I’m not a big basketball fan, but I will tune in from time to time to the NBA Finals. This past week, the Golden State Warriors won the championship, led by the league MVP Stephen Curry. Curry is open about his faith. He attributes his talent to the Lord, and acknowledges God in each basket he scores by pounding his chest and pointing to the sky.
In February, Under Armour launched a new shoe called The Curry One, which has “4:13” on the tongue lace loop. Of the number, Curry said:
It represents a Bible verse I wear on my shoe, Philippians 4:13. It says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ It’s also my mantra, how I get up for games and why I play the way I do.1
Curry is not alone in using Philippians 4:13 about athletic prowess. NFL QB Tim Tebow has painted “Phil 4:13” among other verses in his eye black. It is commendable that they are open about their faith, and it’s right to give God the glory for good things we have in life, but their use of Philippians 4:13 is a common misuse of the text. Too often, it is recited by folks as though it were some mystical incantation from which we can draw power to rise to whatever challenge or occasion we are faced with.
If the Christian can do all things through Christ, then every Christian should be 100% successful at everything they do, right? Whether it be sports, school, work, investing, relationships—whatever it be, the Christian who rubs this great gene lantern in Philippians 4 should find success. In fact, there is no reason to think that a Christian who invokes the power of Philippians 4:13 wouldn’t be a successful multi-sport athlete, financial expert, doctor, politician and 29 other things all wrapped into one. Why limit the text? It says all, not some things.
I wonder, if Christians on opposite teams or with contrary interests in the same activity both cite Philippians 4:13, who gets God on his side? It is foolishness. Such use of the verse is nothing but silly superstition.
Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while under house arrest in Rome (how many “name it & claim it” folks know that?). If it had some magical power to give success to the Christian, Paul could have used it to free himself. He didn’t because it doesn’t. It’s not about prosperity or accomplishments; it is a text about contentment. Take a moment and read our 15 verse context, Philippians 2:6-20.
Verses 6-7 encourage us to focus on prayer, to bring our struggles to God. He does not say God will answer all our prayers in the way we desire. Paul asked God to remove an issue in his life and the answer was no (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). What we can find in prayer is release from anxiety, peace in our hearts, and confidence in God’s care.
In verse 8-9, Paul seeks for us to focus on the right things in life—things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. We want our minds to be centered on God’s will and on examples of it put into practice (v 9).
The church at Philippi was dear to Paul, and he to them. They had sent support to him to meet his needs in the past, and at verse 10, he says they’d done so again. Though he was grateful for their gift of love, his words in the next few verses demonstrate the lack of anxiety and fullness of God’s peace in his life that he had encouraged in them. Notice verse 11-12:
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound…
Paul trusted in God to provide for his needs. He didn’t worry about things. If he had much and was full, he was thankful; if he did not, then his confidence was in the Lord, that his needs (not wants) would be met. Just a few verses later, the apostle would write:
…my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (4:19)
Philippians 4:13 is not about achieving our dreams and desires. It is about us focusing on the truly important things in life (spiritual service), and finding contentment in all the things that come up against us in this life, knowing that God is watching and will provide our needs.