want it to mean. Scholar Gordon Fee said that the worst thing to happen to the Bible are verse numbers, which weren’t added until many hundreds of years after the canon of Scripture was established.

How can someone have the audacity (great sound editing program by the way) to say that they know what a verse really means? Reading the context often tells us and this is something that I’m still learning I need to do. The NIV translation, as quoted above and by Christians all over the English speaking world, has changed the wording in its updated version, which is quoted below. You can see how this helps to understand that its referring to the previous verses.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I 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. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:10-13 NIV

Most agree that this is about not being self-sufficient, but relying on Christ or enabled by him. But instead of doing everything I want to do, it’s about being content in every situation God has us in. I’m guilty of having had verse 13 memorized without the preceding context. I’ve since fixed that. Now quote verse 13 as it is above by itself. It begs you to read what’s before it. Some might say that they over-interpreted this verse, but I like the change.

A secular parallel might be parents who tell their kids (or Oprah or Joel Osteen their audience) that they can do anything they set their minds to. That’s not for this blog, other than I would say, “Really? Have you thought about that carefully for just one minute?” (See 1 Corinthians 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, and the whole chapter for a spiritual perspective, as one example. This idea would be logical in a secular sense too.)

As an aside, we see athletes use this verse all the time. Part of the reason they can use it incorrectly is because they’ve been successful and can say that yes, it’s true, we can do everything through God’s strength. What about the 99% of people who tried to become a professional athlete and failed? My aside however, is that people often accuse football quarterback Tim Tebow of misusing this verse, simply because he had it on his ‘eye black’ once in college. But I saw two different interviews with him where he correctly, as far as I understand it, explained what this verse means. You can argue as to whether or not it’s appropriate to put the reference by itself on your face for the cameras to see, but we shouldn’t assume that just because someone is a young athlete and quotes it, that they don’t know what this verse is referring to. I write this because I saw it on a Christian blog. Not being the NFL quarterback that he thought he would be at this time, he’s probably benefiting from knowing what it does mean.

I realize it’s not all black and white, right or wrong. Some people use this verse as a way of acknowledging that it’s God who has enabled them to do some things they never thought they could do. Even if they aren’t looking at the whole passage, their perspective is honoring God. I recently saw this in a video of a young, humble, selfless, obedient missionary, and obviously God wouldn’t be at all displeased with them because of a very minor issue with Scripture–nor should we.

In this series, I would like to offer alternate Scripture where appropriate. I won’t be able to go into that Scripture very much. Much of the time, that could be a separate blog post, or even a book, written by someone else. I may link to other posts if I’ve written about them before (or most likely, quoted somebody smarter than me).

Alternate Scripture (all NIV):

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
Psalm 28:7

Take delight in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4

Our desires need to be changed into what God’s will is.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.
1 Timothy 1:12

A particular prayer from a particular person, but the Lord does strengthen us all and chooses good things ahead of time for each of us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

I write the posts in this series with fear and trembling because I know that I’m not perfect, although I’ve yet to make a mistake as far as I know. I hope to pass on things that I’ve learned, and learn more by putting together the posts and hopefully reading any comments. Some may think it’s nitpicking, but I believe that how we handle Scripture and the Lord’s name is extremely important.

(That was a joke about not yet making a mistake. I hate smilies.)

P.S. – most regular readers of this blog, all 13 of you, will already be familiar with many of the things that will be written in this series. I try to add some extra things that might be less widely known. Although you may be surprised at some things that will come up. And I apologize to people like my wife who hate sports and don’t know the difference between a quarterback and an eighthback.

Words with a dotted underline are hoverable on computers or tapable on mobile devices. Like eye black.

Also see:
Christian Sayings – Ongoing Series | Scripture Zealot blog

4 Responses to “Christian Sayings: I Can Do Everything”

  1. 1 Scott Modrall

    Sounds good! I am sure I have fallen victim of using passages out of context, even though keeping scripture in context is very important to me. So thanks for your efforts here. I look forward to your future observations in this area.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    Thank you. We have all done it, so we need to help each other out.

  3. 3 Eric

    Very thoughtful post, Jeff. I hope I’m one of the elect “13.” That’s interesting – when I came upon the updated translation of Phil. 4:13 in the TNIV and then the new NIV, I had to re-think my prior understanding of that verse. I’m guilty of taking verses out of context too. I remember hearing Greg Koukl talk about this and it really made me stop and think. That being said, I still think the general spirit or meaning of some of these verses can still apply to us, even though they were targeted for a different audience. P.S. I knew you were kidding about making mistakes even before you explained it.

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks Eric. I’m glad somebody knew I was joking, but the way things often go, since I’m so ‘straight faced’ when I joke, most people don’t know it, even if it’s something like that.

    As far as some of these verses still being able to apply–that’s why I’m trying to think of some alternate verses–where what the person thought it meant may be contained in other Scripture, kind of. It depends on the severity of the individual’s misinterpretation. Sometimes it really won’t be Scriptural at all with future platitudes.

  1. 1 Baker Book House Church Connection | Around the Web
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