Philippians 4:13 is such a popular Bible verse, especially in the realm of athletes or competitors. We like to hold on the truth, “we can accomplish anything as Christians.” However, the context of Paul said needs to be addressed, because the true meaning of Philippians 4:13 is oft lost in our own desires for accomplishment.
First, remember who Paul was. He was a missionary, one the greatest. He faced many joyous times in his journeys, but he also faced many difficult trials. In fact, he wrote this letter to the Philippians while in prison, facing certain death from execution. Does it appear that he is writing something that would have the meaning that he can accomplish anything through Christ? Maybe, but let’s continue.
Secondly, we must always look at the literary context of the verse. What do the verses around it say? Here are verses 10-13 of chapter 4:
“10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.12 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.13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
When reading these verses, we can see that Paul is talking about his attitude and endurance in all types of life situations – good or bad. Through the power of Christ in his life, Paul has been able to endure everything he has gone through, and he has been content in all his circumstances.
Finally, even without the other contexts, within the verse is a principle overlooked many times – “through him [Christ] who strengthens me.” Before someone can take this verse and use it as a spiritual steroid, it must be remembered that the power lies not with us but with Jesus Christ. If we are living our lives in our own power and neglecting our time with him, can Philippians 4:13 really have its full meaning?
I still think this is an incredible verse for us to use in cases of competitions or contests, because the true meaning is that no matter what happens, win or lose, we will be ok because Christ lives in us and loves us.
But it cannot stop at merely being a tattoo on some competitor’s arm, we must hang on to this verse as we face taxes, bills, deaths, persecutions, and everything life has to throw at us. The truth is we all are in boxing match with life and sin, and we can get pretty beat up.
The wonderful power of Philippians 4:13 is that no matter who many times we get beat up, we can always get back up, because of Jesus who lives in us.