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Twisted scripture: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

Philippians4.13

(NOTE: This is the third in a series of blog posts I am doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.)

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13, NKJV

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most beloved verses in the Bible. Sports teams emblazon it on their uniforms to inspire them to win games, and business people quote it to inspire their sales force. So what is the problem with that? A closer look at the verse shows that such interpretations violate the cardinal rule of Bible interpretation: context. So let’s put the verse back into its context and unpack it.
The apostle Paul was in jail when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He stated in the letter that he could die there for the gospel (Philippians 1:12-13, 20-21). In the last chapter of the letter, Paul talked about his suffering in prison, and said, “…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content–whether well-fed or hungry whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, HCSB). From the context, it is obvious that Paul was not talking about winning games or setting sales records. In fact, he didn’t even ask to change his circumstances, to break out of jail. Instead, he was talking about contentment in the midst of his circumstances.
Taken out of context, people often stress the phrase “I am able to do all things,” as if this is a guarantee that we can climb the highest mountain and swim the deepest sea. But taken in the context of Paul’s contentment, despite his imprisonment, the whole verse makes sense. The stress is not on being able to do anything, but on being able to do all things (including handling bad things) through Christ. That is, whatever I face in the physical world, I can face it with with the spiritual strength that Christ gives me.
Understanding the context does not mean Philippians 4:13 should no longer inspire you, or that it cannot be a theme for sports teams or business people. It can. It can inspire the team that has lost to get up and go again. It can inspire the business that has failed not to quit. Just remember that this verse is more about Christ than self, more about hope than hype, and more about rising from the bottom than about climbing to the top.

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Twisted scripture: “God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

WomanOverworked

(NOTE: This is the second in a series of blog posts I am doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.)

As a hospital chaplain, I seek to guide patients to find the spiritual strength to handle their problems. After hearing their story, I sometimes ask, “How are you handling that?” Many people will reply, “Well, God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle.” Others will say, “The Bible says God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.” That sounds nice, but it’s not what the Bible says! People get this idea from a misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here is what the entire verse says [italics mine]:

“No temptation has overtake you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV

Many people seem to think that this verse says that God will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can bear. But read the verse again. Is that what it says? No! It says God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. Some people correctly argue that the Greek word can be translated “tested” or “tried,” instead of “tempted.” However, almost all translations prefer the word “tempted” in this verse. Why? Because of the context. A rule of thumb for Bible interpretation is to read the context. So when we read the whole chapter, we see that 1 Corinthians 10 is about temptation. The first part of the chapter gives a series of warnings against falling into disobedience through unbelief. Verse 12 warns, “So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.” Fall into what? Temptation. And verse 14 says the solution to the temptation is to “flee.” So the context of 1 Corinthians 10:13 shows that it is about temptation.

But if 1 Corinthians 10:13 does not say God won’t put on us more than we can bear, do other verses teach this? Ironically, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” In other words, God put more on him than he could handle! But he goes on to say in the next verse, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The scripture frequently says that when we cannot handle things, God can give us the strength we need (See 1 Samuel 30:6; Philippians 4:13).  (Unfortunately, Philippians 4:13 is also misinterpreted, and we’ll discuss how in the next blog post.)

Here is the bottom line: God is not saying that we won’t face more than we can handle, but He is saying that He will give us the spiritual strength to handle whatever we face.