Subject: The Most Misunderstood Verse in the New Testament
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
After nearly sixty games played in this NBA 2015-2016 season, the leading NBA scorer is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors at almost 31 points per game. But there is another statistic that has set him head and shoulders above all scorers in NBA history: his ability to shoot 3-point field goals. This year, he makes nearly 50% of all 3-point shots he attempts. This has never been done. And he also holds the top three spots in NBA history for the most 3-point shots made in a season (in this 2015-2016 season, he has already made 288 3-pointers; in 2014-2015 he made 286; and in 2012-2013 he made 272).
Our culture has undergone a major shift in who boys and girls choose as their role models. What used to be policemen, astronauts or the President has been replaced by sports, movie and music stars. I can remember the 1993 commercial where Charles Barkley, at that time a very popular NBA star, announced that “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the court.” Karl Malone, another NBA star, responded to Barkley’s comment: “Charles…I don’t think it’s your decision to make. We don’t choose to be role models, we are chosen. Our only choice is whether to be a good role model or a bad one.”
But Stephen Curry is a very unique type of role model for young kids. After he won the 2014-2015 NBA Most Valuable Player, and his team won the NBA championship, his acceptance speech was centered on his role model, Jesus Christ: “First and foremost I have to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for blessing me with the talents to play this game, with the family to support me, day in, day out. I’m his humble servant right now and I can’t say enough how important my faith is to who I am and how I play the game.” We often hear athletes thanking God, but Curry makes it obvious to whom he has submitted his life.
In an article for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Curry described his decision as a 13-year old to submit to Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior: “It was a big decision that my parents couldn’t make for me,” he said. “It’s been a great walk since then. He means everything to me.” Today he has bible verses adorning his shoe line with Under Armor. His first shoe was called ‘Curry One’, with the slogan “Charged by Belief” and 4:13 embossed on the tongue, which he explained is a testimony to his favorite Bible verse and our featured verse this week, Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
But what exactly is God telling us in Philippians 4:13? If we simply pluck one verse out of the Bible and interpret it on its own, we can create all kinds of confusing messages for ourselves and others. We can understand its message when we look at the context in which it is written. In this letter to Christians in the Roman town of Philippi, the apostle Paul is Emperor Nero’s prisoner. He knows his time is short – he soon after will be executed. He is writing to Christians from his cell on the secret to contentment in any situation.
We can understand God’s message in verse 13 when we back up and read verses 11-12: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to live in poverty, and I know how to live with abundant wealth. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have plenty or suffer because I have need.” Then in verse 13 Paul reveals the source of his contentment in this world: the reality of Christ who lives in him.
Pastor Bryan Yawn gives us more insights: “We normally take verse 13 to mean something like, ‘I can do anything I set my mind to if I simply believe.’ That is… I can achieve any personal goal by faith. Get this job. Win this game. Ace this test. But, the verse has little or nothing to do with our personal achievement in the face of severe odds. It’s not about our achievements at all. It’s about Christ’s achievement and a constant dependence on him regardless of one’s station in life – good or bad.”
Yawn explains God’s message to Christians in Philippians 4:13 is to trust what Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection has achieved for you eternally and here and now, despite your circumstances: “I can fail to achieve my goals and still trust my Savior’s love. Or, I can have cancer. Or, I can lose everything. Or, I can be fired. It’s the unpredictable swings of life (want, prosperity) which Paul was able to traverse by focusing on the work of Christ. This is the ‘all things’ he has in view here.”
No one understood this better than Paul. As he explained in the opening chapter of Philippians, knowing that he was on his way to his death: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21).