As I stated in the first part of this series, to correctly understand any passage of Scripture, we must understand a few important things about it. Foundationally, we must understand its immediate context, its historical context, and the literary genre of the passage.
There are several reasons why we must correctly understand Scripture. First, it communicates important things about the nature of God that we cannot afford to get wrong. Second, we must correctly understand Scripture because it communicates God’s ultimate plan with Christ at the center of that plan (Luke 24:27). Third, we must understand how we are to live in light of God’s Word (John 17:14-17). Misunderstanding Scripture leads us to wrong theology, wrong doxology, wrong living (misapplication) and possibly a Christless eternity.
My heart grieves over the abundance and acceptance of false teachers who prey on the ignorance of people, keeping the veil over their eyes while greatly profiting. They will give an account for how they mishandled the Word, causing people to not see the glory of Jesus Christ. However, false teachers are not the only ones to blame. Often we are too lazy to read and study our Bibles to test the devotionals and books we read and the sermons / talks we hear. Scripture even tells us that sometimes we seek out false teaching for our own selfish desires (2 Timothy 4:3-4). We ought to take delight in the fact that God has sovereignly chosen to speak to us through His Word, which is readily available to us. Yes, when we read Scripture, God is speaking to us.
Another common verse that is misunderstood and misapplied is Philippians 4:13:
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard this verse used in reference to someone’s desire to excel in athletics, their careers, or some other goal they have set for themselves. Is Christ’s main concern that we reach our temporal goals? Is that what “all things” means? Of course it can mean that if it’s ripped out of its immediate context and isolated. We don’t read novels, articles or other books like that. Why do it to the Bible? Reading 101 tells us that words have definitions. Words form sentences, which form paragraphs, etc. that communicate ideas. When we remove a text from its immediate context, we distort its meaning. The context in which a passage occurs always contributes to its meaning. Discovering a meaning of a text is called exegesis. This is why I think expositional consecutive teaching/preaching through books of the Bible is better than “hopscotch” teaching/preaching. So let’s look at the context of Philippians 4 starting with verse 10.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 8 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The context of this passage reveals that at certain points in Paul’s life (see Acts 16 for background), he received some financial assistance from the Philippians as he was on mission spreading the gospel in various cities. Paul is expressing his gratitude for how the Philippians repeatedly expressed their love and concern though this financial assistance. Though Paul was expressing his gratitude, he was also saying that even if they didn’t offer assistance, he would be fine because the Lord had sustained him when money was plentiful and when it was scarce. Paul knew that he would be sustained and able to do all that the Lord wanted him to do because God would give him the grace to accomplish His will regardless of his financial situation. That’s the meaning of this text.
- Philippians 4:13 must be understood in the context of Philippians 4.
- Philippians 4 must be understood in the context of Philippians.
- Philippians must be understood in the context of the New Covenant.
- The New Covenant must be understood as the fulfillment of the Old (Mosaic) Covenant.
We need to remember that the Bible is one grand metanarrative and each book must be understood in light of that.
* Listen to a conversation by R.C. Sproul and D.A. Carson about biblical exegesis.
Grace & Peace,