Beliefs Culture Ethics Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Philippians 4:13: How many Christians misuse the iconic verse

Tim Tebow is one of many famous Christians to use Philippians 4:13 as an inspiration for winning. - Image courtesy of StefanRalle (
Tim Tebow is one of many famous Christians to use Philippians 4:13 as an inspiration for winning. - Image courtesy of StefanRalle (

Tim Tebow is one of many famous Christians to use Philippians 4:13 as an inspiration for winning. – Image courtesy of StefanRalle (

On July 27, 2009, the cover of “Sports Illustrated” featured an arresting image of Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow. The headline—“Tim Tebow: Man of Many Missions”—riffed on the way he’d created a fan frenzy with his unique blend of faith and football. The championship quarterback seemed poised to jump off the glossy cover with pursed lips that oozed determination and a simple Bible verse scribbled within the black grease underneath his eyes: “Phil. 4:13.”

Tebow’s highly churched Southern fan base didn’t need to look up the passage. No, most of them knew it by heart: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most popular verses in any of the 66 books of the Christian Bible, having been printed on millions of key chains and t-shirts, cellphone cases and coffee mugs. (If one wanted to argue the trinketization of Christianity, this Bible verse would be a good starting point.)

But it also one of the misunderstood, misused, and misinterpreted.

Like Tebow, Philippians 4:13 functions as a kind of mystical incantation for many Christians. They recite the passage when they need to draw power from another place to defeat an enemy or conquer a difficult task. It’s a talisman like Green Lantern’s ring or He-Man’s sword.

Need an example? Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest evangelical mega-church in America provided the following commentary on Philippians 4:13 in the January 21, 2013 edition of his “Today’s Word” devotional:

Most people tend to magnify their limitations. They focus on their shortcomings. But scripture makes it plain: all things are possible to those who believe. That’s right! It is possible to see your dreams fulfilled. It is possible to overcome that obstacle. It is possible to climb to new heights. It is possible to embrace your destiny. You may not know how it will all take place. You may not have a plan, but all you have to know is that if God said you can…you can!

I’m not trying to use Joel Osteen as a punching bag—surely enough Christian commentators have already done enough of that—but rather using him as an example of the way many Christians today understand and interpret this verse. For them, the “all things” that Christ empowers them to accomplish includes fulfilling their dreams, climbing to new heights, and embracing their destinies.

Do you want that job promotion? To find your soul mate? Have better sex with your spouse? Make more money?  No problem. You can accomplish “all things through Christ.”

Unfortunately, this way of interpreting and applying Philippians 4:13 couldn’t be further from its actual meaning. To understand what Paul, the author of Philippians, actually meant, we have to read the verse in context.

Philippians is one of the “prison epistles,” which is to say, it was written during one of the many times Paul was a jailbird. So it isn’t surprising that the book draws heavily on the themes of humility and self-sacrifice. When you imagine Paul penning this letter in a dank first-century prison cell—not exactly the new heights and destiny imagined above—you already begin to feel uncomfortable about popular interpretations.

But more than the setting, we must recognize that Philippians 4:13 is part of a larger idea. When we look at verses 11 and 12, the thought begins to take shape:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Paul isn’t telling Christians that they should dream bigger dreams; he is reminding them that they can endure the crushing feeling of defeat if those dreams aren’t realized. He’s not encouraging Christians to go out and conquer the world; he’s reminding them that they can press on when the world conquers them.

Image courtesy of Bethany House

Image courtesy of Bethany House

As Dr. Eric Bargerhuff writes in The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, “[Philippians 4:13 is] not really about who has the strength to play to the best of their abilities in a sporting contest…. This verse is about having strength to be content when we are facing those moments in life when physical resources are minimal.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not teach “God will give you the strength to do whatever you set your mind to.” (Actually, anytime a foundational view in your theology begins with, “God will give you”, stop and do a double-check.) [tweetable]God is not a heavenly bellhop or divine sugar daddy or cosmic power plant to fuel your dream-quest.[/tweetable] Instead, the Bible teaches, God is a sustainer when life feels unsustainable.

And if you’re like me, this is a “good news” message. Because my experience is that life is messy and thorny and unpredictable and chock full of disappointments. Most of them, a result of my own doing. I don’t need a God who motivates me to pursue my career dreams or chase down opportunities for personal advancement. I possess that drive on my own. Instead, I need a God who hunkers down in life’s trenches with me, who isn’t afraid to get mucky and messy and wade with me through tragedy and pain and failure.

The God of the Bible—Jesus—is better than we’ve imagined because he gives us what we actually need: strength to survive our moments of weakness and a sense of freedom even in life’s prisons.

Go write that under your eyes.


