Paul claims that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Philippians 4:13). How should we understand this sweeping affirmation?
This lesson seeks to help us correctly understand Paul’s claim. That does not mean that we are going to water it down or make it less wonderful than it is. On the contrary, we want to give the promise solidity, for some people have tended to trivialise it.
Although Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" we find that there were many things that Paul could not do, even things he earnestly desired to do. Let's look at some examples:
Example 1. Paul wanted to go to Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit prevented him (Acts 16:7). Paul wanted to go to Thessalonica, but Satan hindered him (1Thessalonians 2:18). Doing "all things through Christ" did not include going to certain places Paul wanted to go and minister.
Example 2. When Paul spoke to the elders of the church of Christ at Ephesus, with whom he had worked three years, he said that "wolves" or false teachers would come into the congregation and even rise up from within it. They would lead away disciples and apostasy would occur. Doing "all things through Christ" did not include being able to stop all error and apostasy in the church he had helped to build (Acts 20:28-31).
Example 3. Paul had a great sorrow because many of his Jewish brothers were unsaved, and apparently were determined to remain so. But Paul expresses great frustration and despair concerning this (Romans 9:1-3). Doing "all things through Christ" did not include his being able to bring all of his countrymen to Christ.
Example 4. Paul had a "thorn in the flesh" which he wanted to be rid of, and he prayed for healing but he was not cured (2Corinthians 12:7). Doing "all things through Christ" did not include being able to heal himself of a physical ailment.
When Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" had he forgotten all those things that he was unable to do? No, he hadn't forgotten. It's just that the expression "all things" must be understood in a certain way, just as Paul understood it.
Part of this understanding lies in what God said to Paul in the last example above. God said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2Corinthians 12:9). Paul's inability to do certain things actually enhanced Paul's strength to achieve God's purpose in his life, and that led him to rely more completely on the strength and power of Christ.
Whilst Paul could not avoid many trials and tribulations, he could endure "all things through Christ" and even rejoice "in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). Paul precedes his statement "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" by saying, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." (Philippians 4:11-13).
And a little earlier he speaks of "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). In spite of any difficulty or pain that he suffered, Paul was able, through peace and strength from the Lord, to continue being a faithful and true Christian.
There's another angle to this. Paul says, "In nothing shall I be ashamed... so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body" (Philippians 1:20). You will observe that "nothing" is the counterpart of "all things".
The statement, "In nothing shall I be ashamed" is a reflection of the statement, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" In spite of all the weakness Paul suffered in the flesh, he was able through Christ to magnify and glorify God in his body dedicated to serving God.
When one says, "I can do all things through Christ", one should understand this to mean empowerment to endure all things, truly rejoice, be genuinely content in the Lord, and serve the Lord —no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in along life’s journey.
As in the case of Paul, so it is with us. God enables us, by his power and grace, to endure and achieve in both good times and bad.
Paul's statement, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" is of enormous encouragement to us. However we must apply it to those things which pertain to the glory of God and our peace and endurance through Christ unto the salvation of our souls.
In the letter to Philippi, Paul hardly mentions sin, hell, God's wrath, and other such topics, to which he attaches much importance in his other letters. A main theme in Philippians is Paul’s short sweet statement, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" (Philippians 4:13).
Paul may have been unique (or nearly so) in the enthusiasm he showed for this belief. But I am convinced that every human being can say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
No one is excluded from this wonderful thing, except by their own rejection or neglect of it. Jesus Christ is willing to empower everyone who will come to him for strength.
Some folk have run away with this promise, "I can do all things through Christ...". They misapply it by making it refer to material things and earthly prosperity.
If you so apply the promise, you will be disappointed. Rather, apply the promise to your endurance of trials and suffering, your joy and peace of heart, and your ministry for God's glory. Then you won't be disappointed in the least.
It is not God’s purpose to make us materially wealthy in this world or to indulge us in all kinds of physical pleasures and comforts. God looks after us very well in our physical needs (Matthew 5:25-34 cf v19-21). He gives us sufficient both for ourselves and to share with those in need. However, God’s greater blessings and riches are such as the following...
We can obtain these blessings and accomplish great things with them through Christ. But when it comes to mere earthly goals, we cannot say, "I can do all things through Christ!" We can only say, "If the Lord wills we will do this or that" (James 4:13-15).
The three statements in quotes below are "I can" statements. Yet it would be rather silly, for the reasons given, to say we can do these things through Christ. Perhaps these "I can" statements will give you some food for thought:
It is easy misunderstand the affirmation, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!". If we do misunderstand it, we may find ourselves terribly disillusioned. However I hope the lesson in Part 1, and the background discussion above, will help you to truly understand it and be wonderfully encouraged.