Formations 10.23.2022: I Am Strong

Philippians 4:10-19

This week’s passage includes one of my “favorite” mistranslated Greek words. And by favorite, I mean I hate it, because the correct translation is actually far more comforting. Plus, it has the added benefit of not being utter nonsense.

In the NRSV, Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” You’ve seen it on a hundred tee shirts, haven’t you? You’ve heard it in a thousand testimonies and youth devotionals. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!”

Can you perform lifesaving first aid? Sure, if you’ve already received training for it. Can you run a marathon? Same answer.

Can you beat cancer? That question might cut a little too close for comfort. Sometimes the cancer goes into remission, and we give God the glory. Sometimes it doesn’t, and then what?

We can think of a dozen more examples, and eventually we will have to admit that there are things we cannot do, ever. Can you fly? Can you walk on water? Can you learn a foreign language in a week? Can you really “do all things” through Christ?

What if I told you that the word “can” does not appear in the original Greek of Philippians 4:13. Neither does the word “do.” The statement that is translated “I can do” is far more accurately translated “I am strong.” The whole sentence is best translated something like “I am strong in every circumstance.”

I find that to be a very comforting message, and one that doesn’t require any mental gymnastics to affirm without qualification.

Can I be strong in the face of debilitating disease? Through Christ, yes, I can—whether I get better or not. Can I be strong when I have to do a hard thing that needs to be done? Absolutely—and sometimes I’ll succeed and sometimes I’ll fail. It doesn’t matter; I’ll still be strong, even in my darkest hours, even in my most crushing defeats, because Christ is with me. To quote another passage from Paul: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:8-9).

In today’s passage, Paul seems to have two goals that are at odds with each other. On the one hand, he wants to sincerely thank the Philippians for their generous material support. At the same time, he wants to assure them that, through Christ, he already has everything he needs. He is strong, even in his current distress, and is confident that God will supply his every need.

And so God did. And so God will.


• How have you seen the idea that “I can do all things…” promote magical thinking among believers?
• When have you found strength in a seemingly impossible situation?
• How can believers today experience the confidence Paul shows in God’s provision?
• What might these promises mean, especially for those who materially have very little?
• How can we, like Paul, learn to be content with whatever we have?
• How might that contentment shape the way we give?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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