About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • Essentially, Paul is saying “I can endure all I am going through here in prison through Christ who strengthens me”, as opposed to saying “I can do all things – like bust out of prison tonight with Lefty, Johnny Big Ears, and Killer – through Christ who strengthens me. See you all soon as I give the guards the slip.”


    P.S. The Bible doesn’t mean whatever people want it to mean, no matter how much they wish it did.

  • Interesting. Thanks for passing this along. You did a good job adding to the conversation, I think, with an investigation of the languages. I didn’t even think about that.

  • Interesting.
    I’m interested to find out how you know what Paul was thinking? He died quite a while ago. This is a letter translated from an ancient language, written in a time/culture you never lived in. You’ve read it & now you know exactly what was going on inside his head? You’re a magician…or a superhero. How do you know these things? Sounds to me like you’re as certain of yourself as Tim.

  • Of course Philippians 4:13 is misinterpreted !!!!
    Name one verse of the Bible that isn’t!

    The whole Bible can be summed up as, “oops, not exactly.”

  • I totally agree with you that a verse has to be considered within its context, but sometimes, God gives us a story, even if a verse is taken out of context. God did that for me with Phil 4:13. I was studying for the California Bar; Pass rates for law schools such as the one I attended were abysmal. Philippians 4:13 became my anthem. I quoted it to myself when ever I was feeling overwhelmed. The morning of the first day of the bar, I got online to do my quiet time, and the normal site I went to was down, so I went to a Chuck Swindoll site because I needed something quick before I walked across the street to the convention center. That day’s devotion’s title: I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I wasn’t in prison, but the verse was there when I needed it. And I passed the bar on the first try.

  • Atheist Max: How about John 11:35, ‘Jesus wept’ … I’m pretty sure that means what it says it means. 🙂

  • No Ralph,
    I don’t even think you can be sure about John 11:35.

    “Jesus wept” contradicts about 30 other things in the Bible about how God does not ‘weep’ because presumably God cannot ‘regret’ as he makes no mistakes. Only a God who makes a mistake can regret.

    A perfect god cannot ‘regret’ therefore a perfect god cannot truly weep.
    If Jesus is God, he cannot weep.

  • All you have to do is claim “Jesus is God” and the whole Bible unravels into a sea of various interpretations – because “God” is simply unknowable, undefinable and completely MALLEABLE.

    The Bible makes no sense as anything other than fiction and myth.

  • I don’t have a back copy of a 2009 SI to read the article or if he even mentions the contextual meaning, but Christ does appear to be his everything…which is using the quote to it’s fullest. Think of how he’s been treated by the public and media at large.

  • Jonathan: I totally, totally agree with the underlying point you are making. But I do want make one fact check. Olsteen is not quoting Philippians 4:13. He is actually quoting (again, out of context!) Jesus:

    Mark 9:23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (TNIV)

    Very similar sentiments and texts.

  • I think he brought a lot of the public/media scrutiny and scorn on himself because he ignored Matthew 6:6 and preferred to make a spectacle of his faith like the hypocrites in the synagogue.

  • Candace, you prove my point.
    The interpretations for “jesus wept” have begun.

    The whole Bible is open for any interpretation which sounds right to any particular person.
    That is why none of it really matters.

  • Thanks Jonathan – this is a very helpful article. Here in the UK, we don’t seem to have the ‘prosperity gospel’ teaching that is prevalent in the States for which I’m thankful. I sometimes wish that we could transport ourselves back to the time of the early apostles where, I’m sure we’d be amazed by the signs and wonders but we’d also draw a sharp intake of breath at the persecution and the suffering they endured as early Christians. We can have a tendency to look at the gospels through very ‘anaesthetized’ eyes! As a Christian, my faith will be put to the test when the going gets tough but, unlike Billy Ocean, the tough in me does not get going but rather I lean hard on the Living God because He ultimately is the only One who will bring me through. #faith #differentperspective

  • Every time people misappropriate this verse I want to come back with a Veggietales quote (I think it’s from Dave and the Giant Pickle). “Does that mean God can make me a chicken? Because I’ve always wanted to be a chicken!”

  • Good information there. Good corrective to some of what Joel Osteen is preaching.

    But at the same time, I like the way Tim Tebow did things. Simply call attention to Phil. 4:13, and then dare to believe it and live it out yourself. Context is important, exegesis is important, but sometimes it’s good to simply let people simply SEE that such a promise exists at all, and that YOU are totally believing that it’s true, and going all-out for it in your own life.

    The fact is that Tim Tebow preached some excellent sermons to the American people (and especially the young people), regarding Phil. 4:13. And he did so without uttering a single word. (Witness the stark simplicity of the 2009 Sports Illustrated cover photo. Unforgettable.)

    Meanwhile, I remember repeating Phil. 4:13 to myself one summer, as a teenager, while pounding the pavement for a job. I would often say it to myself to keep discouragement from overtaking me. Yes, just like a mantra, I admit it.

