Philippians 4:13 (NIV 1984) – “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”
Stephen Curry is one of the best shooters in basketball history – THE greatest in the eyes of many.
Curry is also a professing Christian, and comes across as a refreshingly unapologetic but softly spoken guy who talks openly about his faith. He does that without being as off-putting as some people find Tim Tebow, whose down-on-one-knee ‘celebrations’ after scoring a touchdown made it seem like he thought God was calling the plays and confusing the defense just for him, as if the opposition team were somehow God’s enemies.
What those two athletes and many others share is an affinity for the apostle Paul’s words from God to the Christians in Philippi, when he told them that he could do “everything through [God] who gives me strength”. Tebow painted the reference on his face, while Curry has had UnderArmour put “I can do all things” on his branded sneakers.
It’s a refrain that both like to repeat to themselves to give them encouragement that whatever the odds, however badly things might be going, no matter the struggle…that they can, in fact, perform to their maximum and win the game.
And it reflects the misunderstanding of many, that we can say, ‘I can do anything through him who gives me strength’. Well guess what, Curry is still great, but his Warriors were 3-1 up in last season’s NBA finals before an historic Cleveland comeback led to a 4-3 defeat, with Curry’s performance markedly down. Meanwhile Tebow’s attempt at forging an NFL career failed, and he’s now trying to make it in baseball as a rookie at the ripe old age of 29.
So…did God fail to come through for them? Did they just need to trust him a bit more? By all accounts those two guys are hard-working to an almost spectacular degree and there’s no reason to question their trust in God. Which pretty much leaves us with one alternative: God didn’t promise either of them what they were hoping.
Which means he hasn’t made that promise to you, either. It is not true that God will enable you to do anything or everything you want to do. You will lose games, you may not get promotions you thought you deserved, you will fall short of your own standards many times, you may not marry the person you want. There will be countless times in your life when this twisted idea of the meaning of Philippians 4:13 is going to look like a lie.
And that’s the real danger: that people are fooled into thinking God’s up there just waiting to make sure they can achieve/earn/win/avoid/secure/retain whatever they want, if only they work hard and trust him for it. Then the first, second or tenth time they fail to get what they want, God looks like a liar and a fraud. Which makes this a big deal: we don’t get to annex God’s intended meaning depending on our preference – we need to understand what he was saying.
THE GRAIN OF TRUTH
Everything that you and I do – from the drawing of your next breath to the success of any of your relationships, through to the more obviously spiritual concept of being saved from sin, is thanks to God. It is only down to his grace and mercy that anything good happens to anyone, because God – as the author of creation – is the inventor and source of all that is good.
So it is true that ‘everything I do is through him who gives me strength’.
WHY IT DOESN’T MEAN WHAT PEOPLE WANT IT TO MEAN
In the context of Paul’s letter, he was thanking the Philippians for their gift, particularly as they hadn’t previously been able to give him anything. But to reassure them, even when he didn’t have enough food, the lack of a gift from them didn’t mean he was “in need”, because he had learned to be content even when he didn’t have enough food.
In fact, Paul said he’d learned to be content whatever the circumstances, good or bad. Does that sound unlikely, even impossible? Well…yes! Paul knew it sounded impossible for him to be content when he didn’t have enough food, and pointed out that he “can do everything through him who gives me strength” – i.e. he can even keep his joy in God when there’s no dinner on the table.
WHY THE TRUTH IS BETTER THAN THE LIE
In our attempt to make life on earth look better, we tend to grab God’s promises about our joy in Him and our life in heaven, smash them up and reassemble them in the form of pitiful substitutes. Philippians 4:13 is about our potential with God’s strength to cling on to him even though our struggles in life might be tempting us to pull away from Him.
Because the most important thing in your life is your relationship with God, the promise of this verse provides a great comfort and hope to those who are struggling to hold onto their faith in difficult circumstances. If Paul can hold onto his when he didn’t even have enough to eat, then there’s hope for you whatever your problems are. Don’t trust in your own strength, but in God’s strength to give you the will and the ability to hold on to him while he never lets you go. That’s an infinitely greater promise
Stephen Curry is most likely going to win a lot more basketball games, and possibly more NBA championships. But it’s not because he said the magic words of Philippians 4:13. That verse provides him and you with the promise of infinitely greater blessing than any number of world championships.