12 September 2011

Self-esteem, Possibility Thinking, and Philippians 4:13

by Phil Johnson



hilippians 4:13 famously says, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." There is perhaps no more confident statement in all of Scripture.

But it's not brazen self-confidence. It is confidence in the power of Christ.

That verse is not a manifesto for self-esteem and possibility thinking—although it is often used that way. People quote the verse as if it meant "With Jesus' help you can achieve whatever dream you have for yourself." That's not the idea at all. Paul is speaking as a man who wants to do the will of God and knows he is too weak and sinful to do it, but he is laying hold of Christ's power to do in him what he knows he cannot do on his own.

The appropriate cross-reference is 2 Corinthians 3:5: "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God." Paul is simply modeling the principle he gave as an imperaive in Ephesians 6:10: "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might."

There's not room for as much as an iota of carnal self-esteem, if you understand that principle.

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19 comments:

Tyrone said...

Amen Phil, on the money with this post that is exactly what it means!

Reader said...

A timely post.

Isn't it striking that in the Old Testament one of the men who was closest to the Lord, and was much used by God, was note for his meekness. I speak of Moses.

Numbers 12:3 "(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the earth)"

And of course our Saviour shared this characteristic.

christforaustralia said...

A timely post.

Isn't it striking that in the Old Testament one of the men who was closest to the Lord, and was much used by God, was note for his meekness. I speak of Moses.

Numbers 12:3 "(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the earth)"

And of course our Saviour shared this characteristic.

4simpsons said...

"That verse is not a manifesto for self-esteem and possibility thinking—although it is often used that way. People quote the verse as if it meant "With Jesus' help you can achieve whatever dream you have for yourself." That's not the idea at all. Paul is speaking as a man who wants to do the will of God and knows he is too weak and sinful to do it, but he is laying hold of Christ's power to do in him what he knows he cannot do on his own."

With all due respect, I think you still missed the meaning. I agree with the interpretation of the other passages, but don't think they link so tightly to this one.

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. I used to misquote it. It is one of the top 10 searched verses on biblestudytools.com, along with another frequently abused verse, Jeremiah 29:11.

I love using Phil 4:13 as an example of how to read in context. You don't need to read the entire Bible, or all of Philippians, or chapter 4 or even a paragraph to get the real meaning. Just go back one verse!

V. 13 is Paul's secret for being content in all situations. That's it. Do every thing through Jesus and you can be content in everything. It isn't about what you accomplish, it is about how you do whatever you do.

Philippians 4 - 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

P.S. I would never actually say this to someone because it would come across too snarky, but when people quote Philippians 4:13 I'm tempted to ask, "Really? You can do all things through Christ? Does that include reading scripture in context?"

Instead, I say something like, "Oh, yes, Paul's secret for being content in all situation!" I get a slightly puzzled look in return, but I hope they re-read it themselves and see what I meant.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Good one, Phil.

“Whoever serves let it be as one who by THE STRENGTH THAT GOD SUPPLIES, in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 4:11).”

4simpsons said...

Also, some people may think they've lost something special when they realize they've misinterpreted the verse. But did they really think that Jesus was going to help them win every race, get every job, get A's on every test, leap tall buildings, etc.?

Being content sounds bland compared to our worldly desires, but what a phenomenal blessing the real interpretation of Philippians 4:13 is! How wonderful would it be to have contentment in every situation in life?!

stratagem said...

Is the now-bankrupt Crystal Cathedral a monument to the end result of self-confidence and self-esteem? I suspect so.

puritanicoal said...

Quoth Phil: "People quote the verse as if it meant 'With Jesus' help you can achieve whatever dream you have for yourself.' That's not the idea at all."

At all?

What if you are saved, spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering and you turn to Ps. 37:4 - "Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires [dreams?] of your heart"?

Joe said...

"Paul is speaking as a man who wants to do the will of God"

I good follow-up to Psalm 119 to discern that God's will for us to do on earth is described in His divine Instructions of the Hebrew Scriptures. HalleluYah!

Joe

Johnny Dialectic said...

Good point, 4simpson, bolstered by the fact that the word "do" here is not the normal Greek for "make something happen" but a translation of the word for "to be strong."

THEOparadox said...

Amen, I'm glad you said it Phil! Someone once told me faith in self is the diametric opposite of faith in Christ. And I have found it to be true.

donsands said...

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons....But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant,...."-Paul to Timothy 1st & 2nd Epistle

Good post.

NoLongerBlind said...

@puritanicoal:

"....and He will give you the desires of your heart" can be read in different ways.

For example, for those who delight themselves in the Lord, He gives them the actual desires of their hearts. The usual worldy perspective is that it is saying He will give them the objects of their desires.

Daryl said...

Funny thing, so many people take that verse as Phil mentioned, that they can do anything.

But ask them if it means they (now 45 year old let's say) can play professional baseball next season.

Suddenly we have a conundrum.

But then contexticide will do that.

Once I was taught what the verse really was about (having previously engaged in such contexticide) it actually became far more encouraging than before.
Because no matter how often I read it wrong, I knew the were many many things, even godly things, that I could never do, not in a million years.

Now, I don't do contentment very well either, but thank the Lord I'm not alone.

puritanicoal said...

NoLongerBlind - if you notice, I referred explicitly to those who are saved, spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive and suffering. They are the antithesis of "the usual worldly perspective."

Daniel Leake said...

Hey Phil, great post! I think you should mention Nathan Busenitz's message on this from the 2011 Shepherd's conference. It's General Session #7.

NoLongerBlind said...

@puritanicol:

I understand your point, but that doesn't mean the verse is always rightly interpreted by said individuals.

Your reference to the verse strongly implies the worldly interpretation, meaning, that it promises that God will give (the select people you mention) the objects of their own desires, rather than giving them the actual desires they have, which, having come from God, would not be for things or circumstances outside of His will for their lives......

puritanicoal said...

No Longer - If a person is saved, spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive and suffering, and those things are operating in their life, who is running their wants/desires? God is!

So, if all those are in place in your life, then it is a good bet that your desires are attuned to the will of God. Do what you most desire to do! That's biblical.

NoLongerBlind said...

@puritanicol

we're on the same page, my friend.

When you posted your first comment, it seemed like you were using that verse - a wrong understanding of it - in contrast to the point of Phil's post.

Sorry for my misunderstanding.