Philippians 4:13, A Wider Angle
“I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me”
Ev. Kalvin Budiman
Philippians 4:13 is perhaps one of the most favorite Bible verses. We often use it especially in situations where we have to go through challenging times in our lives, such as dealing with illnesses, financial crisis, unemployment, divorce, and many others. After all, Paul clearly talks about strength in this verse. When do we need strength the most if not in time of need and crisis? I knew somebody who was fighting cancer in the last six months of his life, and yet throughout the ordeal he remained calm. When I visited him at his house, he was actually the one who often reminded me to always be strong in God. When I asked his secret for having such a strong faith, he spontaneously and without hesitation cited Philippians 4:13; as if he had had it rehearsed over and over in his heart and ready to be shared with whoever asked about his condition. This is just one example how Philippians 4:13 has become a blessing for so many people who have to face life’s challenges. Many of us might still remember, even Evander Holyfield used Philippians 4:13 when he got on the rink to fight Mike Tyson!
Paul obviously talks about getting strength from Christ in Philippians 4:13, no doubt about that. But if we read more closely, Paul is not talking about getting strength from Christ in order to face life’s difficulties only. Of course, it is not wrong to use this verse when we are faced with challenges. But that’s not the only message of Philippians 4:13. We need to read Philippians 4:13 together with its two preceding verses, 4:11 and 4:12. These three verses are bound together by three different phrases that Paul uses that have identical meaning; those three phrases are: en hois, en panti, and en pasin (in whatever, in everything, in all things). In other words, Paul realizes that in any circumstances—in need or in abundance, facing hunger or facing plenty, sad or happy—he needs the strength that he has found only in Christ. That is the “secret” that Paul is talking about in 4:12, which he then spells out and states more clearly in 4:13. Paul is talking about getting in touch with Christ all the time, not just when life is hard, but also when life is easy. We need Christ when life gets easy as much as we need Him when life gets tough.
Partial use of Philippians 4:13 is not wrong; after all, when life gets tough, we do feel that we need more strength from Christ. But I believe that Paul’s message is actually wider than that. We need Christ in all circumstances, that’s what he said. In my experience, I have seen two opposite types of believers: (1) those who become more spiritual when everything in their lives goes smoothly, but become less spiritual when faced with life’s difficulties; (2) those who become more spiritual when life gets though, but become less spiritual when everything goes smoothly again. To put it more simply, the first type of believers, for example, can be seen in those who go to church when they are happy; but they disappear as soon as they are faced with challenges. The second type of believers is usually those who pray more when life gets tough, but forget about God or church or any spiritual matters as soon as life goes their ways again.
I believe that the kind of believers that Paul wants us to be is the third kind: those who do all things through Christ in whatever situation. Happiness is much a challenge for faith as sadness. No one can deny that sadness and stress are big challenges for our faith; but happiness in life can also reduce or even take away our faith in God. Paul is not saying that as believers we are not allowed to be happy and enjoy life. What he is saying is that we need to do everything and to go through any circumstances, in joy and in sadness, with faith in Christ.
I know someone else in my life who used to be actively involved in church ministry. He came from a poor family. Later in his life, he became quite a successful businessman. And he became so busy that he had no time for church anymore, much less got involved in ministry. Thankfully, he finally came around; he realized that the more he was blessed, the more he had to give back to God. He’s now actively involved in church ministry again as a successful businessman. We need Christ in all circumstances!