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Philippians 4: 13                Jubilee Bible

I can do all things.

You likely already know this verse and what a bunch of good news it is! There is more to this verse than meets the eye. Let’s see how it fits in the context of other verses.

In contrast to today’s verse, we find Jesus declaring in John 5: 19 he could do nothing. Where does Paul get off saying, “I can do all things,” when Jesus said he could do nothing? Of all the people in history, Jesus is the one person I believe could do anything. It leaves me thinking, “If Jesus could do nothing, where does that leave me?” How can I do all things if Jesus could do nothing? It gets worse. In John 15: 5 Jesus answers that question saying, “You can do nothing.”

That is pretty discouraging, but light begins to peek through in Proverb 10: 22 where we find that “It is the blessing that makes a person rich, and hard work adds nothing to it.” According to this proverb it is not by my labor and strength that success comes. The blessing creates success. However, many other proverbs warn about the fate of the sluggard. A good example is Proverb 21: 25, “The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.” So, on the one hand we are taught that success is not the product of our hands or even of hard work. Then, the very same author warns us not to be sluggards, but instead put our hand to the plow, as it were.

Is God schizophrenic? Does the Bible set up a dichotomy telling us one thing and then the opposite? Is the Bible intentionally confusing, cloaking its truths in mystery? Is success the product of my labor or of the divine?

As with so many topics, understanding is more clearly gained when the Bible is taken in its entirety rather than one verse standing alone. The answer to this question is in Deuteronomy 28 where we are promised that God will bless everything we set our hand to (Deuteronomy 28: 12). I am also reminded of the 23rd Psalm where we find the good shepherd who leads us in the right paths. We don’t have to find our own way. He guides us.

The way to success, in any endeavor, is through partnership with the divine. The rest of the statement from John 15: 5 is “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Paul’s statement is incomplete too. He said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul would be the first person to say he could do nothing apart from Christ. However, he understood that when he partnered with the divine, allowing Jesus to guide him and the Holy Spirit to empower him, truly nothing was impossible to him. Our labor guided by the hand of God and mixed with the blessing of the Almighty is the formula for success. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing but with him, we are well able to do all things!

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