Tuesday January 6, 2009
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Phil 4:13.
Here is one of the greatest motivating verses of all time. Anyone attempting anything new—whether a new project or coping with some setback—should be heartened to think they need not fail. But the text raises two questions: what does “everything” include, and how do we measure success? In regard to the first question, it must be obvious that “everything” should be qualified. For instance, it surely does not include murder, deceit, idolatry, slander . . . you get the picture! It must include those things that are constructive and, recognizing the Christian focus, that also please God. We can hardly expect God to support those things that are displeasing to him.
But is this what today’s particular text is referring to? As usual, context is all important to ensure an accurate understanding. If we refer to what goes before and after, Paul is first claiming that he can be content with plenty or in need, whatever life throws at him. Afterward he thanks the Philippian Christians for supporting him in his need. Thus Paul is talking about coping with the ups and downs of life with God as his partner. He is not referring to projects of personal ambition—even “Christian” ones.
This helps with the second question: how do we measure success? To come to a meaningful answer we must recognize that both adversity and prosperity can tempt us to deal with life on our own. Clearly, adversity may suggest that God doesn’t care and seduce us away from him. On the other hand, prosperity may suggest that we can control life for ourselves and have no need of him. Either of these solutions makes nonsense of the text, for dispensing with him means he is not there to strengthen us. Ann and I recognize that if we are to cope successfully with the uncertainty we face, our best chances are to face it with him.