It was the summer of ’92 and I was bored. I loved baseball but my closest friends did not, plus it was just so blistering hot outside. So what did I do? I pulled out my Beckett magazine (a mag which shows the current value of most every baseball card in print) and I turned to the last section where they had all the team addresses printed out. Systematically I began to write some of my favorite players to ask them for an autograph. I tried to pick players that weren’t too amazingly popular (although I had to send one to Ken Griffey Jr.), and I inserted a card with an addressed, stamped envelope. As the weeks and months went by I got cards back from a few of the players, one of which was Albert Belle who played for the Indians. With his card I saw something different from the others I had received. There was some writing below the signature that read “Phil. 4:13” (this is surprising considering Belle was found to be corking his bat two years later). I grabbed my Bible and looked up the reference… “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me”. Since then I have seen the reference on a variety of Christian t-shirts and paraphernalia associated with sports. This has led me to wonder what the thinking is behind using this verse in that way. Is it that through Christ we can complete more passes, score more points, and win the big game?
The context of this verse will help us understand how to apply this verse and how not to apply it. In the preceding verses, Paul is writing about his response to the different financial situations God has brought him through. In verse 12, he writes, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” To shed some more light, Paul says in verse 11, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” It is obvious, then, that Paul is saying in verse 13 that he can be content in whatever financial situation he finds himself through the strength Christ provides him. This is a direct application for us as well. We too can be content when we have very little resources or when we have an abundance of resources… through Christ who strengthens us.
But does the application stop in the financial realm? Paul does say “I can do all things“. What does “all things” mean? Does it include hitting home runs and making game winning shots? Certainly “all things” cannot mean all things that a person sets out to accomplish because we know there are plenty of things that God does not want us to do. We cannot apply Philippians 4:13 to the bank heist we’re trying to pull off or the smearing of someone’s reputation so we can climb the corporate ladder. If that’s the case, then “all things” must mean “all things God wants us to do”. So then the next question must be, how do we know what God wants us to do? And the answer is, we know what God wants us to do because he tells us in his Word. I do not know of any commandment or principle in the Scriptures that makes it clear that God wants us to win sports competitions and defeat our recreational opponents. What I do see is a principle that we must glorify God in our bodies because we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This includes playing hard and pursuing excellence, but we can do this without winning a game or making the glory shot. Brothers and sisters, let’s be careful in applying God’s Word. Just because we wish something were true doesn’t mean it is.