"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:26)
The profound possibilities of what mankind can accomplish with the human body are incredible, jaw-dropping and often mind-boggling (hello—Cirque du Soleil??!). God's human creation is imaginative, beautiful, and capable in form and function. We propel ourselves to unbelievable feats of strength, agility and flexibility, and are willing to push past all endurance for a sport or activity we love.
We even quote Bible verses to demonstrate our power over feats of human strength such as climbing Mount Everest or achieving Olympic gold. One of the most oft-quoted writers of scripture in this context is Paul in his letter to the church of Philippi. Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me" is utilized often as a testament to our own physical achievements. But, what if we are missing the real meaning and beauty of this Biblical text?
If you are using Paul's quote to get yourself through your next triathlon, I've got good news and good news. The first good news is, it's the Bible, you're reading it - yea! Second piece of good news is - the Bible is alive and active and it's an awesome time to be a lifelong learner.
Philippians 4:13 is not a verse about overcoming physical obstacles, but is instead a passage about finding contentment despite physical obstacles. Paul writes the book of Philippians as encouragement to a beloved church, and a living testimony of contentment and peace because he can do "all things through Him who strengthens me."
To understand Paul's meaning we must first read what Paul says before verse 13; "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret to facing plenty and hunger, and abundance and need. "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." There is no physical movement, feats of strength or human accomplishment involved in Paul's ability to overcome his latest hurdle here. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. We actually use this verse more in context when we lose the Olympics rather than win gold, or fall down Mount Everest rather than reach the summit.
Paul experiences various levels of physical captivity throughout his ministry. As a Roman citizen, he was at times held under house arrest and provided a food allowance while awaiting trial. Other prison terms see Paul in a damp jail cell, on a cold, rock floor with no light or comfortable bedding. Still in other circumstances he speaks of a nagging thorn in his flesh, intentionally left there by God to teach him humility. Paul is very aware of his precarious circumstances, and even addresses his imminent death in Philippians because he fully believes he will die as a result of sharing the gospel. Still, Paul says, "...I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." Whether facing a physical ailment like a thorn in his flesh, or a logistical limitation due to captivity, Paul knows where his strength lies. It is not in his human body.
"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
It seems counter intuitive to embrace our earthly frailty. Whether we exercise frequently, eat healthy, use essential oils, go to the doctor regularly, or none of the above, we are aware of our fragile existence but speak not of what that fragility actually means. As much as we celebrate human accomplishments, there is always a reminder of how little control we have over our own future possibilities.
Our earthly body has an expiration date, embracing that singular piece of knowledge is both freeing and terrifying. Freeing in that it forces us to face our eternal condition and see this limited time on earth for what it is—time to serve others, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Terrifying in that we are, after all, only human. And when my physical body starts breaking down, what then do I have? I have joy, contentment, peace, or I have sadness, bitterness, anger and regret.
Paul demonstrates in Philippians how the frailty of the human body is not one's greatest weakness when it comes to experiencing real joy and true contentment. Our personal peace is limited only by our willingness to give ourselves over to our Creator. The limitations of the human body are often exasperating and exhausting, but our Savior's capacity for providing contentment is limitless. Peace is found in submission to what only Jesus provides, because the human body is bound by our earthly frailties, but our souls are attached to our Savior and His power for soul-deep healing is beyond human imagining.
"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9
This week on our podcast, Shanda Hurt shares her story of walking through life with Multiple Sclerosis. Her journey demonstrates the ups and downs of human limitations and frailty, and also the peace and contentment found in resting in the power of her Savior. We hope you listen to her story and are encouraged by her honesty and inspired by her joy.
To listen to Shanda's story go to the Noisy Narratives Podcast.