Twisted Scripture Number 5: Philippians 4:13 is About Enduring Persecution

By Brannon Howse

The Scripture: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

The Twist: Too often construed to mean, “You’re going to do wonderful and great things.”


Athletes like this verse. In fact, I watched a news story not long ago about some cheerleaders who liked to write Bible verses on a banner-sized sheet of paper. Then the football team would rip through the paper banner and run onto the field. I’m fairly certain I saw Philippians 4:13 on the banner in one of the video clips of this team. Hmmm.

We often hear this verse used that way, don’t we? People like to use it when they’re talking about accomplishing something –getting a good job, making a great grade on a test. And indeed, as believers we do pray that the Lord will bring things to our memory if we’re responsible enough to study and to prepare for the test, that the Lord will help us remember what we studied and prepared.

There’s nothing wrong with praying, “Lord, help me to remember what I studied. Help me to do the best I can do on this test. I’ve been responsible, and I’ve studied, so please help me stay calm and recall the information and the knowledge I have been studying the last few days.” There’s nothing wrong with an athlete praying before he or she takes the field in hopes of playing a good game and in wanting safety for everyone. However, using Philippians 4:13 as some kind of “life verse” that says, “You’re going to do wonderful and great things,” is not the context and meaning of this verse.

About a year before writing this book, my wife and I were out to dinner with another couple. As the waitress served our food, refilled our tea glasses, and brought us more bread, I noticed that she had Philippians 4:13 tattooed on her arm. At one point I said to her, “I couldn’t help but notice the Bible verse tattooed on your arm. Do you know what the verse means?”

She laughed as if to say, “Of course, I know what it means; it’s tattooed on my arm, isn’t it?”

But I persisted, “Do you know the context of the verse?”

She didn’t.

I said, “Paul is writing from prison. He is saying, ‘I can endure all things. I can endure, persevere, and be content even if I am experiencing persecution and imprisonment because it is Christ who gives me strength to do so.’ It’s not a verse that tells me ‘I can slam dunk a basketball, that since I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, anyone can be a sports hero.’”

Look, on a good day, I’m 5-foot-6-inches tall. I can’t slam dunk a basketball. The Philippians verse is not to be used like that. And yet, that’s what people do with it.

In truth, this verse highlights the reality that we can endure a lot of things—like persecution, suffering hardship, trials, and tribulations—through Christ who gives us strength. How am I so sure? Let’s go to Philippians 4 and do our context check in the preceding verses. Philippians 4:11-12 say this:


Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.


Then he says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul’s line of thinking says, “I can endure a little; I can endure a lot; I can endure suffering and trials and yet persevere and be content through Christ who strengthens me.”

“I can do all these things,” is correctly construed by the Greek as “to be strong,” or “to have power or strength” through Christ who strengthens me. In fact, we see Paul repeating this same theme in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, where he writes:


And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.


Paul believes the Lord has given him this trial, this tribulation—what he called “a thorn in the flesh”—so that he wouldn’t become exalted, too high-minded, egotistical, or proud.

The apostle goes on to say:


Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most assuredly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distress, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


That is completely consistent with Philippians 4:13. Why? Because of Christ, we can endure even persecution. Philippians 4:13 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 really complement each other.

Twisted Verse Number 5, then, is about continuing in the faith, enduring, and being content even in the face of trials, tribulations, and persecution. It doesn’t mean what the prosperity preachers say, that “I can do all these great things, and slam dunk basketballs, and make a million dollars a year, and win this football game, and get the corner office.” Please don’t do their twist.

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