Jon Jones returned to the UFC in March 2023 to challenge Ciryl Gane for the vacant heavyweight title. Jones won the belt in dominant fashion, further cementing his legacy as one of the greatest fighters of all time. If you’ve ever watched Jon Jones fight, you’ve likely noticed a large chest tattoo that reads, “Philippians 4:13.” In 2019, when asked what the tattoo means, Jon responded, “I remember that I represent being able to do all things through Christ. And that is overcoming, that is being strong…I have to be strong for the people that see my tattoo and believe it. I’ve gotta be strong for the King.”
Jon Jones is far from alone in his love for Philippians 4:13. In 2022, World Vision released its list of the most popular Bible verses based on a survey of Internet searches. Philippians 4:13 was tied for second place (behind John 3:16) with 82,000 monthly searches. The verse’s popularity isn’t surprising. Throughout my life, I’ve seen Philippians 4:13 plastered on T-shirts, weight room walls, football eye black, and motivational posters. No doubt you’ve also witnessed this popular verse in many locations and have often heard people quote it. Unfortunately, I suspect that many of us have misinterpreted Paul’s message of contentment as a promise of achievement through Christ.
It’s about contentment, not achievement
Paul wrote to the church at Philippi from prison, likely in Rome. Paul saw the church at Philippi as partakers with him of grace, both in his imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. Despite his imprisonment, Paul pressed on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13). Paul says he has learned to be content in any situation. He learned how to be brought low and how to abound, how to have plenty and how to face hunger, how to cope with abundance and need (Philippians 4:12). “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” comes as his famous conclusion to everything he has learned.
The context of Philippians 4 clarifies that “do[ing] all things” has nothing to do with athletic, financial, or personal achievement of any kind. If it did, Paul might have declared that he could break through any chain or prison wall through Christ’s strength, but he didn’t. Instead, Paul professed that he could withstand, and find contentment in, all things because Christ is the source of his strength. That is the very reason why Paul could proclaim, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Paul understood that any hardship, whether prison or death, is bearable through Christ. Paul’s message in Philippians 4:13 rings just as true for us because we believe along with Paul that the sweetness of Christ gives us the endurance to persevere through life’s trials rather than conquering them.