Christ Strengthens Us
When I first became a believer in the fall of 1997, there was this brother who attended the same small group as I. He was a collegiate-level baseball pitcher, and he told me that before every pitch, he quoted Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I had very little Bible knowledge or understanding of the background of the book of Philippians at that time, but I wasn’t convinced that that verse was something Paul had in mind as something to say before throwing a ball. In fact, I was so turned off by the misuse of this verse in sporting events that I eventually took this glorious truth from God’s Word and just put in on the shelf. Every time I would come to it in my own Bible reading, I would just kind of read through the verse and not think too deeply about it. For twenty-one years, I basically neglected this great truth from Scripture.
But then last month, during a five-mile jog on a sunny day, I was listening to a sermon when the truth of Philippians 4:13 hit me in a way like it never had before. The truth that I can do all things through Christ and that Christ will be the one to strengthen me was both glorious and shameful to me at the same time.
The glorious truth of the verse is found in the experience of the one who penned it. Paul experienced a great amount of persecution in his lifetime—beatings, whippings, stoning, shipwreck, snake bitten, slandered, without food, deserted by friends, imprisoned, and many others. He also had a thorn in the flesh and experienced physical ailments, such as the time when he preached the gospel to the Galatians (Gal 4:13). He experienced what it was like to be strengthened by Christ during those difficult times, because he needed to be strengthened so that he could endure to the end. Philippians 4:13 was indeed being misused by my friend. It was not meant to help him pitch well. But it was meant to be a foundation to stand upon when suffering and difficulty come, whether due to suffering for the gospel or suffering as a believer in a fallen world.
The shameful truth for me is how much I’ve neglected this great verse in my own life. I have experienced difficulties and suffering during my life as a believer, though nowhere near the extent that Paul experienced. As a missionary who has resided in one of the most polluted areas of the world, I’m daily reminded of the effects that pollution has had on my lungs. It’s a cost that we count, having been told by medical professionals that we will most likely die 10-15 years earlier than our American peers, and it will be death most likely from a cancer-related illness. But I’ve missed out on applying this great truth from Philippians 4:13 during the last 15 years of being overseas on those days when the effects of pollution are felt more. And that is a shame; it’s my own loss. As I sit here today, I’m so thankful that God used the preaching of his word to make that truth alive in my own life as I look forward to the future and persevering in the faith.
Once my mind connected with this word strengthen, I started seeing it in other parts of the Bible that I was reading, and those verses furthered my resolve to go deeper into being strengthened by Christ during difficulty and suffering.
Ezra and Nehemiah were both strengthened by the Lord (Ezra 7:8; 8:31; Neh 2:8; 6:9) as they strived to rebuild Jerusalem under harassment and persecution. Isaiah says God strengthens the weak hands (Isa 35:3) and the powerless (Isa 40:29). Paul mentions being strengthened by God or the Lord Jesus in almost every letter he wrote (Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 1:8; 2 Cor 1:21; Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13; Col 1:11; 2 Thess 3:3; 1 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 4:17). And then there’s this verse from Peter:
Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little (1 Pet 5:10).
Did you catch it? After you have suffered a little. God will strengthen us, through the Spirit, in our suffering, so that we can endure until the end. Praise God that righteousness and strength belong to him (Isa 45:24)!
What suffering are you experiencing these days to which this great truth from Philippians 4:13 needs to be applied? Stand on this truth: You can do all things through Christ. He is the one who will strengthen you.
And then give praise and honor to God for providing that strength.