Philippians 4:13 and the Prospect of Failure

One of the most beloved Scriptures in the Bible is Philippians 4:13 wherein Paul encourages His readers that all things are possible through Christ who strengthens him. But are we reading the verse the way Paul intended it to be read?

A number of years back my family and I attended a church anniversary party at a local park. One of the attractions at this party was a blowup bungee run. The aim of the game was to run as far as you could before the bungee rope you were tied to pulled you straight back to square one. I was up against one of my good friends at the time and I was struggling to reach the end. With tomato cheeks and a face drenched with sweat, my friend recited the famous verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, Lucas, remember!” Although he may not have been literally insinuating that Jesus would help us reach the end of the bungee run I did firmly agree with the idea behind it. I believed that whatever we set out to accomplish we can and will do so through the strength of Christ.

It’s always good to have a positive mindset but over the years I’ve learnt that sometimes failure is an option and if there comes a time where our expectations are not met it’s perfectly ok. Sometimes we do make mistakes, but from those mistakes, I’ve learnt more than I would have if I had simply passed by without a hitch.

So is this what Paul had intended to say when he wrote to the Philippians? If we read the verses that come before the verse in question we can see that Paul clearly had something else in mind. Here is the full passage:

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Instead of dismissing failure, poverty, or suffering, Paul remarks that even though he may go through such things he’s learnt to be content in whatever situation he has found himself in. That even if he goes hungry he knows that everything will be alright because Christ has given him the strength to make it through. Moreover, Paul’s admonition to think about “….whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, etc.” in verse eight clearly supports this line of thinking.

This is quite a far cry away from the way we quote the verse today. By quoting it we are often saying that the possibility of failure cannot and should not be entertained even though failure may be what helps us the most. Furthermore, the verse is often quoted in tandem with the “word of faith” theology that’s become rampant in modern Christianity. As important as a positive mindset is shouting out claims like “I will pass this test!” or “I will have enough money for this (insert whatever you desire here)” won’t automatically make those things happen. And what if we do fail? What if we don’t have enough money for such and such? Does that mean we didn’t have enough faith or we didn’t pray or shout loud enough?

Life is messy. We cannot expect to go through life without making poor choices or going through some kind of pain, but I’ve learnt that whatever I go through God will use it and work within it to bring about the best for my life. I’ll end with one of my favourite quotes of all-time from an anime series called Nana. It’s one I’ve held close to my heart ever since I first heard it.

“I always thought that life was about standing your ground, no matter how strong the current was. But going with the flow isn’t so bad after all. As long as it takes you forward.”