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.