I watched a very interesting and SHORT video clip on Christian Living Connection, an email devotional from Christianity.com, this morning, explaining this very well-known, and misused scripture:
Most often, folks read this to mean that Jesus will help us do anything that we set our minds to. This is where context is very important. Let’s look at the whole chapter in this letter of Paul to the church in Philippi.
The key to understanding the Bible is understanding the original context of the passage you are reading. Let’s look Philippians 4 for a bit:
- What is it? The scripture is a part of a letter
- Who is the author? The apostle, Paul and Timothy, his assistant
- Who is the audience? The members of the church at Philippi
- What is the overall topic? The behavior of those in the gospel ministry
The Beginning of the Letter:
In order to understand verse 4:13 in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we must understand the whole chapter. But, remember, the chapters and verses were added by editors later, to help navigate the text. This was, in fact, a letter, so we must read it as such. That being said, it is important to know the general topic of the rest of the letter that was ahead of the bible verses that we are studying today:
- Greetings (ver 1-2)
- Thankfulness and an opening prayer for them (ver 3-11)
- Preaching the gospel of Christ (ver 12-18)
- Living for Christ (ver 19-26)
- Striving and suffering in their work for Christ (ver 27-30)
- Being united in ministry by humbling themselves (ver 1-3)
- Jesus being the model of humility in service (ver 5-11)
- How to shine as a light among men through their behavior (ver 12-18)
- A promise to send Timothy to them later (ver 19-24)
- A note that Epaphroditus was feeling better and on his way to them (ver 25-30)
- A warning about folks who present as God‘s workers, but are not (ver 1-11)
- An encouragement to press on (ver 12-16)
- Reminder that they are citizens of heaven (ver 17-21)
Phil 4 (the last part of the letter):
4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
In these verses, Paul is exhorting the members of the Church at Philippi to help Euodia and Syntyche get along! As we often see in churches, flesh gets in the way between members of the body, which makes life tough for the body, and interrupts the ministry. Apparently, Paul has received word that these two women are having some interpersonal issues, and he is addressing it, lovingly.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
These verses are Paul’s advice about how to carry themselves in the ministry. We can start to see the general tone of this letter, when we look at Chapter 2, verses 1-18, then the plee to Euodia and Syntyche to get along,then these verses — the fact that their behavior, as Christians, must bear the witness of Jesus.
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.
14 Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Now we get to the verse in question. Paul was in material need, being imprisoned for the gospel, and the Philippian church met this need through their giving. In these verses, Paul thanked them, remarking that, even if they hadn’t, it was okay, because he had learned to be content in good times and in bad, because Jesus provided Him with the strength to continue on cheerfully. He also expressed that it was more important for THEM that they were generous to Paul, because they were doing something pleasing in God’s eyes.
Hmmm… let’s go back to those earlier verses, where Paul is describing how Christians carry themselves, how they interact with one another, and how they should be Christ-like in their activities — how they were living gospels in their ministry. Now let’s examine this set of verses. What is Paul really trying to say?
Represent the Family!
Bill Cosby has a stand-up sketch where his father admonishes him, as a young boy, on his behavior, reminding him, “Remember — you’re a COSBY!” My husband calls this, “representing.”
Since the majority of the letter appears to be about putting away self (i.e., being humble) for the sake of the collective (i.e., the work of the gospel), to the extent that Paul even corrects two members by name, could it be that this famous verse is Paul’s way of modeling the right attitude that all the people of God should have, in good times and in bad? Why would God inspire the Bible collators to save this particular letter?
We Live in Desperate Times
Time is short. Revelation 12:12 tells us this about the end times:
“Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! for the devil has come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time.”
The enemy of God has shifted his focus from the masses to the remnant — the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ — during these last days. We should be working hard to harvest as many souls for Jesus as we can, before there is no time left. Yet we have not seen such disruption and division in the church as in recent years, with scandal, and disillusion, and gossip, and general dissension over doctrinal issues, to the point of fury. All you have to do is read your Facebook feed from your Christian friends to see this, right? Are we, in fact, Euodia and Syntyche? Are we Epaphroditus and Paul?
The Tools of the Enemy
The enemy’s tactics are four-fold: destroy, deceive, distract and divide. Destruction and deception are easier with non-believers or new believers, so he must use the last two tactics, distraction and division, on the more seasoned folks.
Paul addresses the last tactic, division, with the matter between Euodia and Syntyche. He just comes out and says it: “Look, please get along. You are both wonderful workers in the Lord. You can’t work if you’re bickering. Oh, and, folks, help them out, will you? Thanks.” Our interactions with one another can either attract people to God, or repel them: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another” (John 13:35). Have you ever left a church because there was so much gossip, fighting and discord? It doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, does it? Not a reflection of the “family name.”
It is easy to become distracted by matters of the flesh,especially in these tough economic times, and the devil would love nothing more than to have us leave our posts because of these “human” matters that Paul addresses in this letter: sickness, financial and physical need, interpersonal strife, lack of leadership, worries and troubles in the world. And the enemy is “upping the ante” these last days, with God’s people experiencing Job-like attacks daily. It is hard to maintain a focus, but Paul reminds us, through his own example in, that we CAN be content at all times, because God has our backs:
- “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds, through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)
- “I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)
- “My God will supply all your needs, according to His riches and glory.” (Phil 4:19)
If we go into the world and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mk 16:15), God promises to give us peace and strength in the face of calamity, and provide for our physical needs! Compare these verses to the following:
- “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things [food, clothing] will be added unto you.” (Mt 6:33)
- “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them [opposers], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6)
- “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15)
Summing It All Up…
God wants lots of harvestmen, wishing that none should perish (2 Pet 3:9). The verse at Phil 4:13 doesn’t promise us that God will help us do anything we want to do, with Jesus’ help: but it DOES say that God will provide strength for us to endure as ministers of His gospel, no matter what happens.
Keep your torch lit and high, saints! God’s got your back…
- Surrender in the Assembly (stocktonbiblechapel.wordpress.com)
- Chapter of the day- Philippians 4 (livesharp.org)
- 41. Hindrances to Prayer – Anxiety (vertrep.com)
- The Epistle of Joy and A Theology of Suffering (thereformedwesleyan.com)
- The Power of Joy In The Prison Of Pain in Philippians (Intro) (stevemidkiff.wordpress.com)