    Was that the correct way to do that verse? I don’t know. But it kept me believing Jesus and staying hopeful and upbeat (instead of discouraged) in the face of rejections, until that happy day that I finally received a job offer. Go figure.

  • The context of the situation and the person tells us that Jesus didn’t weep for regret. He said and did nothing that indicates regret. By your logic, you really can’t claim any interpretations of Jesus’s (who is a real person both man and God) actions or words because that requires interpretation…in fact society and the workings of it are nothing but a sea of interpretations all day long. So Im wondering since you are so against interpretations on things that don’t exist, why you got on here and offered your own? If God is so unknowable and undefinable, then why did you define him? Unfortunately, you try to define him in context of yourself. To you, he is unknowable, undefinable and therefore malleable…that is your interpretation. He is not those things to christians. We believe there is more to life than just what our brain can understand. Fact is, we all believe in something. Christians believe in God, atheists believe in themselves. Christians try to define God in context of the bible with an understanding that its impossible to know everything about him…atheists define God in context of themselves and since they find themselves absent of God, claim he doesn’t exist. Atheists don’t understand that is not the experience of everyone else.

  • The beauty of scripture is that even in context, it can mean something different to different people and be more or less valid at different times. This is one reason why we call it the living word. I think this author has went too far and readers should beware. Im not a fan of Joel Osteen…at least I should say Ive never heard the man preach. I know of him and seen him do interviews but thats about it. In the quote, he clearly says: “if God said you can…you can!”. Nowhere does Joel Osteen say anything about using that scripture on a whim to get your next case of beer or whatever. Something the writer overlooks. The truth is if God has shown you a path and gave you a calling, then He will strengthen you. Saying or remembering this scripture to help put aside fears of failing and rejection while you are on that path, doesn’t seem wrong to me. We have the scripture to teach us and remind us. It should be on our minds at all times. We don’t have to wait until we are in prison, being persecuted or when life is tough to remember and say that through all things Christ strengthens me. Because of the Word, we can remember it before we get there. Sometimes our calling is a rough road…i understand paul was in prison when he wrote it…i get that, but none the less he said “in all things”. Really if you think about it…isn’t christ strengthening us always..even in the good times? Just his mere presence in our life strengthens us! He’s not only around when we are in the dumps. I think thats a truth that all christians inherently know. Now on to Tebow…I don’t for one second believe that playing back up quarter back is easy. All of a sudden he’s in the limelight…I don’t believe thats a pretty place to be for a real christian. We all hear the stories of how fame falls hard. Maybe that was his prison at that time…his time of great temptation. Perhaps he was calling on the strength of Christ to keep his humility. You don’t know until you ask him. Its sad to me that this writer assumes the worst of him. Its easy to assume that he was just flinging that verse out there so God could help him win a football game…or just to get attention. Thats what all the haters think. There is actually evidence out there to the contrary. You know, he did a fantastic job…was it luck or was it God? You can decide for yourself. I also don’t believe that Tebow is playing football just because he wants to…but maybe because He wants him to as well. Who are we to say that God doesn’t care if Tebow is on that playing field? Be careful we don’t start applying our man made doctrine to whats happening in the world. Thats probably very well his missionary field…thats his calling. God is probably using him to share his gospel on and off the field…even on TV! (gasp). Guess what…he succeeded. There are more people out there now that know that “in all things, christ strengthens me”. There are a few more people out there that have cracked open that bible they got as a wedding present. Whatever you choose to believe on the subject, God can make lemonade out of anything.

  • I think the church needs to hear this. We really misinterpret a particular scripture without looking at the context of what was being said. When people attribute this to something like a game like football we fail to explain how we essentially call God a liar, because we are giving the world a false doctrine that God will give us everything we want if we just pray and believe, which just the opposite of who God is. God says that if our ways please Him, THEN He will give us the desires of our heart. So when people see Tim Tebow and all the focus we put on him and his faith, but see that he is no longer in the NFL and the prospects of him playing in the NFL as a quarterback are slim, then the world comes back and ask, “Where is our God?” Like you stated, Paul was in prison when he wrote Phillipians. He was persecuted because of what and Who he preached, he was not persecuted for not being chosen to play a game with his friends. People misuse Phil 4:13 when they need money, but no job. A promotion, but no good work ethic. Health, but do not exercise or eat right. A job, but won’t go to an interview. A husband, but haven’t learned to submit. Friends, but won’t be friendly to others. Etc, etc, etc.

