A Loved Verse, A Misunderstood Context of Understanding: Philippians 4:13

Many of us love to quote this verse when going through situations of difficulty or when facing tasks that seem beyond the capacity we feel able to cope.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (NIV)

We cite it, we name it, we meditate it and we feel good knowing that a promise from God’s word boosts our weakness and somehow propels us to Samson like strength to accomplish the task given to us. Well I’m probably exaggerating here. What I’m trying to convey is that, by citing the verse and just the verse we evade a needed emphasis on what that sentence really means taking it in context. D. A. Carson explains this fallacy:

“This error is shockingly easy to commit in textual preaching, overlooking the old adage that a text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof text. An old favorite in Philippians 4:13…The “everything” cannot be completely unqualified (e.g., jump over the moon, integrate complex mathematics equations in my head…), so it is commonly expounded as a text that promises Christ’s strength to believers in all that they have to do or in all that God sets before them to do. That of course is a biblical thought; but as far as this verse is concerned it pays insufficient attention to the context. The “everything” in this context is contented living in the midst of food or hunger, plenty or want (Phil 4:10-12). Whatever his circumstances, Paul can cope, with contentment, through Christ who gives him strength.”

Carson, Donald. Exegetical Fallacies-2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker. 1996) pg 115-116)

This is one practice that we are not all immune with because our bibles come with Chapter and verse divisions, which are good for the purpose of citation but bad for improper handling of the text when we get carried away explaining just one text. So as students of the living word, lets be more diligent n how we handle it and not read into the text. So to somehow minimize this fallacy, read verses we want to explain in their context. In reading, context matters.

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