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What Does Paul Really Mean When He Says, ‘I Can Do All Things’?

  • Sarah Frazer Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Updated Feb 02, 2022
What Does Paul Really Mean When He Says, ‘I Can Do All Things’?

The other day I met a young woman from my church for coffee. She speaks primarily Spanish. I speak English. Together we hope to encourage each other to practice each other’s second language. As we sipped our latte and mocha, I asked her what her favorite Bible verse was. She quickly responded with Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” With this verse, she has overcome several things in her life.

Sitting across from her I smiled. I was so happy she could share with me something very personal, but also that her life verse came from the very book of the Bible I am studying! Our conversation at the time moved on to something else, but later I sat down to write out some of the things I was learning from Philippians. It was then I realized that although I have heard that verse used in church a thousand times, I rarely had heard it taught in the context of the rest of Philippians 4.

What does Paul really mean when he says, “I can do all things…through Christ?” As we look at the surrounding verses, or the context, I don’t believe Paul is speaking about strength in general. The Bible is filled with verses that talk about strength. God’s strength brings joy (Nehemiah 8:10) and gives us the ability to rise up when we are weary (Isaiah 40:31)

Background for the Book of Philippians

Before we dive into this verse, let’s zoom out a minute to talk about the entire book of Philippians. Many of Paul’s letters to churches have a teaching or correcting tone. Much of our doctrine can be traced back to Paul’s letters. Romans is one of those letters which provides a lot of teaching and doctrine. In Romans, we learn deep truths about our salvation. 1 and 2 Corinthians have a corrective tone to them. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth mainly because they were going through a lot of problems.

Philippians doesn’t have much doctrine or correction. In fact, the church at Philippi seems to be doing really well! It is a thank-you and encouragement letter to the church on the coast. There are a few warnings, but overall, Paul’s tone of Philippians is warm and inviting. It is also very personal. Paul obviously loved this church so very much. He spent a lot of time in Philippi, visiting the city twice. It is the first recorded Christian community to be established in Europe.

Each chapter has various themes. Paul talks about prayer, rejoicing, and living for Christ. Overall, I believe the letter was written to be an encouragement to the church to continue to live for Christ. Many miracles were performed in this city (Acts 16). Paul challenges them to keep going in their faith (Phil. 1:8).

In chapter one, we see a theme of how to live for Christ. The idea of our “life” is mentioned six times in the entire book. An honest look at humility is given in chapter two. Most people will agree that the idea of joy and rejoicing is also a strong theme found throughout the book, but especially in chapter three. How to live the Christian life is the theme for the last chapter.

What Philippians 4 Is Really About

If we take a closer look at chapter four, we see that Paul is ending his letter by explaining to the believers how a Christian should live. Based on the gospel, Christ’s example, and our position in Christ, what should a Christian life look like?

First Paul talks about humility. Practicing true humility means we forgive, get along, and stop fighting with one another. In Philippians 2 Paul gives three examples of people who showed true humility Now it is time to put what we’ve learned into action. Two women are called out by name here in these few verses. Paul warns against division because unity is so important within the church.

Next, Paul moves inward to anxious thoughts and fears. In Philippians 4:4-7 Paul gives three direct commands.

  1. Rejoice.
  2. Don’t Worry.
  3. Pray.

When we find our hearts are struggling to feel secure, we can do all three to help realign our minds back to truth. Practical peace is only found in communion with God through praise and prayer.

True thinking comes next. What happens if our minds continue to worry or stress? We think about what is true. In Philippians 4:9 Paul gives us a list of things to think about - things that are lovely, just, and true.

The last set of verses in this chapter includes our key verse. As Paul wraps up his teaching, he talks about provision. True provision is found in God (Philippians 4:19) but underlying the idea of this is the heart attitude of contentment. Philippians 4:11 says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Paul says he has found a way to be content in all circumstances. Whether he has all he needs or is lacking, he can have contentment.

How Does Philippians 4:13 Summarize Paul’s Message?

The moment I first saw her picture on Instagram I was jealous. Her photos were flawless, she had perfect hair, well-behaved children, and a stunning wardrobe. Secretly I watched her from afar. Her life seemed so much more beautiful than mine.

The moment I opened the app on my phone I would type her name in the search bar. Scrolling through the most recent pictures I clicked on the captions. Even her words were more beautiful than mine. Everything seemed perfect. The laughter in her adorable kid’s face; the way the leaves hung on her trees; to the blankets on her bed. So much more wonderful than I could have ever created on my own.

I’ll admit; I struggle with feeling content. In fact, I feel like I’ve always struggled with it. Not that I’ve been seeking it in all the bad places, but it seems my heart is always a little restless. And my natural tendencies is to fit the empty spaces with more to do - instead of filling myself with Jesus. Sometimes I’m doing well, but other times I find myself gorging on the things of this world.

Paul says he struggles with the same thing! As we look at true provision, we can take heart in knowing that God has provided a way to feel at peace and not fear. In all things, we can have joy, contentment, peace, and humility through Christ.

Philippians 4:13 summarizes how we as Christians can live the Christian life. How do we have true humility, get rid of fear and anxiety, and develop strong minds? We use the strength provided with Christ!

Let’s focus our eyes on Christ and eternity with him as we pursue joy, peace, and contentment.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/shuang paul wang 


headshot of author Sarah FrazerSarah E. Frazer is a writer, Bible study mentor, wife of Jason, and mother of five. With a background in missionary work, Sarah encourages the weary woman to find peace in Jesus. She is a regular contributor to the Proverbs 31 First 5 app writing team as well as a featured writer for Crosswalk.com. Her favorite place to hang out is Instagram at @sarah_e_frazer.