  • This verse taken in context fits both Tebow’s football greased eye and in the dank putrid air of Paul’s cell….The Word of God is Truth. so when He says ” delight yourself in The Lord and HE will give you the desires of your heart” (the heart is the spirit)… The. Lord in the humans redeemed spirit gives you HIS desires which means you have the ability and confidence to receive those God given dreams and plans by Grace through faith. The revelation of the gospel of Grace was given to Paul. He did not let the temporary time in prison darken his faith in The Truth of Jesus revealed to him by The Holy Spirit. his particular cross, or work was not yet done. he had been given a particular plan by The. Holy Spirit who gives us dreams and visions in our spirits. it would be accomplished as he pressed on enduring in faith believing that what had been promised would be performed in The power of Christ Jesus.

  • Isin’t it interesting that Peter was able to sleep the night before his scheduled execution?.. Was he physically exhausted and could not or didn’t want to stay awake…or.. ..what did he know?….was He resting in Grace thinking que sera sera?…which is whatever will be will be?…passivity is of the enemy , not God. Was he resting looking forward to a martyrs reward? In which case he was disappointed, because an angel rescued him and led him out to Rhoda who actually. BELIEVED God answered the prayer of deliverance for him and it really was him at the door….or, another possibility…did Peter rest because he knew God’s plan for his life and that he would be delivered?…Did Paul know this also?

  • Sorry need to make a Correction…Eliminate Grace from que sera sera text. Grace has nothing to do with a passive spirit that says what will be will be, that is demonic thinking……

  • This verse assures us that through Christ we can live for God regardless of the circumstances. Also it assures us that we can achieve the vision God has for our life, and do the will of God.
    I liked the article

  • In more than one interview, Tim Tebow has correctly interpreted Phil 4:13. He sees it for life, not just football. Hope I don’t sound like a Tebow maniac.

  • Merritt made a valid observation of the interpretation, frequently a believer will make an application on a verse. Nevertheless applications can be abused and should not be. Peter says the Scriptures are not by private interpretation.

  • max : jesus is god and the bible is truth; god can be known and it makes no sense to u because don’t believe the bible is the of word of god and that it is truth . the bible tells u to learn of me ( god) .

  • Inspiration, whether in a cell, on the field of battle or in your bed room, come thru the word and the Holy Spirit. Exaulting the one from which this inspiration comes a what matters! Realize we should praise the strength and hope he gives us at all times. If it Paul in a cell or Tim on the field, when it brings honest glory to God in actions and deeds and inspires us to rely on him in the time we need his guidance most, then it is not misused. When God asks us to pray, it doesn’t have to be the greatest prayer ever. It can be as simple as three words, God help me!
    God bless you and keep you all!

  • I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:13)
    This is a summary of what Paul had just written in Verse 12, with regard to his having an inward sufficiency “in the Lord” to cope with any of life’s circumstances, no matter how severe, and no matter how favorable. Paul truly felt that it was impossible for life to confront him with anything that the Lord could not handle through him! Those who think they find traces of Stoicism in Paul’s attitude here know nothing, either of Stoicism or of the heart of the apostle. Here, Paul strongly shows that Christ is the source of his power; it is Christ who is continually infusing power into him. As he had just states in Verse 12; “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
    The key words of this verse, which is often in Paul’s writings, are “IN HIM.” However, there is more to it than that to the matter. One must “Divide the Word of Truth” to find everything that Paul was saying in verse 13. A couple comes quickly to mind in this matter, first II Corinthians 6:9-10;
    “As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
    Secondly, Philippians 4:11-12, which, as stated above, proceeds verse 13;
    “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

  • I agree that the verse in not understood by Christendom at large but my reason is in the Greek itself.

    I’m a neophyte in Greek but I dug into this verse a while back due to the Greek word “panta” (G3956) which is very often translated “all things”. “Pan” does mean “all” but “ta” is simply a neuter plural ending. That is, the “all” are many and neither male nor female. THis can mean “things” like rocks and trees but not nessasarily. I find it is often used as a pronoun where it is referring to something that is already being discussed. In this use I think it should be translated “all these”. In this passage I interpret it as referring to the troubles he has just outlined in the previous two verses (neuter “things”). I won’t go into a detailed explanation of the other words, but I’ll just tell you what I got out of it: Col 4:13, “All this I endure in the (one) in-powering me”, or ” All this I endure (by) the In-Powering in me.” I take it that the power he is speaking of is the indwelling Holy Spirit. Notice that the next verse flows well out of this idea.
    The reason panta is translated “all things” is because the theology gets a little out of the orthodox bounds if you do in other passages. Go through Colossians replacing “all-things” with “all’ and you’ll get a taste. Essentially every place you see “all things” in the NT it’s panta behind it.

  • Jesus said we would do more than He did because He goes to His Father. As Jesus can do everything, then so can we if we are to believe Jesus. The Bible says whatsoever you can ask or even think, if we ask believing, He will do it. I am sure God chose every word carefully in His Book. I believe what the Word says. It is my final decision.

