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Does Philippians 4:13 mean that we can do absolutely anything? Chuck McKnight, AiG–U.S., examines the biblical context behind Paul’s statement.
I hate to do this because of all of the emails that you guys receive, but here goes. In Philippians 4:13 it says that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. For example, does this mean that I can turn in to a bird and fly? Please help me understand this passage. Thank you.
Hello, Z.M. Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis, and thank you for your concern to rightly interpret Scripture. We must be careful to always examine verses according to their proper biblical context.
To understand the context of this verse, it is essential to read the verses that precede it. In the first few verses of Philippians 4, Paul urged his readers to trust God, stand firm, and always rejoice, no matter what their circumstances may be. He then pointed out the hardships he had personally suffered.
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. (Philippians 4:11–12)
Immediately following those statements, he clarified that he was only able to endure such things because Christ empowered him to do so.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
This is simply a personal testimony of the strength Jesus supplied Paul to bring him through his trials. The Greek word translated “can do” (ischuo) more precisely indicates having the strength needed. It comes from the root word, ischus, which means strength. Multiple literal translations, including Darby’s, Green’s, and Young’s, render the verse accordingly.
For all things I have strength, in Christ’s strengthening me. (Philippians 4:13, YLT)
So we see that this verse does not mean that we can do absolutely anything. Nothing in this context suggests that Jesus hands out miracles to accomplish absurdities or trivialities. Rather, it means that Christ gives strength to endure the difficulties we will face for serving Him.
Another account that has caused similar confusion describes the time Jesus spoke to a rich young man about eternal life. Jesus told the man that he should sell all he had and give to the poor. This saddened the man, because he had so many possessions (Mark 10:21–22).
Jesus then commented on how hard it is for the wealthy to be saved, saying, “
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). Obviously, it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,1 and the disciples realized this. They asked, “
Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26), to which Jesus responded with the following oft-misused statement:
With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27)
The context reveals that Jesus was referring to salvation. Humanly speaking, salvation is impossible, because there is nothing we can do to merit God’s grace. But salvation is not impossible for God. Jesus did not mean God can do even that which would defy logic or go against His own nature.
God is all-powerful, meaning that He can do all things that are possible. But there are some things He cannot do, such as create an uncreated being (a logical absurdity), lie (Titus 1:2), cease to exist (1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 4:9), or deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). It isn’t that God lacks the power to do something, but He is rational and only acts consistently with His perfectly good nature.
I hope this helps to demonstrate the importance of diligently examining Scripture as a whole. We must be careful not to “proof-text” by pulling individual statements out of context. God bless as you seek to study His word further.
Chuck McKnight, AiG–U.S.