By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: In Philippians 4.13 Paul wrote, “I can do all thins in him that strengtheneth me. ” Does that mean that Paul could keep himself out of jail, avert physical death, sustain himself by turning water into wine (grapejuice) and multiplying fishes and loaves just as Jesus did? Please explain what Paul is teaching in this verse.
Reply: First, we need to see that the word “all” which appears in the Scriptures is often United. For example, “for all have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 2:23). The word “all” in this verse is limited to those who are mentally capable and morally responsible. Infants have never sinned because they are not morally responsible. The word “all” is limited in Romans 8:28: “And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.” The word “all” here is limited to the things in the context of the verse. Paul does not include the devil and his work in the “all things.” Sinful acts do not work together for good. So, the word “all” in this verse has to be taken in a United sense. To what do the “all things” refer? They refer to the things Paul has mentioned: the redemption does not include everybody without limitation. To include every deed and every circumstance of our lives in the “all things” is to miss the whole train of thought (see vv. 17-27, etc.). The “all” things work together for good only to (1) those who love God, and (2) those who are called according to his purpose. These are the ones mentioned in the verse. Those who love God are those who keep his commandments (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:2), and those who are called are those who have been called by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14); that is, those who have responded to it by obeying it (Acts 2:41, etcJ. This calling through the gospel and our response to it is referred to in 2 Timothy 1:9: “who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ.”The word “all” is limited in 1 Corinthians 9:22 where Paul said of himself: “I am become all things to all men.” Did Paul mean that he became anything (without limitation) to all men? Certainly not. Paul was simply saying that he complied with customs as a matter of expediency, if there was no sacrifice of truth. In other words, he could forego his personal rights and liberty, provided no principle of truth was violated or compromised.
The word “all” (Gr. pantas) in 2 Corinthians 9:13 is limited. The ministering to needy saints is the subject under consideration in this chapter (v. 1). This point is important to determine the context of verse 13. Paul wrote in verses 12 and 13: “For the ministration of this service not only filleth up the measure of the wants of the saints, but aboundeth also through many thanksgivings unto God; seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all.” Those who teach that a church is scripturally authorized to do unlimited benevolence seize upon the phrase, “unto them and unto all,” and conclude that the “all” are those (non-Christians) in addition to needy saints. The phrase “all men” in the King James Version is in italics and is therefore not in the Greek. To determine who are the “all” in verse 13, it is very important to note that the word “contribution” (ASV), “distribution” (KJV) is translated from the Greek noun koinonia, “fellowship.” The fellowship extended, then, is “unto them and unto all. ” The noun koinonia is found nineteen times in the Greek New Testament, and never denotes a communion or relationship of Christians with non-Christians. The meaning of pantas (all) is therefore obviously limited. “All” refers to other saints, saints in addition to those in Jerusalem. If “all” is to be interpreted to mean “all men” without limitation, then we cannot imagine how sizeable that contribution must have been! It would have been a contribution large enough to be extended to every man upon the face of the earth. The idea of the phrase “unto them and unto all” is that the “fellowship” contribution went to “them” (the poor among the saints in Jerusalem, Rom. 15:26), and beyond them it went “all” Jewish saints, creating thanksgiving and good will upon their part toward the Gentiles for their contribution of thoughtfulness and generosity. These are but a few examples where the word “all” is limited.
The word “all” in Philippians 4:13 is also limited. Paul wrote: “I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me. This is not an outburst of egotism. He is not saying that he can take a deep breath and jump to the moon, avert physical hunger and death; but rather, as we have seen in other passages, the statement must be kept in context. Thayer says that the plural panta, translated “all things” is: “of a certain definite totality or sum of things, the context showing what things are meant” (Greek-English Lexicon, p. 493). What Paul is saying is this: regardless of the circumstances in which he found himself (such as those described in vv. 10-12), by the help of God he could accomplish what God wanted him to do.
When we keep the text in context, we will avoid wild speculations and fanciful notions.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 21, p. 645
November 3, 1988