  • Mr. Merritt, please consider making it a goal of your future articles to find ways to bring Christians together. There already exits more than enough strife and disagreement in Christianity. Your opinion, of the “precise” interpretation of this verse really shouldn’t be the focus. Instead, if Christians are encouraged by this verse, then you should be happy about that occurring in a world full of so much evil and darkness. And please stop taking critical shots at public Christians like Tim Tebow and Joel Osteen. I read your full article and I see that you mention Osteen too as someone who has “incorrectly used” Philippians 4:13? I hope that you agree that our God is a God of limitless possibilities. No one Christian will ever understand all of the myriad ways that God accomplishes His plans here on earth. I’d venture a guess that people like Tim Tebow and Joel Osteen have done more than you or I ever will do to advance God’s kingdom here on earth! Food for thought. Blessings to you.

  • So, you position is that Merritt shouldn’t criticize a Scriptural misinterpretation because it causes “strife and disagreement?” If so, shouldn’t you agree with Merritt, as your disagreement is also causing contention? Or is it a thing where whoever gets their interpretation out first is the winner?

    Personally, I think Merritt is not only bringing Christians together, he’s helping folks who are struggling with their faith reconcile with difficult and greatly misunderstood passages of Scripture. Sure, it’s nice for us to take Philippians 4:13 as a promise that God is a year-round Santa Claus, who we can invoke to make all our dreams come true (or is He a fairy godmother? Walt Disney?), but anyone who has gone through life with open eyes knows that life is much more complicated than, “If I want something, or think I need something, all I have to do is wish really hard, and God will get it for me.” It’s not the promise that’s flawed; it’s the interpretation, which sets people up to believe in a lie, a distorted image of who God really is.

  • Just did a word check. It makes a lot of sense to read those passages with “all these”; plus, the word “these” prompts the reader to go back and note the items to which the pronoun referred.

  • Marcus, how is it helpful to tell some Christians, who have been encouraged by Philippians 4:13, that they are misinterpreting the verse? How is that helpful Marcus? How, by doing that, is Mr. Merritt or you “bringing Christians together?” What was Mr. Merritt’s motivation for writing such an article? Was it to cast doubt on Christians like Tim Tebow and Joel Osteen(both of whom he is critical of in his article)? How is being critical of Tim Tebow and Joel Osteen, under the guise of seeking precise Biblical interpretation helping to bring Christians together??

  • What you refer to as “the beauty of Scripture” is neither beautiful, nor is it of Scripture. It’s a serious problem among people of immature faith to proof-text and, consequently, misinterpret Scripture. Out of what I’m sure is a well-intentioned desire to make everyone feel like their opinion is equally valid, regardless of accuracy, mainstream Christianity has chosen to fail to teach people how to read Scripture, allowing people to pick and choose their preferred verses as though they are taglines for a movie, or gimmicky cliches to sell cologne.

    Also, Paul didn’t say “in all things”; various versions of the Bible interpreted his statement as such. Paul was referring to everything he said in verse 12, and that he could only endure those trials because Christ had given him strength.

    As for Tebow, I’m not much of a football fan, but I’m pretty sure the “haters” don’t like Tebow because a) for what he’s paid, he sucks at his job, and b) he’s being used as a celebrity endorsement for Christianity, which allows folks to affirm a faith that is–somewhat ironically–profoundly superficial and problematic to its foundation.

  • If you’re supposed to go right, and you go left, it’s helpful for someone to tell you you’re wrong, otherwise you end up in the wrong place.

    If your zipper is down, it’s helpful for someone to tell you you’re wrong, because you’re eventually going to walk into a situation in which you will embarrass yourself.

    If you guzzle a high-quality wine or craft beer, it’s helpful for someone to tell you to slow down, because you’re missing something special.

    And, if you’re reading a passage of Scripture, the text of which has been profoundly distorted by well-intentioned editors who didn’t understand Greek grammar and sentence structure, and if you consequently create a philosophy about God that a) is not an accurate depiction of who God is and b) sets people up to be profoundly disappointed when that God-image fails to live up to the promise which that philosophy affirms, then it’s helpful to tell you that you are misinterpreting that verse. No doubt your passion is sincere and well-intentioned, but you’re headed down the wrong direction, with your fly open, and you’re missing a deeper truth for a shallower cliche.

    As for Tebow and Osteen, they are not as much ministers of the gospel as they are celebrities hyped by the church. There are spiritual leaders withing the church who are much more adept at leading folks into healthy spiritual formation; Tebow and Osteen, as likable as they are as characters, just do not fall into that group.

  • Actually, it’s quite the compliment to assert that the Bible is a “myth,” as the term refers to a narrative that has a profound, foundational impact on the formation of a culture. So, on behalf of the Bible, thanks.

