There are lots of verses in scripture that we like to take out of context. I was amused to discover several months ago that even St. John Chrysostom pulled the Matthew 18 “where two or three are gathered” passage out to invoke the presence of God in a way that doesn’t fit the passage, just the same as we’re always doing it 1600 years later.
This evening, I heard a few instances of Philippians 4:13 in its usual out of context state: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (NIV) We so often read this as, “I can do great things because God makes me strong.” But the context really implies something very different. A verse or two prior notes, “I know what it is to live in plenty, and I know what it is to be in want.”
Given this, and a little bit of the context I heard it used, my mind turned to the flipside of our usual interpretation of the verse. If you can do great things, can you not do great things? Can you be unable to accomplish what you drive towards? Can you fail? Is God’s strength sufficient that we can fall flat on our faces and still be all right?
I think this is more of where Paul was coming from. For Paul, I think doing all things was more a matter of being okay regardless of what was going on. In prison? I can do that. Shipwrecked? I can do that. Beaten? I can do that. Luxury? Yeah, I can do that, too.
So is it okay to fail? Or is God’s strength not sufficient for that? An interesting question to ponder…