Sermons

FILTER BY:

← back to list

Feb 07, 2021

All Things?

All Things?

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: February 2021

Category: Deepening Our Understanding of Familiar Passages

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) is the stuff of sports cliches and personal achievement. While we may indeed draw a good bit of strength from our faith for our individual pursuits, what Paul is after is much deeper. By “all things” Paul isn’t just speaking of anything. He is speaking of worthy things. He is also pointing not only to God’s strength, but his own growth in maturity and humility. Paul is showing us that he has, in some ways, grown up. He is sending less vitriol toward his rivals and accepting their imperfect gifts for a greater cause and calling. He is growing more at peace with the brokenness around and within him, even while standing firm in what is important, and delighting in the graces he experiences. In doing so, Paul gives us an invitation to likewise grow up.
 Today's Scripture

First Reading

Psalm 46:1-3

1 God is our refuge and strength,

   a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

3 though its waters roar and foam,

   though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

 

Second Reading

Philippians 4:13

13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

Today's Sermon

All Things?

Where I went to seminary, there was a tradition that for one of the final chapel services of the year each senior would submit one Bible verse to be read aloud.  This sweeping tour of the Bible was quite moving.  You’d hear beautiful lines from the outset of Genesis, challenging and comforting words of the prophets, abiding words of the Psalms, quotes from Jesus himself, memorable lines from Paul…and then one year a senior slipped this one into the mix, Philippians 4:14, “In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.”  The chapel roared with laughter as the verse was read aloud amid so many profound verses. 

That student was intentionally taking the verse out of context to offer a playful commentary on the seminary experience.  Unintentionally, we use verses out of context all the time, which is one of the reasons for this series on understanding familiar verses more deeply.  This is not to say some even singular lines cannot hold meaning beyond their context.  There are lines that stand alone and point to transcendent truths.  Yet we should be careful.

Last week I mentioned the appearance of John 3:16 at sporting events, and while I didn’t intend to return to sports, it just so happens that this week’s verse often shows up in the arena of play.  Athletes write it on their gear.  Others make it their mantra:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).   Those who achieve great or difficult things often have a capacity to reach down deeper than some of the rest of us to find this reserve of strength, endurance, or extra commitment, and far be it from me to disparage their sources, especially when linked with a higher power.  I have no reason to believe anyone does this with anything but good faith.  But, is this really what Paul is talking about?  Athletic prowess?  Personal achievement?  Worldly success?  Achieving one’s own goals?  Probably not. 

No, certainly not.  New Testament scholar Lynn Cohick writes, “This verse is so misused because many Christians interpret ‘all things’ as ‘anything,’ not ‘all the things Paul has talked about.’ It’s not a blanket endorsement that God will support anything we set out to do and empower us to do whatever impossible things we can imagine. It’s an assurance that we can do whatever God calls us to do, not whatever we decide to do.”[1]  It’s probably more helpful to understand the line to be saying, “I can do all these things through Christ who strengthens me” with “these things” referring to a list of things Paul has endured, suffering for his faith, going hungry, being poor, all as a result of the consequences of living out his faith. 

Lest you feel an inspirational verse has been stripped from you, the meaning of the passage is even more powerful when more deeply understood even for us today.  Paul is nearing the end of his life.  He finds himself imprisoned, and he carries a more reflective matured tenor than some of his earlier letters.  Throughout much of his life, Paul runs hot, but as he looks back, he starts to soften a bit, granting the benefit of the doubt to his rivals.  He concedes that they were operating out of good faith, which is quite a gracious concession considering the ways in which his rivals truly undermined his life and work.  Paul still stands up to those working in selfish ambition, but he is no longer hooked by them.  Instead, Paul spends his energy remembering fondly and with gratitude the Philippians, where he planted one of his communities. 

It's from within this context that he writes,

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil 4:10-13) 

And, yes, directly after this, he writes, “In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress” (v. 14).  Paul is not reflecting here on the ability of his faith in Christ to accomplish all his goals or change his circumstances.  Rather, with a more matured spirituality, he is witnessing to how his faith helps him endure whatever circumstances in which his life’s faith places him.  Just like the 46th Psalm acknowledges that the world will shake, Paul is espousing a faith onto which you can hold in such times.

In what you heard and the words which precede it, Paul is saying, among other things:

  • I can stand firm without lashing out
  • I can grow and evolve
  • I can face my own death
  • I can be gentle – that comes earlier in vs. 5, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone”
  • I can not get lost in worry and be persistent in supplication, asking in prayer
  • I can accept my circumstances, which is not to say we have to affirm them, but rather be honest about them and respond as faithfully as possible

When he says I can do “all things” he is saying I can do these things.

What would you say you can do?  What would you like to be able to say?  Our faith does not function in the service of our own egos.  What does it allow us to say?  I can…do and be what?  What if meditating on this became your practice this week?

It shouldn’t be lost on us that the next verse says, “In any case it was nice of you to share my distress” (v. 14) for it reveals a certain vulnerability that stands in direct opposition to the somewhat unevolved puffing of the chest that “I can do all things” connotes in contemporary society, which lauds the mythological self-reliant hero.  Paul is both holding on loosely, “In any case it was nice of you…” and honoring the necessary companionship, not doing it all alone, “to share in my distress.”  In your list of “I cans,” can you include the sharing of distress?  Because that’s no joke.

            Amen.

[1] https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/philippians-4-13

Quotes, Questions & Prompts for Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
-Philippians 4:13

“This verse is so misused because many Christians interpret ‘all things’ as ‘anything,’ not ‘all the things Paul has talked about.’ It’s not a blanket endorsement that God will support anything we set out to do and empower us to do whatever impossible things we can imagine. It’s an assurance that we can do whatever God calls us to do, not whatever we decide to do.”
- Lynn Cohick

1. In what context have you encountered this verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? How does this framing define/limit this verse’s potential meaning?

2. Can we truly do anything? If not, then what could this verse be describing?

3. How does Christ strengthen us?

4. How have you matured spiritually throughout your life?

5. How have you learned to be less harsh toward others and more accepting of life’s nuances?