“Rejoice in the Lord always.” This is so vital that Saint Paul repeats it in that famous passage from Philippians 4. This is our starting point.
Rejoice! In the Lord. Always.
How do we rejoice when we feel we are responsible for doing it all? Quite simply, we don’t.
Turn Everything Over to Christ
A sigh of relief follows as we are not told to do all things but to simply live kindly without anxiety and know the Lord is near. We are not told to do all but instead, to turn all over to God through prayer and dwell in peace because He provides.
Saint Paul does not just mention all we can do but all we should think. None of what he tells us to think has anything to do with us or what we can do. Instead, they are gifts received, not from all we do but from dwelling in rest and peace of the Lord.
It is only after we fill our hearts and minds with all we should think that we are told what we should do. The interesting point is that what we should do does not include adding new goals to our list. It is simply to keep doing what we have already learned to do.
Finally, we come to the paragraph with the infamously misquoted, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Here, Saint Paul, says he has learned to be self-sufficient. He says he has learned to live humbly and in abundance and uses variations of this three times before finally saying, “I have strength for everything through him who empowers me.”
Too often, we look at the quote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and assume it means we can do more to get more for ourselves or for our loved ones. We think we can pile things onto our already overflowing plates and take on greater responsibility. We do this thinking we will be glorified for our accomplishments, for how our homes look, or how our children turn out.
This is not what Saint Paul says in Philippians 4:13. Instead, he says we should not do more to take on more, but we should be content with what we have. He says God empowers us right where we are with exactly what we have at this moment. He says, “Stop trying to do all things, but instead keep it simple and do what you know”.
This portion of chapter 4 ends with the verse, “Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.” This ending closes the door on what is the final misunderstanding many have in regard to the aforementioned quote.
Women, in particular, tend to beat themselves up for falling short. They are more emotional and take things personally. Thinking we should do all things well tends to make us think that if we fail or let a ball drop, Christ is not there with us. We wonder if He has abandoned us or if He is unhappy with our service. This makes us want to either give up or try harder to do even more. Neither is the best option.
Sometimes life is hard even when we are close to the Lord. Single-handedly doing all things, even when everything done is the Lord’s Will, does not necessarily make us happy. There are times in marriage, parenting, employment, and life that are just difficult. Sometimes difficult periods last decades. Feel good memes that make it seem like if we do all God will immediately smile down sets us up for disappointment. Saint Paul shows us this by expressing his appreciation for those who share in his distress. He shows us the Christian way is full of challenge, but the reward is a far greater reality than a feel-good meme.
Douay-Rheims and Philippians 4:13
Bible translations are different. Subtle changes in wording make a profound difference in meaning. The Douay-Rheims Bibles gives Phil 4:13as, “I can do all these things in him who strengtheneth me.”
It seems this is a closer version of the feel-good quote blasted across social media, but again subtle differences are powerful. “All these things,” changes the meaning to be more in line with what was previously stated.
Christ strengthens us, not to do all things, but to do what He has already allowed in our lives. He gives us power to keep going through whatever uncertainty life throws at us, not to get more but to invite Him in more.
This same portion of Philippians 4 begins, “Therefore, my dearly beloved brethren, and most desired, my joy and my crown; so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. I beg of Evodia, and I beseech Syntyche, to be of one mind in the Lord.” It runs circles around feel-good social media quotes and is more impactful and beautiful than even the New American Bible. Look at how Saint Paul addresses readers, not with calls to action, but with a showering of his love for them!
Then, perhaps knowing women and how we would run a watered-down version of Phil 4:13 thousands of years later, Saint Paul speaks directly to two women, Evodia and Syntyche, who could represent any of us today. He asks them to care less about what they do and more about being of one mind in the Lord. He continues from there in ways that are beyond the scope of this article, but that I suggest you read and reflect upon in your quiet time.
Sharing Feel Good Memes
Women are quick to like and share what makes us feel good. Doing so can be good, but it can also distract us from who we are called to be. It can make us feel bad about ourselves or pull us away from what is most important. Most of all, it can act as a cheap substitute for being with the Lord.
When we settle for the social media version of God’s Word, we think we know what we are talking about when in reality, we miss out on the beauty that awaits those who humbly dive further in. Next time a verse sounds good, research and pray over it before you share. As Saint Paul shows us, think before you act. What impresses you now may only be the beginning.