You can’t actually “do all things” in Christ. Not the way you think you can anyway. I realize this sounds like sacrilege given the suburban spin we’ve put on this biblical expression, but it’s true. Paul did not intend some sort of personal triumphalism here. Flatly, the Apostle Paul couldn’t “do all things” either. Paul could not get out of prison – which is where he penned this verse (Philippians 4:13) - no matter how intensely he believed in Jesus. He was stuck there until God determined otherwise. But, he could “be imprisoned” in Christ who strengthened him to be imprisoned. Prison is such a good place to discover Christ’s sufficiency.
The true meaning of “all things” might disappoint contemporary Christians. But, it shouldn’t. The actual point is even more glorious than the suburban legend. It gets us so much closer to grace. We normally take it to mean something like, “I can do anything I set my mind to if I simply believe.” That is… I can achieve any personal goal by faith. Get this job. Win this game. Ace this test. But, the verse has little (or nothing) to do with our personal achievement in the face of severe odds. It’s not about our achievements at all. It’s about Christ’s achievement and a constant dependence on him regardless of one’s station in life - good, or bad.
Besides, there’s a real danger in applying it the way we’re prone to. What if you can’t “do” it? What if things don’t work out - no matter how much you believe? Your failure might call into question the goodness of God, or the sufficiency of Christ. It robs countless hurting and weak people of the truth here. There is power in weakness.
A more accurate translation of the principle is “I can trust in Christ (and the benefits of his life, death and resurrection) even when I can’t achieve a personal goal. I can fail to achieve my goals and still trust my Savior’s love. Or, I can have cancer. Or, I can lose everything. Or, I can be fired. I can “do all this” because of who Jesus is. It’s the unpredictable swings of life (want, prosperity) which Paul was able to traverse by focusing on the work of Christ. This is the “all things” he has in view here.
For Paul, Jesus’ righteous life made seasons of poverty seem like wealth and seasons of wealth seem like poverty. He could experience all these things without falling into despair on one side, or idolatry on the other.
Point is… Christ is sufficient even when I can’t change things. Or, when my circumstance has the potential to change me. I can be in the worst place of my entire life with joy and peace because Christ is infinitely better.
So, when I can’t change my state of affairs, the person of Christ sustains me. What Paul is saying goes way beyond the point of our usual rendering. “If I’m in a circumstance where there is nothing I can do, I can do still that in Christ.” I can do nothing, if need be, and keep Christ as the supreme object of my faith. The things we are able to do are much greater than personal goals. They are the things of life.
I’ve seen the truth of this verse lived out by people in the midst of life’s worst hardships. I’ve witnessed this truth come to life when people were near death. I have seen people who could do nothing actually do all things.
Recently, it was a beloved young mom in our church who was being divorced by her unbelieving husband living out the power of this verse. On a recent Sunday morning, per her request, she stood (festooned with the full support of her elders) before her church family as she explained her husband’s absence, sought the prayers of the body, and exalted the sufficiency of Christ.
The church rallied to her with unbelievable grace and compassion. Her faith was remarkable. It was hard to believe that she could be so poised in such a dark moment. But, this is Paul’s point. She was even able to go through a terrible divorce in Christ who strengthened her.
Afterwards, she sent this letter to her church leadership. I use it with permission.
Byron and Elders,
When I started to write this letter a week ago, it was a letter I was going to write to friends and family about what is going on in my marriage. I was writing about all the details of what’s been going on this past year. (Probably too much detail) I basically was writing a sob story of “look at me, look at my pain, and look at what my husband did to me.”
How wrong I was. So very wrong to even write such words. Very unloving…and if I might…very un- Christ like. Today (Sunday) I was lovingly reminded, encouraged and humbled that I am part of a body of believers. I am to use my gifts, my life, my TRIALS and my JOY (in my trials) to encourage the body to look to the Lord and not me.
I have had times this past year that I have felt that my suffering is not fair. Or I have felt that I have had good reason for the way I was reacting to my trial (when self pity would set in). Well, today I saw a body of believers—who did not know all the details—encourage another part of the body in a life altering trial. I didn’t know how to ask for help, or know how to allow someone else’s gift encourage me and redirect me to the Lord and see the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit all get the credit and all work in unity!
This letter I first wrote has been deleted. And now a new one is written thanking GOD for my trial. Thanking GOD for my suffering and for the ENDLESS amount of joy GOD has shown me in and through this. I know GOD was pleased today by our actions. Our church body’s eyes were looking ‘up’ at the Savior and not looking ‘at’ the situation. While I stood there, I actually ‘forgot’ all the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ that brought me to that place of standing there. I sensed an endless amount of peace from God, through the work of the Spirit and He calmed my anxious heart.
I don’t know how the Spirit was moving today in everyone else, and what He was doing in their hearts. I can just tell you that the SPIRIT was at work in my life to teach me to love others, love the lost (for I too was once a slave to sin), love the body of Christ (they have all been given gifts to be used to glorify GOD, not me), and ultimately love the Lord with all I am (while I was a sinner…and I still am, Christ died for me).
My prayer is now as David prayed in Psalm 27, and beautifully written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss:
“Lord Jesus You have shown me that only one thing is absolutely necessary, and that is the one thing I want to seek after with all my heart: that I may live in your presence every day of my life, that I may gaze upon Your beauty with a heart of worship and adoration, and that I may learn to know Your heart, Your ways, and Your will. To this supreme purpose I dedicate myself. By Your grace, I will make this the highest daily priority of my life. Amen”
I am honored and humbled to be apart of this body, this church, and under the faithful “insanity” (I mean that as a compliment) teaching of a humbled servant of our Lord. Thank you for standing with me today, all of you.
May God ALONE get the glory…
Byron Yawn is the senior pastor of community bible church in Nashville, Tennesse. He is the author of what every man wishes his father had told him, and the forthcoming suburbianity: can we find our way back to biblical christianity? (Harvest House) You can follow him on Twitter@byronyawn.