Sunday, November 27, 2011

I can do all things . . .

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

This passage from the letter of St. Paul to the saints in Philippi has been used throughout the centuries as words of comfort and encouragement by millions, even billions, of struggling people. St. Paul wrote these words for that very purpose. However, our translations change what the apostle actually says, and actually lessen the comforting power of these words by this change.

A literal translation of what he says is:

In/for all-things I am strong in the-one empowering me, Christ.

The apostle is actually saying something very different than what most translators presume. What the apostle shares is much more powerful than what most people hear, even more powerful than what most people want to hear. For most people do not really want to hear what he says with these words. They want to hear what most translators superimpose onto this text and interject into the meaning.

Consider this statement with the rest of what he says:

     But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:10-20)

Notice his situation. He has been in prison. He has suffered the lack of many of the things that we daily enjoy and even count as necessary. He has been lonely. His freedom has been restricted. In the midst of this he says that he is content. Imagine that! He is content. How? He says it is because he knows the faithfulness of God in Christ. He extends this confidence to the saints in Philippi, saying, “my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by [in] Christ Jesus.”

Thus St. Paul declares that in all things he is strong in the one empowering him, Christ.

St. Paul most definitely does not say that he can do all things. He says that in all things or for all things he is strong. Strong for what? Strong to endure. Strong to look beyond himself and his circumstances to the promises of God in Christ. Strong to be content even though he is cold and hungry and lonely and imprisoned and hurting and abused and in many ways neglected and forgotten. He is strong to “rejoice always!”, as he said in verse 4.

The second and most important difference to notice from what our translations usually say is that St. Paul does not say that he is strong through the one empowering him, but IN the one empowering him.

The word for through is dia. But St. Paul here uses en, which means in.

Now it certainly would have been a true statement for the apostle to say that he is strong through Christ, for Christ is the means through which we have our strength. Christ is the one who empowers us and gives us strength. But St. Paul was saying something more than this. He was addressing more than the power of Christ to do for him what he needed.

With the word en, our word in, St. Paul was speaking of what the Holy Spirit worked for him in his baptism. Jesus explains this to Nicodemus in John 3 when He tells the bewildered Pharisee that only through water and spirit is a person able or powerful to enter into the kingdom of God.

To the Philippians St. Paul refers to the one empowering him with the word endunamounti. To Nicodemus the Lord Jesus says that “to be able to” or “to be powerful to” enter into the kingdom of God with the word dunatai.

The power is the Word of God, which is Jesus, the Christ. In Romans 1:16 St. Paul refers to the Gospel of Christ as the dunamis or power of God into salvation. This is the same language as the Lord Jesus uses with Nicodemus regarding Baptism as that which makes one able to enter into the kingdom of God.

This is how St. Paul tells the Philippians that he is being empowered and made strong for all things. St. Paul was not able to do anything. He was imprisoned. He could do nothing for himself. Yet he was strong for this in Christ. As one who had been baptized into Christ and had partaken of the body and blood of Jesus many times, he was strong in the Lord. He was strong to endure this time that made his own human weakness manifest beyond question. Yes, for all things he was strong in the one empowering him, Christ.

When we hear the apostle’s words as he actually says them, we, too, are strong in the one empowering us. Our hearts are then turned from any and all forms of self-reliance to trust in Christ. This means that even our own personal faith is counted as nothing. Rather we are directed to depend upon the faith that the Holy Spirit has worked through our being baptized into Christ, who is the one who continually empowers us to be strong in all things.

This understanding changes a person’s perspective from one that is doomed to fail to a perspective that cannot fail. For when Christ is our hope and our confidence and our strength, the one through whom all things were called into existence and through whom all things are preserved, the one who has redeemed sinful mankind and accomplished the reconciliation of God and Man in His own body and now calls us into the communion of His body through the means of grace, when this Christ is the one whom we trust as our strength, we truly are strong for all things.

This confidence cannot be known apart from being IN Christ and relying upon this holy communion for all things. If we look for strength from our own believing in Jesus, this strength will fail us again and again. For our faith is weak. Our faith is dependent upon our strength. But The Faith, the faith of Jesus, is without limit. The faith that is worked in us through the means of grace is the very power of God at work in us and for us.

