What does this passage mean to you?
It’s arguably the most asked question by well-meaning leaders of Sunday schools, small group Bible studies and other places where folk gather to learn God’s Word. It’s also one of the worst questions you can ask.
Why? Because it makes our opinions the context of the passage.
The problem is that the passage under study already has a context. You don’t give it one. It has one. The task of the Bible student is to know the context of the passage in order to interpret the passage. This is critical to understand because it’s the difference believing what God says and believing what you want it to say.
Take the oft-quoted passage Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
This verse has become the default Bible verse for Christian (and non-Christian) athletes around the nation. You see the Scripture reference written on wristbands, eyeblack and even tattooed on various body parts. To hear testimonies about what Phil. 4:13 means is to come away with the prevalent idea that the player, through Jesus, can overcome any odds keeping him or her from victory on the field.
Through Jesus, you can throw more touchdown passes, hit more home runs and sink more baskets, leading you to triumph over your opponents. (This can be rather complicated when opposing teams are claiming the same verse but I digress.)
However, we can’t blame athletes who’ve taken this verse and given it a “you can do anything you want to do” Jesus-steroid context; I see it quoted by regular joe’s trying to score the big business deal, make an A on the final exam or for just about anything they want to have divine success in.
The trouble, however, is, based on the “Supersize Me” meaning many give to the text, Philippians 4:13 isn’t true. In other words, you can’t do all things in Jesus. For example,
- You can’t win the 100-meter dash in the Olympics with a broken leg, no matter how much faith you have in Jesus.
- You can’t get perfect scores on your college finals and not study, no matter how much faith you have in Jesus.
- You can’t leap over tall buildings in a single bound, no matter how much faith you have in Jesus.
Why not, Yancey? Doesn’t Phil. 4:13 say that Jesus strengthens me to do anything I want?
Nope. Not at all.