A Bible is open to the book of Psalms. A person has his or her hand on it to keep it open, with a pen tucked between two fingers. He or she is reading, but also ready to make notes in the margins as needed.

The Context of “I Can Do All Things Through Christ,” and Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson

As I study the Bible, one concept that I adhere to is keeping passages within their context. Although we learn much from individual verses, our understanding of God’s Word is far richer when we see them build on each other. This importance of context was recently highlighted for me when I read Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson. In his section on “Unwarranted associative jumps” he describes a similar problem:

An old favorite is Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (NIV). The “everything” cannot be completely unqualified (e.g., jump over the moon, integrate complex mathematical equations in my head, turn sand into gold), 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.

Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition by D. A. Carson, pages 115-116

Although Mr. Carson admits that the common teaching on Philippians 4:13 is a biblical thought, I feel that his mention of insufficient attention to the context is quite profitable. I know that the text in question is extremely encouraging, but is it really Paul’s intention for us to rip it out of its context?

When we pick and choose verses to encourage us, we are more likely to understand them correctly if they are not isolated from everything else around them. Regarding the verse in Philippians, it is still uplifting to us to know that the apostle Paul dealt with terrible circumstances and the Lord strengthened him in them. 

After all, many people are facing significant hardships due to health and economic impacts from COVID-19. Some of us have become ill from it, suffered a decrease in available hours at work, been laid off, and worse. Through these difficulties, individuals have been in want and some have received assistance from others. This echoes Philippians 4:14 where the apostle told the saints that they did good in sharing in his affliction. The text also helps us appreciate the times of plenty, and approach such blessings with humility and grace. Meanwhile resisting the temptation of becoming overly confident in our own selves. We can abound and be in need. We know how to be filled and to be hungry.

Such concepts are healthy, and also in line with what we find in Philippians 4:10-14. Such an understanding opens our eyes to how the passage edifies us in our everyday experiences, which may be more difficult to grasp when the verse is separated from its greater context.

Image Used

Someone Reading a Bible by Free-Photos from Pixabay.