How do you get meaning from your Bible? In an age of relativity there could me countless answers. Even if you’ve never given thought to the question, you’re probably already living your answer. The question is one of basic belief and must need be answered to live, yet it does not wait for you to check-in cognitively before the answer is put into practice.
The normal answer, is that meaning is determined by my situation in life. In bible study, it looks like taking what the bible says and determining what it means in relation to my own situation. Meaning is determined from my own life context. The result is immediate relevance to my life, along with as many different meanings as there are different life situations. It’s meaning out of the biblical context and into the context of my life. Sadly, and unknowingly, the result is also loss of biblical authority and power.
Let’s take a look at the often applied biblical passage in Philippians 4:13.
“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”
What does the passage mean? Meaning is a question of utility. How do I use it? How do I use it with full confidence that God stands behind my application because it’s His word? The normative approach is to apprehend the words of the passage and apply them to my situation in life. So that, whatever I am attempting to do, whatever my goals are, whatever hurdles I face in accomplishing them, I use the passage to gain the confidence that Christ will give me strength. The result is a firm belief that nothing I determine to do will be impossible for me. Whatever I believe, I can achieve. This common use of the passage reflects the lordship of relativity in our culture, for it has not received its meaning from the biblical context.
In the context of the passage, Paul is conveying his gratitude to the Philippians for “reviving” their concern for him. This seems to mean that they have resumed sending him support. They have always had concern for him but have recently not had an opportunity to show that concern. This is communicated in verse 10.
But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, now that at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were already concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.
He wants them to know that his joy in their revived concern does not come from a lack of contentment. So he says in verse 11.
“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am.”
He goes on to says that he has lived in humble means and in prosperity. He knows what it is to be filled and to be hungry. He knows abundance and suffering need. It is here that he says that he can do all things through the one who gives him strength. In this biblical context it seems that Paul means that he can endure all things, good or bad, through Christ. The context of the passage suggest the “do all things” is not achieve all things, but endure all things with contentment. It’s inconceivable that the Philippians believed after receiving this letter that whatever they determined to do, Christ would strengthen them to accomplish. They would have read it in it’s context and heard Paul saying that the Lord strengthens him to endure any situation the Lord has him in, whether abundance or need, hungry or filled.
So, can I do all things through Christ who is my strength? It depends on what I mean. If I mean I can endure whatever situation the sovereign Lord chooses for me because I receive my strength to endure from Christ, then yes I can do all things. But if I mean whatever I determine to accomplish in my life, I can because Christ will strengthen me, then I do not have the authority and power of the word of God to have that confidence.