In this article, we will be learning the meaning of Philippians 4:13 by discovering what it means to find strength in Christ. So, grab your Bible and let’s dig in…
There are more than 31,000 verses in the Bible, many of which are well-known and often quoted. One of the best-known and most often quoted verses in scripture comes from Philippians 4:13:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (NKJV).
But you may wonder, does this verse mean that God would help us do whatever we want to?
Read within the context of Paul’s epistle to the church in Philippi, Philippians 4:13 means that Paul was able to endure whatever circumstances while doing the will of God, not by his strength, but by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit working in him.
Unfortunately, Philippians 4:13 is also one of the Bible’s most misquoted and misused verses.
Athletes often use this verse to indicate that because they have the power of Christ in them, they can be victorious in whatever sport they play or as motivation to tackle the impossible.
We must dig deeper to discover Paul’s true intention behind this verse.
The Context of Philippians 4:13
After he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, the apostle Paul became a major role player in spreading the gospel, especially to the Gentiles. Paul undertook three missionary journeys and planted many churches, including the one in Philippi.
Paul also liked to return to the churches to encourage them and wrote them letters when it wasn’t possible to get there in person.
Paul wrote the letter to the church in Philippi while imprisoned in Rome. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Philippian believers and thank them for sending him assistance. In Philippians 4:11, he explains that he has learned to be content in all circumstances, rich or poor, hungry or full.
Then comes Philippians 4:13, where Paul says he can do it all through Christ, who strengthens him. He clarifies that he can be content in all circumstances, not because he has such amazing power of self-control, but because of the power of Christ and His Holy Spirit in him.
It is important to note that Paul doesn’t say that he can do everything and anything he wants and Christ will give him strength.
No, Paul was doing God’s will, spreading the gospel, for which he was persecuted, jailed, and eventually beheaded. He said that he learned to be content, even when persecuted and hungry and that God gave him the strength to do it.
The Meaning of Philippians 4:13
All the books in the New Testament were originally written in Greek.
Unfortunately, some of the text’s original meaning often gets lost in translation. Bible translators try their best to translate scripture as accurately as possible.
Still, sometimes words do not have a direct equivalent in English, making it difficult to translate accurately.
A direct translation of Philippians 4:13 from the original Greek text would read:
“For all things I have strength in the One strengthening me.”
Interestingly, this translation doesn’t say he can do all things but rather that he has the strength for all things. Now, let’s look at the amplified version of this verse.
I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]
There are a few Greek words from this text we could highlight:
- (Strongs 2480) The meaning of this word in Greek is “I have strength,” and not “I can do,” as it was translated in most English versions of the Bible.
In Greek, it is clear that Paul doesn’t try to say that he can do whatever he wants, but rather gets the strength to endure challenges and persevere.
ἰσχύω ischýō, is-khoo’-o; from G2479; to have (or exercise) force (literally or figuratively):—be able, avail, can do(-not), could, be good, might, prevail, be of strength, be whole, + much work.
- (Strongs 3588) Literal meaning is “the,” but in context, a more accurate translation would be “the One.” The original Greek text never mentioned Christ.
The oldest English translations of the Bible and a few more recent versions like the NIV and ESV translated this word as “Him” with reference to Jesus.
כִּי kîy, kee; a primitive particle (the full form of the prepositional prefix) indicating causal relations of all kinds, antecedent or consequent; (by implication) very widely used as a relative conjunction or adverb (as below); often largely modified by other particles annexed:—and, (forasmuch, inasmuch, where-) as, assured(-ly), but, certainly, doubtless, else, even, except, for, how, (because, in, so, than) that, nevertheless, now, rightly, seeing, since, surely, then, therefore, (al-) though, till, truly, until, when, whether, while, whom, yea, yet.
- (Strongs 1743) The literal meaning of endynamounti is “strengthening.” Paul, therefore, indicates that he has the strength (ischyō) in Him (tō) that strengthens (endynamounti) him. He clarifies that he doesn’t have the power himself but needs the strengthening of the Holy Spirit.
ἐνδυναμόω endynamóō, en-doo-nam-o’-o; from G1722 and G1412; to empower:—enable, (increase in) strength(-en), be (make) strong.
Philippians 4:13 in the New International Version reads:
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
The important difference between this and the English Standard Version is that it refers to “all this” instead of “all things,” making it clear that the verse links to the preceding verses, and people shouldn’t read it on its own.
Philippians 4:13 For Believers Today
If Paul was referring to the strength God gave him to withstand the hardships that came his way, would Philippians 4:13 have any significance for Christians today?
The answer is a simple yes. Philippians 4:13 still applies to Christians today, but only within the context that it was intended.
The mistake many people make is to consider this scripture as an assurance that God will grant them their every desire. But, Paul made it clear that he was doing God’s will and prioritizing God’s kingdom, not his own.
For this reason, God gave him the power to remain content in any circumstance.
The promise in Philippians 4:13 for every Christian is that God will give them strength to endure hardships and withstand temptation, but it is not a universal green light to do whatever we want. God still expects Christians to
…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. – Matthew 6:33
There are some important lessons in Philippians 4:13 and the preceding verses that we need to understand:
- Be Thankful – In Philippians 4:10-19, Paul thanks the church in Philippi for sending him aid. He praises them for being the only church to do so in the beginning.
- Make sure of the message you send – In verses 10-19, Paul wrote far more than was necessary to thank the Philippian church because he had to make sure that what he said was correctly understood.
- Be Content In All Circumstances – In verse 11, Paul says: “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Paul is talking about spiritual contentment, based on the hope that whatever trials and tribulations we face now are only temporary, and we will one day be with Christ.
- Contentment Must Be Learnt – Due to our fleshly nature, it isn’t easy to be content in all circumstances. Paul had to learn it, and we, as modern-day Christians, must learn to. To learn contentment, we need the guidance of our Father through His Holy Spirit.
- We Need God’s Strength To Be Content – In verse 13, Paul says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (NIV) It is not through our strength that we can be content in all circumstances but by the power of Christ and His Spirit in us.
Philippians 4:13 is one of the Bible’s most quoted and frequently misused verses. The correct interpretation of this verse is not that God will give us strength to do whatever we desire, but rather that he would give us strength to be content in all circumstances while we do God’s will. He strengthens us to endure all kinds of hardships and to withstand temptations, but ultimately for His honor.
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…