The Greater Promise of Philippians 4:13
If you are like thousands of Christian athletes, at one point you have probably claimed Philippians 4:13 as a way to gain you what you desire most.
But Philippians 4:13 actually promises to deliver far more than we allow ourselves to hope. We often claim it in hopes that God will allow us to experience some form of victory through maximum performance, but God offers it to us for something much deeper and more satisfying.
What We Think We Want
Before we look at the verse used by Christian athletes everywhere, ask yourself this question: What do you really want from your sport experience?
When you perform well, what about that experience makes you want to come back for more? When you struggle or fail, what motivates you to either push forward or sink back? Why do you really play your sport?
Maybe some of the following resonates with your own situation:
- I play because I like winning
- I play to feel the joy of playing
- I play to gain my parent’s approval
- I play to experience a coach’s approval
- I play to garner fan’s admiration
- I play to impress the opposite sex
- I play to make it to the next level
- I play to impress my friends
I played sports growing up to impress others. I loved it when I did well and other people told me how great I was. As a runner, I literally chased after the admiration I sought from my parents, friends, and coaches.
What We Really Need
Where does Philippians 4:13 fit into all of this? You may have this verse tattooed somewhere on your body. If you don’t, you probably know someone that does.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
What a great verse! I cannot even count how many times I prayed this verse as I toed the line for a track race. I have claimed this verse as if to say, “God, I know I can win this race because you will give me strength!” It says so right in the Bible!
Let me introduce you to another passage of scripture.
“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. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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.”
If I were to ask you to sum these three verses up in a single word, what would that be? How would you describe what the apostle Paul is trying to articulate to his readers?
Hopefully the word you would use would be—contentment.
Paul is saying that he has learned to be content in every situation. Whether he has a lot of success or a little, whether he is full or hungry, whether he is on top of the world or in the lowest of valleys, he has learned the secret of being content.
How is he able to do this? Interestingly, the next verse is the launching point of our discussion.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Is Paul talking about making the winning shot, or winning a championship, or setting a new personal best? No! What he is saying, athlete, is that regardless of whether you succeed or fail in your sport—or at anything in life—that you can find contentment because of Christ.
We wrongly claim Philippians 4:13 to help us succeed in sports but what God is shouting at us from this verse is that we already have everything we could ever want in Christ.
More satisfying than gaining people’s approval is getting to a place where you no longer need it.
Our Ultimate Motivation
Are you ready to learn why you really play your sport?
Everything you do in sport is to chase the dangling carrot of contentment.
Lie: Philippians 4:13 means that I can achieve any outcome in my sport because of Christ.
Truth: Philippians 4:13 means that I can have contentment regardless of the outcome because of Christ.
The desire for contentment is not a bad thing. It is actually a shared human experience. Who does not want and therefore actively seek contentment? The problem comes when we attempt to use the vehicle of sport to drive us there.
We will always end up disappointed when we try to use created things to bring us ultimate satisfaction. C.S. Lewis summarized this misdirected pursuit when he said
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Lewis suggests that instead of giving up on the idea of attaining contentment, we should understand that too often we’re simply expecting to acquire it from the wrong things. The beauty of Philippians 4:13 is that it offers us the proper transportation to reach the destination of contentment. It’s right to claim it, but in pursuit of a deeper joy that transcends our immediate circumstances.
The book of Ecclesiastes says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of man. That eternal void cannot be satisfied by the temporal things of this world. We need an eternal solution to satisfy our human desire for ultimate contentment.
It is not found in a sport, a job, or an experience.
It is found in a person.
And His name is Jesus.
This devotional was used with permission from its author, Brian Smith and Athletes in Action.
Brian Smith is the author of The Assist: A Gospel-Centered Guide to Glorifying God Through Sports. He is on staff with Athletes in Action at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Brian is married with 3 kids, likes the Detroit Lions probably a little too much, and graduated with a degree in Journalism from Wake Forest University. You can find him on Twitter @BrianSmithAIA or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org