From this word dunamis we have the word dynamite. It is a very fitting adoption of this Greek word. The Gospel of Christ is the dynamite that blasts through our rock hard heads and hearts to move us from self-reliance to faith in our loving God and Father and Creator and Provider and Redeemer and Savior and Brother and Sanctifier and Comforter. When this Gospel is conjoined with water, it works to carry us into the kingdom of God even now, here on earth, into the body of Christ. Having been carried or washed into the body of Christ here on earth, having been brought into the communion of His body, we then are continually nourished and strengthened and renewed through the communion of His body and blood in His holy Supper.

This is how God works to keep us in Jesus Christ all the days of our life. This is how God works to make us poor, weak, miserable sinners strong in the one empowering us. Because of this St. Paul could say that he was strong for all things, even while imprisoned. Even though it had likely been a long time since he partook of the holy Supper in a congregation of the saints, he nevertheless was strong through the many times that he did partake of Christ’s body and blood. In the assurance that he had been given through the gift of Christ in the Sacrament, he remained strong even now, even when he felt otherwise all alone and abandoned.

This strength is far greater than saying “I am able to do all things.” For this strength is available to the person who is in prison and is not able to do all that one would choose to do. This strength is available to the person in the hospital suffering from cancer that is eating the flesh and destroying from within and causing seemingly unendurable pain. This strength is available to the person trapped in the darkness and loneliness of a coma. This strength reaches the person cut off from loved ones and friends through Alzheimer’s. This strength breaks through the enslavement and hopelessness of addiction. In Christ there are no twelve steps to fulfill. Christ is the fulfilment. Christ is the one empowering and setting free. In Christ, one is already strong, already free. In Christ is forgiveness and restoration to holiness. In Christ is justification in the face of all accusations. In Christ is sanctification from all unholiness. In Christ is life everlasting.

This is the strength of which St. Paul speaks. This strength is ours in Christ in His Holy Communion. He has ordained Baptism as the means by which we are washed into His communion. He has ordained the Supper of the New Testament by which we are made partners or communicants in His communion. Through these, just as God promises, we are made to be strong and kept strong in the one empowering us, Christ.

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Gary Cepek said...

Pastor Siems,
As in your sermons, so in your devotion here, you bring forth clearly the work of God for the penitent and the Means by which He calls, enlightens, sanctifies and keeps us in the one True faith.

We thank the LORD for His work through you to say what He wants said to His glory and the eternal edification of His people.

We've been severely afflicted physically for nearly 7 weeks now; He promises to discipline those whom He loves that His harvest of righteousness may be produced in the life of those He trains. We count it a blessing, though the flesh does not appreciate it. And we find the blessings it leaves as His discipline strips away the dross that His gold may shine. His Word leaves us with no other genuine conviction than His Word and the faith the Spirit engenders by it.

Thanks be to God for the insights He permits you to pen to His glory and the blessing of His people.

Gary Cepek

Ryan Brown said...

What bible version do you use? I use the NKJV and its a lot different. Just curious.:)

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Dear Gary,

Thank you for your wonderful comments and additional thoughts.

I am very sorry to hear that you and your wife have had such bodily ailments of late, but I am glad that the Lord keeps you mindful of the ways that He uses these things for our benefit and even nurturing.

God's peace,
~ Paul

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Dear Ryan,

I still use the NKJV at times, but I have returned to the KJV for most of my use. It is Public Domain and thus I can use it freely without copyright concerns. It also is the the most widely distributed English translation. Furthermore, it is among the more accurate translations, though I find many errors in the KJV as well.

The translation that you most likely refer to as "a lot different" is a direct translation from the Greek text. I try to be as close to the actual word order as I am able when I translate directly. It helps to show the emphasis that the Holy Spirit moved the writer to stress. The "In/for all-things I am strong in the-one empowering me, Christ." is an example of my direct translating.

Ryan Brown said...

I did not realize that the word could be copyright. I am glad you brought that up. I will be more careful when using the Word in writing from now on.

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Ryan, I agree that it is insane that the Scriptures, even a translation, should have copyright limitations. Translation work is painstaking work, but it should not be counted as one's own property. But it is. People do need to be able to earn a living, though, and those who devote themselves to translation work devote much time to their work.

The Scriptures,however are not the Word. Jesus is the Word, and He gives Himself freely.

Nelson Publishing has a more generous allowance of permission to quote the NKJV than some. Here is the link if you would like to read their permissions statement for "fair use" of "their Bible".

This is part of the reason that I decided to make the KJV my primary reference. I don't want to fuss with such nonsense when quoting the Scriptures.