It's one of our go to scriptures as Christians. Growing up I had Philippians 4:13 written on every pair of tennis shoes I owned. My sweatbands, armbands and undershirts all had that scripture scrawled somewhere.
Watch an NFL game and you are bound to see it on someone's wrist tape, gloves or shoes. I was watching an MMA match a few weeks ago and there it was, boldly written across the fighter's chest.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
It's a great scripture. Unfortunately, it's a classic example of a problem that is only getting worse and worse. The bible was written in a certain cultural context for a certain group of people. By delving into the context and understanding the reason the text was written we are able to extract truths that apply to our lives today.
Most of us don't approach the text in Philippians like we are reading someone else's mail over 2,000 years ago. We read it with a motive. We read it to give approval to our already preconceived notions.
If you want to truly understand why the Apostle Paul is saying, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," then you must read the previous verses in chapter four.
Paul is talking about the "secret of being content" regardless of the troubles, persecutions, and hardships that face him each and every day. He's saying that it's only through the power of Jesus Christ that he is able to go hungry and homeless and yet persevere. Wow! Hardly the way we've used it historically.
When is the last time you used that verse to ask God for strength through a painful trial? I'm not saying that God doesn't want to bless us, but we are so busy asking God to bless all our plans, goals and agendas we miss whether it was God's will in the first place. We miss that the gospel is not nearly as concerned with our happiness as it is about making the name of Jesus great.
We have a growing number of people, both inside and outside the church, who don't actually read the Bible. We talk about it. We hear other people speak about the Bible or we read a book that references a scripture and as a result, we are an expert. Possibly under-informed, usually misinterpreted, but very opinionated nonetheless.
The Bible becomes nothing more than a reference book used to supply support to our already formulated ideals and philosophies. When this happens the Bible is no longer the story that gives definition and life to every other story, it's simply put on all the shelves with hundreds of other books. It becomes a story among other stories.
The truth is that I've seen sections of scripture manipulated and taken out of context to validate every issue imaginable. These issues range from polygamy to slavery, from divorce to "why it's OK that I'm sleeping with my girlfriend."
While it's true that many people go to the Bible with ulterior motives, it's also true that we've just become lazy with the Bible. Never before have we had a group of people (especially inside the church) who are more theologically and biblically illiterate.
We claim that the Bible is the story that gives direction, definition and purpose to our lives and yet we don't immerse ourselves in the biblical story. The result is a syncretism that mixes aspects of the biblical narrative and the life of Jesus with other philosophies, ideals and religions.
By doing this we fall prey to the post-modern, egocentric, narcissistic and consumer-driven society that is actually subversive to the message of the gospel.
The truth is that at some time or another we have all been guilty of this. I have.
As a Christian, this article can either offend you or it can challenge you to immerse yourself in the biblical narrative.
I challenge you to not settle for what someone has told you, what you've experienced, what you have heard secondhand, or what you've read in a book. I challenge you to dive into the text and allow the truth of God's word (in its context) to shape your life.
If we don't; if we become lazy or we allow other people to interpret the biblical text for us, we are in danger of making it just another book on our shelf.
-(Matt Nelson is the lead pastor at City Church.)
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