“I Can Do All Things”: Don’t Miss the Point

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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.

Paul understood that any hardship, whether prison or death, is bearable through Christ.

You don’t need to be strong

Zooming out, Paul’s message of dependence in Philippians 4:13 fits with his theology of weakness elsewhere in Scripture. In a separate letter to the Corinthians, Paul discussed the relationship between grace and human strength. He described a thorn in his flesh that prevented him from becoming conceited. No one knows what the thorn was. Scholars have proposed various candidates such as partial blindness, a personal adversary, or temptation, but we can never know for sure. Regardless, Paul asks God to remove the thorn three times. But each time God responds, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). If Paul thought God’s grace was sufficient when writing his letter to the Corinthians, it doesn’t make sense that he would convey a contradictory message to the Philippians. Had Paul understood strength in that way, he might have declared that Christ’s strength would allow him to remove the thorn himself. He didn’t. Instead, Paul resolved to boast of his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ would rest upon him. For the sake of Christ, Paul was content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. Paul understood that his weakness was his strength. God was magnified through his weaknesses.

What does this mean for us?

I don’t think the proliferation of Philippians 4:13 is bad. However, we should keep in mind that Paul wasn’t arguing that Christians can access God’s omnipotence to win the Super Bowl, achieve a personal best deadlift, or submit Stipe Miocic. Instead, Paul’s message to the church at Philippi and believers today is that we can face wealth and poverty, achievement and failure, abundance and hunger, and life and death through Christ who strengthens us.

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Photo Credit:

Photo by Motoki Ton on Unsplash.

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Stephen Howard

Stephen Howard

Stephen is an attorney and M.Div. student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds degrees from the Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law and North Greenville University. He resides in Enola, Pennsylvania with his wife, Abby, and their two children. If you need to find Stephen, he is probably fishing at the river.

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