    As far as the interpretations, those are done by people, not the Bible, so we can’t really blame the Bible, or the God it presents, for being misinterpreted. As with most things, people are the problem.

  • Marcus, I pray that God does not judge you in the same manner that you have judged Tim Tebow and Joel Osteen. It sounds as if you have marginalized them and dismissed them. Reality is that both Tebow and Osteen have INSPIRED people to believe in Christ! And none of us can EVER see into the heart of another person. Only God can do that.

    If a Christian claims to have discovered a “Biblical truth” then that truth, as all truths, must be compared against the back drop of God’s character which is revealed in the entire Bible! And there needs to be some alignment…some cohesion between the two.

    How do some Christians read the Bible and align with Wesley? How do other Christians read the Bible and lean toward Calvin? It’s the same Bible that both groups read! How do you, Marcus, view the story of the prodigal son? Do you see a sinful son that needed to repent first in order to be restored to his father’s family? Or do you see a father who did not want to even hear his son’s apology and wanted nothing more than to be reunited with his son??

    Marcus, since you are obviously familiar with Greek, then I presume you are aware that the “prodigal” in the story is both you and I, and the “father” in the story is our Heavenly Father! And every human on the planet is desperately trying to “be faithful” to their personal God. That human condition will never change. And the mysterious fact about God’s unearned gift of Grace is that it is FREE! So with our faulty human logic we conclude that since the gift was “free” that we must have to DO something in order to maintain the gift! Do you see how crazy that logic is?? All we can ever hope for is to be aware that we are prone to serving false idols(in our hearts) and then ask God to help us, and then trust that He does, despite our flawed condition.

    And wouldn’t it be ironic, Marcus, if while you were so desperately trying to remove the spec from my eye, that your vision was obscured by the log in your own eye?

    I’m not interested in spending the limited time I have on this planet engaging in endless debate over “correct” or “precise” Scripture interpretation. I’m also not pompous enough to think that I can judge another person’s heart and label someone like Tebow and Osteen as mere “celebrities” when in fact they just might be doing God’s work!

    Marcus, what are your core beliefs? What are Mr. Merritt’s core beliefs? Do either of you believe in eternal security? How has God blessed you in 2013 and what blessings are you asking/hoping for in 2014? What is the latest example of how God used either of you to be a blessing to someone? If we could answer these questions and reflect on them then we might be on the road to bringing Christians together! Blessings to you.

  • These Evangelical Christians really need to learn how to read all Paul’s writing in context of the period and culture of the time. For instance, in Romans, Paul is simply endorsing “natural” homosexual practice, as is now the common scholarship on the interpretation of those first chapter verses. The only thing worse than using Romans 1:24-27 to suggest that Paul was advocating against same sex coital relationships is using Philippians 4:13 to imply God cares enough for His children to not only give them strength to endure 1st century persecution and imprisonment but also to inspire them in minor every day life situations. To think Paul’s writings might encourage future generations to aspire to greater accomplishments or to encourage them in less severe daily struggles is the height of arrogance and blasphemy. There goes Tim Tebow and his Tea Party followers trying to-rewrite the Bible… again!

  • Phew, so many problems with your statements, so little time. Here we go:

    I don’t have a problem with Tebow and Osteen as people, since I don’t know them personally. However, as icons created and affirmed by mainstream Christianity, they have a responsibility to treat Scripture with a little more caution, as do those of us who feel called to discuss and interpret what we read. As far as their work in bringing people to Christ, I have yet to see people really commit to Christ as a result of the celebrity status of these gentlemen as much as I have seen Christians who feel more affirmed in their surface-level faith. However, let’s assume that that’s true, and people actually have been drawn to the faith because Osteen told them that Jesus wants to make you rich, or because Tebow knelt on the football field (instead of making a decent pass). If that’s the case, what a shallow faith must these people have, to be so easily swayed from disbelief to committed faith, and how easily shattered when it turns out that this traditional reading of Phil. 4:13 fails someone when they find out that God isn’t a 365-day Santa Claus?

    This whole “everyone’s interpretation is equally valid” business is as ridiculous as it is dangerous. Remember that Scripture has been “interpreted” to affirm slavery, racism, subjugation of women, etc. Somewhere along the line, we need to have some standard by which we judge systems of interpretation. It needs to be coincide with tested methods of literary analysis, linguistics, historical research. This shouldn’t be something that’s relative; we can do some serious damage that way.

    Not sure what the prodigal son story has to do with anything; I think you got a little flustered when I presented my rebuttal, and you went off the tracks. It’s a very nice discussion, but those three paragraphs are just not relevant to the point I’m making.

    Now, if attacking people’s interpretive methods is so sinfully divisive, as you claim, aren’t you a case of a pot calling the kettle black?

