A Scripture study from Caring, part one of four.

Christians often misunderstand, misquote or misuse verses in the Bible. We allow media and art to provide the mental imagery. I am guilty and so are you. It is just so easy to search for a topic, read it in our language—thousands of years away from its context—and apply it, adding in a dash of our own biases, worldviews and clever memes. And it is sometimes as simple as information becoming “truth” by virtue of believing it to be so. There’s a ripple effect as larger and larger groups of people say, “Yes. Sure. Absolutely…I think.”

For example: Did you know that while the Bible tells us about angels, it never mentions that they have wings or that people become angels when they die? And I’m sad to say they never sang at Jesus’ birth, but rather spoke their announcement. We’ve all sung the Christmas carol for so long that we are sure that “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Here’s the truth: Angels are God’s “messengers.” They differ from the four-faced, four-winged cherubim and six-winged seraphim (translated as “the burning ones”), who are creatures of a different sort. The role of seraphim and cherubim is to sit at the throne and worship God, while appearing quite spectacularly in visions, including Ezekiel’s. But I’m afraid that those sweet, innocent babies with wings painted on cathedrals worldwide do not ever appear in Scripture. Not once.

Already, you may be clenching your jaw—or worse yet, fists—awaiting a challenge of your deeply held beliefs. It is not my intention here to offend, but to look beyond our reckless culture-clash theology. As a disclaimer, I do want to let you know that I have never spoken to an angel, so the possibility that I am wrong exists, and yet I want to be faithful to the Word we are given.

In this study series, we will look deeper at commonly misunderstood Scripture for important context to find a faithful interpretation of God’s Word.

We believe that all 66 books of the Bible were inspired and authored by God through human writers, so we understand the Scriptures in their original manuscripts are without fault and error. The Bible is not a collection of quotes and great one-liners. It is literally the Word of God. When the Bible speaks, God is speaking. Therefore, we approach the Bible with care and intentionality.

Part 1: Philippians 4:13 is not about personal success

Behind the scenes

Read what Scripture says in Philippians 4.

Beyond the surface

You know the verse. You’ve heard it time and time again. It’s perhaps the world’s most misquoted Scripture. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).

Yet, this verse has nothing to do with personal success or endeavors. It was never meant to be used as the athlete’s mantra. Paul did not write this line to be used as a confirmation that God stands behind your specific plans. There is so much more!

The book of Philippians was written from a dark prison cell and delivered by Epaphroditus, a bond-slave, to the house-church in Philippi where those facing death for their faith were reading every word and holding on to grace and the hope of Christ in desperate times.

Paul had been chained, beaten, lived in poverty and yet he rejoiced. How is this possible? He rejoices? Really?

Paul says he can be content because he knows where supernatural strength comes from. That strength that shows up in the dark hours of the night when it seems that tomorrow will never come. It is faith and trust beyond reason; contentment come what may.

This is deeper and more important for us to grasp than we can conceive. In context, this verse is part of a chapter that is embedded into a book and is given to a particular audience that was on the verge of the entire world changing while facing the imminent death of their church founder. Paul is providing a treatise on courage that will sustain them on days when their world seems to be falling apart. And there is contentment in a circumstance that is unthinkable. Here’s where the truth of this verse absolutely comes alive; Paul is saying:

“I can do this.”

“I can go through my painful, dark day.”

“I can face my future, no matter what the outcome.”

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

And as he writes these words he frames hope for those who are also facing uncertainty. “You can face tomorrow, too!” This is ours because of the supernatural strength that only comes from Christ.

Further backup:

  • Acts 20:30. Scripture will be distorted by false teachers, even from inside the church.
  • Isaiah 6:2, Ezekiel 1:23 (Seraphim). Ezekiel 10:1-20; I Samuel 4:4; Psalm 80:1; Ezekiel 1:10 and 41: 18,19 (Cherubim). There are fallen and unfallen angels.
  • Daniel 10:21, 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7-10. Gabriel is one of the principal messengers of God, his name meaning “hero of God.” He was entrusted with important messages such as those delivered to Daniel (Daniel 8:16; 9:21), to Zechariah (Luke 1:18-19), and to Mary (Luke 1:26-38).
  • Philippians 4:4-13 for a broader look at verse 13. 

Between the lines

  • It has been said that there are two great dangers facing believers internationally today: Poverty and wealth. The danger with poverty is that one becomes so discouraged with God. Those with wealth become self-sufficient apart from God. What do you think is the greatest danger facing Christians today?
  • Our interpretation of Scripture is influenced by our experiences and worldview. For example: A man who knew a Christian with bad behavior decides Christians can never be trusted…ever. What are your thoughts on this?
  • Our interpretation of Scripture can be flawed by picking and choosing topical verses to apply to our lives. What can be done to better represent God’s Word?
  • What deeper meaning does Philippians 4:13 take on after knowing Paul’s circumstance and the broader implications for the suffering church?
  • Can you say with Paul, “I have the secret of contentment?”
  • Today you may need God’s strength as you face a situation (relationally, financially, spiritually, economically, psychologically) where you are overcome with overwhelm. You are not alone; God promises to be with you in the “deepest waters.” Philippians 4:13 is for you today. 

Do Good: 

  • Download the full study and find more like it from Caring in the Scripture study library.
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