exegesis · firstworldchristianity · scripture · theology · theology thursday

Theology Thursday: Philippians 4:13


You’ve seen this verse used out of context somewhere, I guarantee it. Most likely, you’ve seen this used on a running shirt (when not healing – still – from a broken foot, I fancy myself a runner), an athletic team’s t-shirt, or on Beth Moore’s most recent Facebook banner.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

I’ve seen it on coffee mugs, bookmarks, reward plaques, motivational posters, and at the end-of-my-rope social media posts.

Here’s my most favorite “Christian motivational poster”, ever, by the way, just for laughs:

sand people footprints

But back to Philippians 4:13. This verse is used all the time to give Christians and non-Christians alike the idea that with Christ, you can do ANYTHING. Do you understand?


I have Christ. I can run a marathon.

I have Christ. I can win the state football championship.

I have Christ. I can lose 100 pounds.

I have Christ. I can quit smoking.

I have Christ. I can overcome this adversity put in my path.

I have Christ. I can…I can…I can…

Except…no. That is not at all what Paul meant when he wrote this verse. Let’s look at the book of Philippians, put the verse into context, and exegete (pull out) the meaning, shall we?

A Quick History Lesson on Philippians

The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul, around 62 AD, while he was in prison. There is some debate as to where he was imprisoned (most scholars say Rome, but others say Ephesus), but everyone agrees, he was in prison. Ancient prison were nothing like prisons of today (three square meals, hot showers, blankets, pillows, yard time). Depending on the severity of your crime, the town in which you were imprisoned, and the mood of the guard, your prison experience could range from a hole in the ground to a cave to home detention. You could be chained to a wall, be chained to a guard 24/7, have relative freedom in a private home, or be thrown into a deep, dark pit. Anything you needed (food, clothing, etc.) came from the mercy of others.

Paul was well-known and well-loved by the Christians and the existing church by this time. He was writing this letter, Philippians, to the church in Philippi, to thank them for the regular personal assistance he has received from them. He was going to send this letter back to them via Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), who had been ill, and wanted to return to Philippi because the people there were concerned about him.

So while Paul is in prison he write this letter. That is important. I am going to repeat it.

While Paul is in prison he pens the letter of Philippians.

The Context of Chapter 4 Verse 13

Let’s start with verse 10 and read through verse 14, using the 1995 New American Standard Version of Scripture:

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.”

Now, here are some words that you might want to know what they really mean:

In verse 12, Paul states that he knows how to “get along with humble means.” The word “humble” here comes from the Greek word tapeinoo, which means “to humiliate, to abase, to bring low, to humble.” This doesn’t just mean poor circumstances – Paul was often humiliated and abased (go read 2 Corinthians 11 for examples).

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me…like be content while being beaten with lashes or rods, or being shipwrecked and floating in a deep, dark sea.

Also in verse 12, Paul says he as “learned the secret” of being filled… . “Learned the secret” is phrase that comes from the Greek word myeo, which means “to initiate into the mysteries;” this is not a passive book-learning kind of thing. Paul has actually been hungry – hungry enough often enough to learn to be content without food.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me…like be content while literally starving or thirsting to death.

And perhaps the most important verse, the key to understanding Philippians 4:13, is actually found in Philippians 4:11 – “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am.” This word “content” comes from the Greek word autarkes, which means “sufficient for one’s self, strong enough or possessing enough to need no aid or support.”

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me…I can be without want, because of Christ, no matter what.

This verse takes on an entirely different meaning when you put it in its actual context, doesn’t it?

So What Does this Mean for Us?

Ladies, we must stop taking individual “feel good” verse out of their context. Does this verse really say that we can do ANYTHING because we have Christ? Does this verse teach that we are warriors, conquerors, overcomers?

No. Absolutely not.

Paul is telling us that the secret to contentment is found in Christ alone.

There is no reason to be discontent on this earth, if you have Jesus Christ as your Savior. Are you hungry? Jesus says He is the bread of life. Are you thirsty? Jesus says He is the living water. Are you lonely? Jesus says He no longer calls us slaves, but friends. Are you scared? Scripture says cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you, to be anxious for nothing, and that perfect love casts out fear. Are you truly in need? The cattle on a thousand hills belong to our gracious and good Father.

Ultimately, we do not belong in this world, anyway. We are on our way to spend eternity with Christ; we should always be content in any circumstance because that is our eventual outcome (providing we are believers).

Why do you want anything if you have Jesus? Because we have Jesus, we should be content in all circumstances – we CAN BE CONTENT in all circumstances. Our circumstances, whatever they may be, don’t matter. Only Christ matters.

THAT is what Philippians 4:13 teaches us.

phil chains

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am…I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”




6 thoughts on “Theology Thursday: Philippians 4:13

  1. Reblogged this on The Outspoken TULIP and commented:
    My fellow blogger Rachel has written a wonderful Bible Study on the real meaning of Philippians 4:13. Not only does she demonstrate how most evangelicals misuse this verse, but she underscores the necessity of quoting Scripture in context.


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