What does Paul Mean (and Not Mean) By “I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me” in Philippians 4:13?
In discussing the meaning of Philippians 4:13, it is profitable to begin by exploring what it does not mean. Usually this verse, once taken from its context, is used to imply that the Christian may perform any task through the power of Christ, as if Jesus is some energy elixir. Although the verse does not undermine the reality that Christians may pursue human goals through hard work and dedication, the verse is focused within the sufficiency of Christ, and the spiritual empowerment to perform the tasks of Gospel ministry. On what it means, let us explore the context. Paul spends the beginning of the letter proposing a rather high Christology, speaking of Christ Jesus as He who ‘exists in the form of God’ and having the ‘name above all names’ (Phil. 2:6-11). Throughout the letter, the focus on Christ and His sufficiency is emphasized, leading essentially to Paul’s words of practical counsel in chapter four. The immediate context itself stresses a contentment of living conditions, given the richness of Christ (Phil. 4:6-7). Verse 12 sets up the cloud of contentment in which we find 13, with Paul stating he has “learned the secret of being content—whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance of need,” (Phil 4:12). The emphasis is then on trusting in the sufficiency of Christ, which is manifested throughout Philippians through obedience and service (Phil. 1:27). Regarding the ‘all things’ in which the believer is to accomplish, the meaning is found throughout the letter. In Phil. 2:13, Paul states that “it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.” This is also expressed in 4:19, after the verse in question, where Paul states “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” The focus here is on the ‘all things’ as they pertain to God’s will (4:19), and how God will then ‘strengthen’ us in both ‘will’ and ‘power’ to accomplish the tasks (2:13).