This weeks marks a bit of a re-visioning process for the blog. If you were around yesterday you read the first article in a recurring series, “Marriage Monday.” I don’t pretend to have years of experience or wisdom about marriage but what I do have I learned from a little bit of experience and a lot of wisdom from couples who have successfully navigated decades of marriage.
Today marks another new recurring series, “Tough Text Tuesday.” I promise that’s as far as the alliteration goes. I think. Each Tuesday I’ll post about a verse or passage of Scripture that is easily misinterpreted, controversial, or simply difficult to understand. I hope to explain the text in such a way that shows Christians what interpretative options are available as well as distinguish between essential issues of the faith and non-essential issues. Non-essential issues may very well be important but they don’t deny a core aspect of the Gospel or nature of God. In other words, it’s okay to disagree about these things with people. Essential issues are non-negotiable (Jesus is God. Jesus died for our sins. God is love, etc).
Our first Tough Text Tuesday takes us to an extremely popular verse:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
This verse has been used most-often in Christian circles as athletic motivation. I remember going to FCA meetings in high school (side note: FCA is an INCREDIBLE organization) and we would talk about this verse within the context of succeeding on the athletic field.
An obvious problem arose when I asked myself, “What happens when I believe this verse and use it as athletic motivation for me while competing against someone doing the same?” When this verse is misinterpreted in this way, one is forced to conclude that God simply loves the winner more.
So, now what? How IS this verse to be interpreted and applied? There are a couple of truths that are always important to remember when interpreting any part of Scripture. One of those that will help us today is that every passage of Scripture must be first interpreted in the culture/time to which it was originally intended.
Paul pens these prolific (alliteration again..I knew I wasn’t done!) words in a difficult time in his life, to say the least. He was not facing an athletic opponent. He was literally on death row, awaiting his potential execution while under house arrest chained to a Roman guard 24/7. This was after he had already been shipwrecked, arrested, and ran out of several different cities.
When interpreting Scripture, context is HUGE. Let’s check out the two verses that immediately precedes v. 13,
“11 I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13
Another HUGE problem we run into when we interpret this verse as God fundamentally blessing whatever we set our minds to is that we leave zero room for suffering to be a part of God’s plan for us. This is a dangerous assumption about God’s will, one that Paul never made. He knows how to be brought low. Do we?
I pray you gain a deeper appreciation for this verse in particular and Scripture in general. I hope you can echo the claim of Paul that whether you have little or much, hunger or abundance, grief or happiness, that no matter what you have the capacity to obey whatever God commands you to do. This is the ultimate take-away for me with this passage. It’s a question we must ask of God instead of demands we get to make of Him…
What would you have us do for you today? Whatever it is, we know we can do it, but not because of us. It’s all about YOU.