  • Well, let’s see what it says in 12 and14 will help you out. What it mean is all things are possible if Christ gives it his approval in your life. The through Christ in 12 he (Paul). Give examples which through Christ he accomplish.

  • The pinnacle of Jesus’ life and work was not his miracles but his self-sacrifice. If you desire to do great things like Christ, then you will lay down your life for others. Sadly, modern day want the Jesus’ crown without Jesus’ cross.

  • @Jasper:

    As I translate it, the Greek text reads, ” I overcome everything by the one strengthening me.” The word “ischuo” means “I am strong,” “I am mighty,” “I overcome,” or “I conquer.” Related words refer to strength, might, power.

    While we may not know everything that was going on inside Paul’s head, we have what he wrote (and there is excellent agreement for this passage, between the various ancient Greek texts that have survived). I don’t know whether or not Jonathan Merritt reads Koine Greek (the language in which the New Testiment was written), but, bottom line, his interpretation of Paul’s thinking fits very well what Paul wrote (which was certainly not in 17th century English), while the “popular” interpretation does not.

  • The truth is YOUR word of god is what you believe it is. To many of those more enlightened the bible is the great book of myths and legends for which many have died and been tormented for centuries. Keep your jesus to yourselves.

  • Sommer, you said “atheists define God in context of themselves.”

    No. That is not true.
    Atheists don’t believe in ANY god. I don’t rule out that a God exists – But so far I see absolutely no reason to believe in one.

    It isn’t fair to expect people to believe in something which isn’t demonstrated to exist.

    Suppose you were told you must believe in Mermaids though none have ever been shown to exist! Wouldn’t it be insane to accept a claim which has clearly not yet been demonstrated to be true?

    Mermaids may exist , but I don’t BELIEVE in them.
    Show me a God and maybe I’ll change my mind about a God existing. Where is it?

  • Thank you! I’m not a Tebow maniac, either, but I think he is being too easily slotted as a misuser of scripture, when we know that he has faced more than mis-thrown footballs and being cut from the team. Several teams. I believe he has been, or was for a time, mocked, scorned and otherwise persecuted because he lives his faith, both on and off the field.

    Yes, he became a Christian idol, for a time, and that is wrong. But I don’t think he sought that glorification. And I think his dropping to a knee in prayer during his games was a sincere, though arguably misguided, expression of his faith and his love for Christ. Very recently, I saw another player do that in a post-season game, and no one said anything about it, on the air. No one chortled because he had “Tebow-ed.” He knelt in the same fashion, briefly, then stood and returned to the game. No big deal. It is nice, now and then, to see a player quietly express his faith, rather than engaging in the self-aggrandizing actions of so many players who successfully do precisely what they are paid handsomely to do. They have their reward.

  • The problem I have with Jonathan’s interpretation of Philippians 4:13 is that as Christians the world cannot conquer us because we are in Christ.
    Jonathan instead states; “he’s reminding them that they can press on when the world conquers them.”
    Christ has conquered the world for us already. So this verse by Paul is simply his reminder to us the victory he has in Christ which is very easy to forget in times of difficulty. So Tim Tebow’s motive for promoting Philippians 4:13 should not be judged.
    Besides Paul did not say he could do great things or better things, he said he could do all things which obviously includes the little humbling things we might not do if we were not in Christ, like all the charitable things Tim Tebow involves himself in as a Christian.

  • I was about to say something similar to what Hannah just pointed out. Just because the Apostle Paul used the truths of this verse to face hardship, it doesn’t necessarily follow that hardship is all we will have to conquer. If God has told us to build orphanages in Africa and we feel unable, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. If God has placed us in a workplace where we are having trouble reaching the antichristians we work with, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. If God calls someone to show Christ to the watching world through his fame, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ The point is, no matter what God brings your way, you do it through Christ. This life I live, I live through the One who loved me’. ‘It’s no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me’. That may be a dank prison, a politician, a church leader or a mother…it’s all through Christ. He doesn’t stop living through us when life is sunny.

  • @atheist
    In terms of what scripture means or does not mean, can not be successfully discussed with a non-believer, because spiritual things are for those that are mature in Christ. Although Christ is God, Christ came into this world to offer salvation to all, so as man He does have the capability to weep.

  • Rev. Banks,

    One “can’t discuss Christ with a non-believer”…

    I’m delighted to hear that you feel that community outreach is a waste of time!

    You are sparing us untold hours of Evangelical nonsense. It is about time!

  • Sommer,

    Most of “Scripture” is not remotely beautiful.

    God COMMANDS it ….Kill the women. But grab the young girls:

    “Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. ‘Why have you let all the women live?’ he demanded. …They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.” (Num:31:18)


    “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.” (Exodus 21:7)


    “Anyone who is captured will be run through with a sword. Their little children will be dashed to death right before their eyes.” (Isaiah 13:15)

    Sorry, Sommer, you cannot say “Scripture is beautiful” and get aways with it.

