When you buy faith apparel, whether it’s Christian shirt or Christian jewelry, it often has a Bible verse on it. Many of our shirts do, and today, we’re going to look at one of the most famous ones, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
If one were to make a list of misused Bible verses, this one might be at the top. Context is key to understanding and applying Holy Scripture to our lives, and the context for Philippians 4:13 makes its meaning different than many people use it. It’s not about having confidence that we can do anything we put our mind to. It’s about God’s strength, given to us in trouble. Here are some examples of how God has done that for his people
I Can Do All Things: St. Paul
Paul faced many dangers on his missionary journeys through the Roman empire. After he was converted, people plotted to kill him both in Damascus and in Jerusalem. When he traveled to Lystra to preach, Jews followed him and stoned him outside the city, but he didn’t die. Instead, he went on to preach even more.
In Philippi, a woman with an evil spirit was following Paul, pestering him. After he cast the evil spirit out, the authorities threw him in jail. Jews in Thessalonica gathered a mob to chase Paul. When they couldn’t find him, they attached Jason, with whom Paul was staying.
The list goes on and on, as Paul faces danger for the gospel. Despite the danger, he never fades from his mission. No matter how many times he was beaten or threatened, he kept going. That’s why he wrote the famous passage, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
I Can Do All Things: Perpetua
Perpetua lived during the reign of Septimus Severus. Christians were punished when they refused to worship the emperor and Roman gods. Trajan, the previous emperor did not actively seek out Christians to punish, but Septimus did. Perpetua was reported as a Christian and arrested.
In prison, she wrote a diary of her experiences up to the moment they took her away to die. While in prison, her father came to plead with her to deny that she was a Christian. She replied, “Father,’ said I, ‘do you see, let us say, this vessel lying here to be a little pitcher, or something else?’ And he said, ‘I see it to be so.’ And I replied to him, ‘Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ And he said, ‘No.’ ‘Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am, a Christian.’”
When they brought her to trial before Hilarianus, the procurator. He told her, “‘Spare the grey hairs of your father, spare the infancy of your boy, offer sacrifice for the well-being of the emperors.’ And I replied, ‘I will not do so.’ Hilarianus said, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And I replied, ‘I am a Christian.’” All she had to do to escape her punishment was offer a small sacrifice to the emperor. She would not.
The narrator takes over when they were taken to the amphitheater to be killed. He opens the narrative with these words, “The day of their victory shone forth, and they proceeded from the prison into the amphitheatre.” When they were killed by the wild beasts, Paul’s words came true, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
I Can Do All Things: Martin Baani
Contemporary Christians also face pain and persecution for the faith. Catholic Christians honor the leftover bread from Holy Communion as Christ’s body. When Martin Baani heard that a nearby Iraqi town would be taken by ISIS militants, he rushed to the church to rescue the sacrament, risking his life to ensure that it would not be desecrated.
Despite the threat that Christians face in Iraq, Baani decided to remain there as a priest. Despite continued threats to his safety and his life, he wants to serve God’s people as a priest. God’s grace causes him to stay in a place that many Christians have fled. Like Paul and Perpetua, Christ strengthens him. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
I Can Do All Things
Christians should be mindful of the stories of faithful Christians who have suffered and died for our faith. Their steadfast faithfulness should build our resolve to follow their example. They received strength from Christ just as we do. God’s grace promises that we can stand firm through all things, just like Paul, Perpetua, and Baani.
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