But that's not why Tim Tebow wrote Philippians 4:13 on his black eye stickers when he played football. During an interview at the end of his college career, he told the Baptist Press:
"A lot of people know Philippians 4:13 -- 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me' -- but a lot of people don't interpret that verse the right way. Most people think it means I can do anything ...on the football field, or I can make a lot of money. But that's not exactly what it's talking about there. It's [saying] I can be content with anything."
I get so frustrated when people take biblical promises and attach them to unbiblical purposes. But Tebow didn't make that mistake. He got it right. Here's how we know.
When Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ," he is being very specific not general. The Greek word behind the phrase "all things" in Php 4:13 is lexically linked to the "circumstances" Paul already mentioned in Php 4:11-12.
Paul describes in Php 4:11-12 how he has gone through times of great need and great abundance. He is explaining to the Christians in Philippi how he has been able to survive the good and the bad times. When he describes those "times" or "circumstances" in Php 4:12, he uses a Greek idiom: εν παντι και εν πασιν. The idiom translates "in any and every circumstance." The idiom twice employs the same Greek root word πᾶς that Paul uses again in Philippians 4:13. The repeated use of the word πᾶς in both verses tells us that Paul is talking about the same circumstances in Philippians 4:13 that he described in Philippians 4:12.
That's how we know the precise meaning of Philippians 4:13 is: I can be content in any circumstance because Christ gives me strength. It is virtually restating Php 4:11 "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances" but finally revealing the secret to that contentment: Christ gave Paul the ability to be content.
Proper grammatical analysis focuses our attention on the message Paul wanted to deliver. Philippians 4:13 does NOT mean we can do anything because Christ strengthens us. Jesus doesn't give you the ability to fly or win football games or get a perfect score on the SAT. Jesus promises to provide contentment no matter what you face.
Christians Should Not Complain
The true meaning of Philippians 4:13 does change its message. It is no enticing promise to accomplish great feats for God. It is a humbling principle that you have the power to stop complaining. That is not a sexy message, but it is powerful. It's absolutely game-changing. Complaining can curse any moment, any organization, or any relationship. But Christ undermines the foundation for discontentment. How could anyone complain about suboptimal living situations when their Savior suffered to the point of death to give us what we do not deserve?
People who see their life through Jesus' eyes have no grounds to whine but only to worship. Sinners cannot demand and do not deserve special treatment. Their redeemed hearts have reason for gratitude not reason to grumble. How could someone who got life when they deserved death, grace when they deserved accusation, and love when they should be excluded have any reason to complain?
But can we really quit complaining altogether? Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance." So is there a time to complain? The simple answer is "no." Sometimes you will be happy, and other times you will be sad. But it is always the time to be content. Complaining about not having enough has no place in the Christian life.
Be careful not to misplace your faith. We unintentionally pursue discontentment when we use God as one more reason to obsess about something "better" and "bigger" in the future. But God is not here to solve all your problems and give you an awesome life. God does not promise a big house, a good job, a comfortable bed, and a lovely spouse. It doesn't make sense to expect wealth and success or complain about its absence.
Maybe it's time to embrace what's in front of you. Take your eyes off the horizon and settle into the goodness of life you can taste right now, no matter how small that good is. If all you have left is a God who gave everything for you, you're doing all right.