  • “Panta” does not mean “all those.” As the neuter nominitve (=”subject”) or accussative (=”object”) plural form of the adjective “pas,” “pasa,” “pan,” it generally carries the sense of “each” or “every” (individually), rather than “all” (collectively). In context, it must be the object of the first person singular verb “ischyō,” rather than its subject. “Panta” is not a demonstrative (pointing out) pronoun. Sorry, but your English reading is not justified by the Greek text.

  • Hi Jonathan,

    Great article. I think it is helpful for believers to remember the bible must be read within context. Proof texting and misinterpretation has done much harm for the Church. I do, however, think it is equally important that we don’t marginalize the bible to *just* reading within the context of the history.

    The bible is an anthology of people like, Paul’s experience and encounters with the Holy Trinity. He was sharing what *he* learned. This doesn’t mean readers cannot glean from Paul’s experience and apply it to their personal lives.

    It seems to me, there must be balance. What I mean is we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. He leads us into all truth. By marrying context with the wisdom and discernment of the Spirit we can humbly apply scripture to our lives.

    Also, what is the harm in people believing that through God they can do anything? We are, after all, told that we have the same power that raised Christ from the dead. So, if someone believes that through the power of God they can accomplish their dreams, what’s wrong with that?

    These are sincere questions and I am in no way discrediting the work you’ve done here. I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts.

  • Great article, brother. I found it when I was looking for some last-minute quotes from our good friend, Pastor Osteen. You are spot on in your interpretation of this verse.

    I would add, however, that one could even go further and break it down into seven “things” that Paul implies we can only do through Christ. These “things” are found in the previous 12 verses. I’d share them with you, but then that would spoil my upcoming blog posts 😉

    Blessing to you!

  • mae, I also believe what the Word says, and I also know through experience that as a follower of Christ, the desires of my heart are not what they use to be. As the Holy Spirit does His work in me, I find that my “old self” is fading away and Christ changing my disposition and my desires. What I ask for is the endurance to carry out His good and perfect will for me, and how to further His kingdom while I am on this earth. I would be lying if I told you that I don’t wrestle with the desires of this world, and I do, but the key word here is wrestle. Before I was subject to them, but today I have victory in His wonderful name!
    Thank you jonathan for your insight on this matter. may God continue to protect your heart as you grow in His wisdom and knowledge! ANDRIZO!

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  • Micahel, How did you find this article? Did someone bring you to it to try and minister to you? Or do you simply peruse Christian articles in order to argue and make “myth and legend” speculations? And while I hope that you indeed will come to know Jesus as your savior someday, I can assure you He will not ram himself down your throat or into your heart. But, sadly it is your loss. I mean you no harm nor disrespect. It just hurts me for Jesus. He did so much for us, “even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” yet so many say just what you did. “keep your Jesus to yourselves.” Sometimes, just so His heart would not hurt over your words and others like you, I wish I could just keep His precious name to myself, but He loves you and the others who so lightly take His gift of love and throw it back in His face. However, His word, in a parable form, tells us as His followers, to go out to the highways and the hedges and compel them to come. So I am asking you Micahel, not to cast Him aside. And if He is wooing your heart to come to Him, give Him a chance. He is not afraid of your questions. But some things you will never understand until the Holy Spirit resides in your heart. If then, you can say, I do not want him, well that will be between you and Him. But at least you can say I tried Him and your comments can show that you are not simply denying someone and a way of life you know nothing about. God Bless You Micahel.

  • I guess my question is….. How do you know Tebow doesn’t agree with you & that IS his intended interpretation of the verse? Just because he’s a football player? Huge assumption.

  • I have always thought of the “sporting” use of Phil. 4:13 as a humble acknowledgement by the athlete that God was the source of his capacity to do anything, not a claim that God was going to give him a championship trophy.

    I think it goes without saying that one can only accomplish through Christ that which God wills him to accomplish for His purposes.

  • Because it’s obvious and not an assumption; unless Tebow knowingly is making false advertising or just plain has very bad timing which is not wise.

  • Good points, and Jeremiah 29:11 is another one of them; expect to be attacked in declaring these truths, for all the “Power of Positive ” thinkers…this write up will be an offense… “Apart from Me you can do ‘nothing’..and we can be sure God is not interested in our worldly football game victories.

  • Regarding Phil 4: 13, the bible (Paul) is saying that whatever challenges we face, we can draw strength from our saviour Yeshua Jesus. The implications are self-explanatory.

  • Oh give me a break man; no one recites scripture for a “better sex life” or “job promotions”… Redemptive suffering is actually a thing in the Catholic church… 4:13 is certainly applicable under such circumstances and is not limited to moments of poverty or emotional distress, as you put it.