Once in a class at Freed-Hardeman University, my professor, Dowell Flatt, brought a scroll of papyrus to class to show us what some of the New Testament was written on. Out of nowhere he asked, “Rusty, can you see this scroll?” It is important to know that Rusty is blind.
For a moment he teased Rusty saying, “What’s the matter, if your faith was stronger you could see this… well I guess you just need to pray harder.” Then, he began the most fascinating discourse on Philippians 4.13 I had ever heard.
So often people convey a message that you can do everything through Christ who strengthens you; you can do it! But can you really do everything? Let’s take a closer look at the passage. They key word in this passage is iskuo which in a general sense means, “I am able.”
The thing about words, in Greek or in English, is that in different contexts they have different meanings. For instance, the word “bad” when used in its intended context means, “not good, terrible, or dreadful.” However in other contexts the word “bad” can mean, “good, cool, or tough.”
In a similar way the Greek word iskuo can take on different nuances of meaning. In the context of Luke 16.3 and 21.36 the word means, “to have physical strength enough for some purpose. In the context of Mark 2.17, it means to “be in good health”.
Now let us revisit Philippians 4.10-13, focusing on the context of iskuo:
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do [iskuo] everything through him who gives me strength.
In a very literal sense, the last verse says, “I am able in everything through the one who enables me.”
Given the context, we can see that Paul is “able” in hunger, wealth, being in need, and specific circumstances. My suggestion when you read this passage is to read, “I am able to face all conditions,” or “I can endure all things through the one who gives me strength.”
Why does this matter? Remember back to my story of Dr. Dowell Flatt and Rusty? It matters when one takes verse thirteen out of its context. When this happens, a world of problems may occur. One needlessly doubts their faith because they have no control over physiological problems.
Some with clinical depression, for instance, are told, “If only your faith were stronger you could be happy without that medicine.” Others with various physiological handicaps are not able to preach, teach, or serve, in the same ways that physically able people can.
One should not be discouraged because they have a handicap; on the contrary, they should take courage! Paul is saying in Philippians 4.13 that regardless of your situation you can endure through Christ who gives you strength.
- Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida (1989), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2 vols. (2d ed.; New York, NY: United Bible Societies), 79.64 [1:700].
- Walter Bauer, Frederick W. Danker, W.F. Arndt, and F.W. Gingrich (2000), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature (3d ed.; Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago), 484.
NOTE: Gary Reaves and his family are missionaries in Cuzco, Peru. Just recently they celebrated the baptism of several new people. You can follow the Cuzco Missions page on Facebook. You can also follow the work of the team on two of their blogs:
Above all else, keep them in your prayers.