Can I 'Do All Things?' Examining Philippians 4:13
- Friday, September 05, 2008
So… Paul's word "do," in context, lends itself much more to Column B of definitions above. In fact, the Commentary Critical says the literal Greek meaning here is "I have strength for all things;" so we can add words like "survive, deal with, handle, be content in, etc.," to Column B.
Consider Gil's Exposition of the Bible on the phrase "I can do all things:"
[It] must not be understood in the greatest latitude, and without any limitation; for the apostle was not omnipotent, either in himself, or by the power of Christ; nor could he do all things that Christ could do; but it must be restrained to the subject matter treated of: the sense is, that he could be content in every state, and could know how to behave himself in adversity and prosperity, amidst both poverty and plenty; yea, it may be extended to all the duties incumbent on him both as a Christian and as an apostle, as to exercise a conscience void of offence towards God and men; to take the care of all the churches; to labour more abundantly than others in preaching the Gospel; and to bear all afflictions, reproaches, and persecutions for the sake of it; yea, he could willingly and cheerfully endure the most cruel and torturing death for the sake of Christ: all these things he could do, not in his own strength, for no man was more conscious of his own weakness than he was, or knew more of the impotency of human nature; and therefore always directed others to be strong in the Lord, and in, the power of his might, and in the grace that is in Christ, on which he himself always depended, and by which he did what he did.
I can't help but wonder what, if anything, this does for those of us who have always used this verse as a platitudinal confidence booster. Speaking for myself, as a younger Christian I might have felt like one of my primary weapons or favorite toys had just been cruelly yanked away from me, and I might be feeling a little defensive. When I was a fundamentalist, legalistic Christian, I would have beaten down myself and everyone else for not "doing" the take-up-the-cross, die-to-self version of "all things" every day, and taken smug satisfaction in telling younger Christians how wrong they were. Currently, I'm coming to find I have very little to do with any of it. I simply deal with life as it comes through Christ who gives me strength. As the song we quoted says, "no glory on my own."
But if that's so, why is "Do All Things” still an important concept for Christian living (if indeed it is)?
Here's what I would contend:
If we can get to the point of accepting / being content in / enduring anything, that means we are totally dependant upon God for our needs. And when we become dependant upon God for our needs, they no longer become our primary concern.
Anyone remember from Psych 101 Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs (see diagram)?
At the base of the pyramid are the most basic Physiological needs (food, water). Next up is Safety/shelter, then Belonging/love/acceptance, followed by Esteem and Self-actualization/personal growth at the top. According to Maslow, it's only after the lower levels are taken care of that we are free to exist in the upper planes.
My wife Valerie said something once that really put this idea into a new light for me. Our son Jordan, then 3, had been singing the praise song, "Seek Ye First," which is based on Jesus' words in Matthew 6:33. He asked, "What does 'all these things will be added unto you' mean? (emphasis mine)
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