Summary: Philippians 4:13 does not say that we can literally do anything. What it does say, though, is that a super-powered God will willingly and repeatedly share His strength with us when things get difficult.
Superheroes are a multi-million dollar enterprise. Superhero movies have more than 13 billion dollars in revenue since 1978 -- and that’s just the movies. Comic book sales in 2015 alone have reached 334 million dollars -- and the year’s not even done yet! In addition, the numbers I just mentioned were for the United States only -- global numbers are much larger. Go into the children’s clothing department at any store and you’ll find superheroes on everything from t-shirts and pants to diapers, underwear, socks, and shoes.
The news is not all about money, though. Children all over the country pretend to be superheroes while they play. They tie a towel around their neck and run around their yard, pretending to be Superman. What many do, though, is injure themselves while pretending to be a superhero.
My brother-in-law tried to fly when he was a boy by jumping off of his bunk bed. He had a blanket tied around his shoulders and wore his underpants outside his clothes. He ended up landing on his dresser and broke several bones.
I saw an article online where another boy tried to climb down the wall of his apartment while wearing a Spiderman costume. He thought he would stick to the wall like Spiderman does because he had his costume on! He ended up falling head first out of the window. He had some pretty major bruising and broke his hand, but otherwise was OK.
There is even a full-on study at the National Institute of Health discussing this. It repeatedly has entertaining phrases like, “The children we saw have all had to contemplate on their way to hospital that they do not in fact possess superpowers.” and “Three [boys] were injured after initiating flight without having planned for landing strategies.”
People like superheroes because they like the idea of being exceptional in some way. People like the thought that they have a secret strength or ability that allows them to do something spectacular -- and that no one else can do. All superheroes have some superpower that no one else has. Spiderman has webs, Wolverine has his claws, Batman has an eternal bad mood and gravelly voice, and Superman can do just about anything.
There’s nothing wrong with reading superhero comics or watching the movies. The danger lies, though, when we try to actually become the superheroes. I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to jump off your roof with a towel wrapped around your neck (though that’s still true), I’m saying that we should never try to rely only on our own strength to do anything.
The Bible speaks to this in a verse that many people use incorrectly and out of context. Philippians 4:13 says, “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” The fact that Christ is the one who gives us all strength is not in question here -- what many people have trouble with is the first part. “I can do everything”.
Let’s look at the context for a moment.
The book of Philippians is really a letter. Letters at this time were not organized the way they are now, though. A letter we would right now goes to, message, from. The message itself would include all kinds of information, all mixed together. For example:
Please tell Billy I said thanks for helping me last week. I heard you guys were having a specific problem in your area, though. Here is my advice...
A letter from Paul’s era, though, was organized much differently. It went from, to, message. The message was split into the main point of the letter (what was the writer trying to say) and personal thoughts unrelated to the main point. For example:
This is my advice concerning the problems you’ve been having in your area.
Also, please tell Billy I said thanks for helping me last week.
It’s a little bit different than how we think of a letter now, but it’s important to understand the difference because Philippians 4:13 is in the last chapter of the book. That means that the entire chapter is devoted to personal thoughts and greetings from Paul to the members of the church in Philippi.
Let’s start at verse 10. “10How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.”