I knew I could make it down the hill.
I was headed to a friend’s house after school one day and had brought my roller skates. They had side-by-side big orange wheels, not the inline type of roller skates, and they had these huge orange stoppers at the front of the skate. I carried them with me to the top of the overpass near my friend’s place and decided I was going to wear them down the hill. This wasn’t a tiny hill. It was a huge freeway overpass, but I thought if I used my stoppers it shouldn’t be a problem. So I laced up my skates and started down the hill. I started gaining speed pretty quickly, even dragging the stopper. I kept applying more pressure on the stopper, but it just kept shedding this orange trail behind me as it got smaller and smaller. I realized that this wasn’t going to end well. In front of me was the freeway on-ramp which was getting closer faster. To my left was a huge ditch and to my right was oncoming traffic. The only thing between me and a complete disaster was a telephone pole. So I headed toward the pole. I put my arms out in front of me, spread my legs so I could hug the pole and WHAP! My arms buckled from the force, my head hit the pole, the area between my legs hit the pole and I collapsed on the ground. But I was safe. Still, I sat there for like ten minutes before getting up, taking off my shoes, and walking the rest of the way to my friends’ house. I kept wondering what kind of world we live in that nobody stopped to see if I was okay. I’d like to say I learned from that experience, but about 10 years later, my friends and I were rollerblading and decided we could conquer another friend’s street. It was super steep and again led out to a major street, but with 10 years experience behind me, I thought I could handle it. None of us could. I knew right away it was a mistake (maybe I did learn a little) so I veered to the right and slid to the ground. Another friend of mine rolled onto a neighbor’s yard and tumbled on their lawn. And my other friend was able to turn all the way around and stop on someone’s driveway. We all took off our skates and walked back up.
Sometimes we are blind to our own limitations.
Sometimes we are blind to our own limitations. It’s not that we can’t see them, but too often we don’t see them. In the same way that we like to think the best of ourselves, we also like to believe we can do anything! And again, that CAN be a good thing. Believing you can do the impossible sometimes leads us to actually DO the impossible. But knowing our limitations can also help us. It helps us to make the most out of the gifts we do have and to be creative in achieving our goals. Knowing our limitations helps us to make the most of the gifts we have and inspires us to be creative in achieving our goals. Knowing our limits is a blessing, not a curse, not a discouragement. Instead it is a tool in our tool belt.
It’s hard for us to accept that we have limits.
Especially when it seems within the realm of possibility. Especially when it seems like it’s something we could do or something we used to be able to do. In those cases, we are prone to ignore our limitations and attempt to do it anyway. Maybe it’s lifting a box that seems we should be able to lift. Maybe it’s going on a ride we used to love going on as a kid. Maybe it’s eating food we used to eat all the time. It’s hard for us to accept our limits. The Bible even seems to tell us that all we have to do is believe in ourselves enough and we can do anything! If we simply have enough faith, we can literally move mountains! That’s what the Bible says, right? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Well, let’s look a bit closer at that verse. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Philippians 4:10-20. Philippians 4:10-20. Paul writes this letter to the church at Philippi at some point while imprisoned. He writes to give them encouragement and direction and his letter seems filled with hope even though he himself is in dire circumstances. The passage we are reading today comes from the end of that letter and in it, Paul clearly writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” although each translation has it a bit differently. The one I’m reading this morning says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” But does that mean what we think it means? Let’s read it together and find out.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Francis Chan, the founding pastor of Cornerstone Church down in Los Angeles and a prominent speaker around the country, says that he thinks this is the most “misquoted verse in the world.” That we’ve taken it to mean that we can do anything because God will gives us the power to do it. Whether its in athletics or school or work or some competition, it doesn’t matter what kind of training you’ve had or how well prepared you are because God will just give you the ability to succeed no matter what. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” We read that verse earlier in the Bible in Mark 11 where Jesus himself tells us that if we have enough faith, and according to Jesus it’s not very much – the size of a mustard seed – that if we just have enough faith we can literally (LITERALLY not figuratively) move mountains. That is how powerful God is. All we have to do is believe or have enough faith and that’s enough.
It’s funny how we can twist anything to fit our beliefs.
Instead of looking at a verse like this closely or reading it in context, we just take the snippets we like and suddenly it becomes a mandate from God. The sad part is our false beliefs not only dishonor God’s teachings, but make life harder for us as well, at least in the long run. We start to doubt God. We start to doubt ourselves. We start to doubt everything we believe in and our faith becomes brittle and crumbles away. I remember reading about this woman who believed in Benny Hinn’s power of healing. Benny Hinn is a televangelist who claims that God conducts miracle healings through him and if you send money to support his ministry and his lavish lifestyle and private jets and staying in luxury hotels, then you will be doing God’s work too and God’s blessing will rain down upon you. This woman went to go see Hinn at one of his crusades and was supposedly healed of her cancer. She was not. And even though her condition worsened, she believed to her dying day that Hinn had healed her and refused to go to doctors or get treatment. When they did an autopsy of her body, they found the cancer had caused her death. Sometimes, we are so desperate to believe in what we want to be true that we fail to see what actually is true. Sometimes we are so desperate to believe in what we want to be true that we fail to see what actually is true.
Paul isn’t saying in this passage that God will make whatever you want happen.
Paul isn’t saying that our faith is the only thing necessary to make things happen. What Paul is saying in this passage is simply that throughout his life, because of God’s grace, he has been able to endure anything. He is able to be at peace, whether he has a lot or a little, because he knows that true peace comes in the hope given to us by Christ. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The secret is faith in God. The secret of being content is faith in God. It isn’t money or power or fame because there are plenty of people with plenty of money or power or fame who are as discontent as you or I. Sometimes having more simply means wanting more.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The problem with translations is that it isn’t always accurate. If you read a NIV, a NRSV, a Good News Bible, and a NLT, you might come away with different meanings depending on how each was translated. One thing I found in researching this passage was that the verb “to do” isn’t actually in this verse. The actual verb is “ischuo” and it means “to be able, strong, healthy, valid, powerful.” What seminary professor Ben Witherington wrote is that a better translation of this passage is “I am able / strong enough [to endure] all things in Him who empowers me.” I am able to endure all things in Him who empowers me. That sounds an awful lot more consistent with God’s character than our interpretation of God as wish-fulfiller, as a kind of Genie in a bottle.
I hope you will think about this verse as we think together about the future of our church.
We have struggled a lot lately. We’ve had lots of people who have been sick, or injured, or moved away, or died. All within one year. We are a different church today than we were when I first got here. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of doing good work for God right here and right now. But it might mean we need to do it in a different way and that’s what I hope you will pray about in the coming weeks. I hope you will be open to thinking about new ways of doing things. I hope you will be open to finding different ways to show our love for God and one another. I hope that instead of trying to recapture the vitality of the past that we will look for ways to be vital with who we have and who we are right now. Let us pray for us to be content no matter the circumstance through our faith in God. And let us also pray for God’s creativity to come alive in us that we might discover those ways we can continue to do God’s work. We may not be able to roller skate our way to a solution, but maybe we need to walk our way down this chapter of the life of our church. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.