By Mike Willis
In recent issues, I have been studying Philippians 4 to learn principles of spiritual health which enable us to enjoy life’s best moments and to endure its adversities. We have previously emphasized that good spiritual health requires the following: (a) Rejoicing in the Lord; (b) Letting your moderation be known to all men; (c) Living with the awareness that the Lord is at hand; (d) Being anxious for nothing; (e) Thinking on things which are pure; (f) Being content with one’s circumstances. In this lesson, I want to emphasize that good spiritual health requires the confidence that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (4:13).
An Abused Verse
The positive mental attitude philosophy has used this verse to prop up their philosophy which teaches that man can do anything he thinks he can do. The positive mental attitude philosophy teaches that correct thinking releases powers enabling men to reach their own potentials. Typical of this human philosophy are the writings of Norman Vincent Peale who said, “Send out positive belief thoughts and they will strongly tend to bring back belief results” (You Can If You Think You Can 42). To generate these positive thoughts, Peale recommends the following technique:
As you walk down the street tonight I suggest that you repeat certain words which I shall give you. Say them over several times after you get into bed. When you awaken tomorrow, repeat them three times before arising. On the way to your important appointment say them three additional times. Do this with an attitude of faith and you will receive sufficient strength and ability to deal with this problem. . . .
Following is the affirmation which I gave him – “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). (The Power of Positive Thinking 14).
Paul was not teaching unlimited human potential when he said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” He knew there were limitations imposed on him by his native abilities, God’s providence, and external circumstances. To imply from this verse that man has the ability to accomplish anything he can think is to teach the omnipotence of man! R. Finlayson wrote,
That does not mean that we can
“Rift the hills or roll the waters,
Flash the lightning, weigh the sun.”
Such an omnipotence is not like us; it is only like the One, and such glory he cannot give to another…. It must mean that we can do all things such as are like us or can be expected of us (Pulpit Commentary: Philippians 182).
What the Verse Is Teaching
The Christian is subject to temptation, adverse circumstances, and human suffering. The Lord is promising strength to enable us to overcome every circumstance. There are a number of passages which confirm that this is true, including the following:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10: 13).
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4).
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you (Jn. 15:4,5,7).
Albert Barnes commented on this passage as follows:
From the experience which Paul had in these various circumstances of life, he comes to the general conclusion that he could “do all things.” He could bear any trial, perform any duty, subdue any evil propensity of his nature, and meet all the temptations incident to any condition of prosperity or adversity. His own experience in the various changes of life had warranted him in arriving at this conclusion; and he now expresses the firm confidence that nothing would be required of him which he would not be able to perform (Barnes Notes: Philippians 219).
From this knowledge Barnes added that we should learn these lessons:
(1) That we need not sink under any trial, for there is one who can strengthen us. (2) That we need not yield to temptation. There is one who is able to make a way for our escape. (3) That we need not be harassed, and vexed, and tortured with improper thoughts and unholy desires. There is one who can enable us to banish such thoughts from the mind, and restore the right balance to the affections of the soul. (4) That we need not dread what is to come. Trials, temptations, poverty, want, persecution, may await us; but we need not sink into despondency. At every step of life Christ is able to strengthen us, and can bring us triumphantly through (220).
Our strength is not in ourselves but in Christ. Our confidence is not in our own ability but in Christ. Were I leaning upon my strength alone, I would have no confidence that I could be victorious over sin. Relying on that strength which Christ provides, I have full assurance that I can win the victor.
There is no justification in excusing sin by such comments as “I am only human.” Comments such as this imply that sin is somehow inherent to our humanity, as if it were caused by a corrupt human nature, or imply that God did not provide sufficient help to enable us to resist sin’s temptations. Neither of these is true. Humans sin because they chose to sin, not because of an inherited defect or lack of divine grace.
Christ Strengthens Us
This and other passages teach that Christ strengthens us (cf. Col. 1:11; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:17). How does the Lord strengthen us? He does not act miraculously to give us strength. Here are some ways we are strengthened:
1. Through the word. David said, “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word” (Psa. 119:28).
2. Through our brethren. The Lord told Peter, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Lk. 22:32). Exhortation from and the good example of our brethren gives us strength to persevere.
3. Through prayer. Godly men prayed for God to give them strength (Neh. 6:9). God answers the prayers of his saints.
In addition to these things, God works providentially in the life of every man. The circumstances which men face strengthen him, if he will follow God’s word as he faces temptation.
I take courage from such statements as Paul made in this text – “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” I witness others whO have survived the struggles of life and lived faithfully to their God and know that I can do the same. They experienced the same trials common to man which I face and they overcame through faith in Christ.
I take courage from the promise of divine grace to help me in the time of need (1 Cor. 10: 13; Heb. 4:16). Knowing that God is with me, who can be against me?
The powerful spiritual principles which Paul taught in this chapter show us how he faced the adverse circumstances in his life, all the while maintaining his faithfulness to the Lord. We will do well to study them and take courage from the promises of God. Indeed, we too can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 21, pp. 642, 662
November 7, 1991