“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
Recently I have been receiving lots of adds for “Reformed” products that include coffee mugs, coasters, t-shirts, hoodies, and plenty of other items that can mark me out as a Christian. It is wonderful to see these products and to know that there is a market for these types of things. It is encouraging to know that people wish to show their faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. I celebrate these website and encourage you to support these types of businesses.
However, there is always a danger when you are creating something based on Scripture while trying to appeal to the world through marketing. Just as we don’t want our worship service to be heavily formatted through worldly influences and fads, we should also be careful about what message we are sending with any Christian apparel we might wear.
Steph Curry is a Christian and plays professional basketball for the Golden State Warriors. He is sponsored by Under Armor, which produces clothing with his name and number. At some point I came into possession of a Steph Curry workout t-shirt that states, “I Can Do All Things.” Many of you will recognize that this comes from the passage at the top of this article, Philippians 4:13. Let’s take a look at the passage and then consider the message of the t-shirt.
First, the passage is one that has long been taken out of the context in which it appears. This passage when taken on its own, seems to communicate that if we will simply have enough faith, we will be able to accomplish anything. One result of reading the passage this way is the conclusion that failure to accomplish a goal entered into by faith stems directly from my lack of faith. If only I would have believed “better.” This can really undermine someone’s spiritual journey.
However, if we look at the verse that precedes this one (Phil. 4:12) we read, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Consider verse thirteen in light of verse twelve. Paul is telling us that Christ is our strength in every circumstance. When we are struggling we often forget that Christ is sovereign over our challenges and allowing them to happen. But he is also telling us that Christ is not only sovereign, but also our strength in that struggle. Paul wants us to remember this foundational truth.
Paul is also telling us that we forget that Christ is our strength when we are experiencing times of great joy. We are forgetful people. We acknowledge that we forget that we need to look to Him for strength in times of difficulty, but and even more selfishly, we forget to look to Him with thanksgiving when we have been given times of abundant joy.
Second, let’s return to the message as it appear on the Under Armor t-shirt. The truncated message is further distorted because it removes Christ altogether. “I Can Do All Things” takes a scriptural principle of relying on God and makes it extremely “me”-centric. I don’t think there were nefarious intentions in using this phrase, and there is a case to be made for exposing people to scripture in unexpected ways. But, I want us to be a people that consider the message we send to those around us. If someone hears that “I Can Do All Things” is in Scripture, it might present God and Christ in an egocentric way that was never intended by the humility and suffering of Jesus Christ our Savior. Christ is not a lucky charm allowing you to be invincible or able to anything at all as long as you believe good enough. This is a false gospel and a dangerous mindset for any person. What kind of despair would this understanding bring if you are unable to do all things.
In the next newsletter, we will look at another passage that illustrates the danger of taking passages and twisting their meaning in the interest of tickling men’s ears and making folks see something in Scripture that was never there. While this example is obvious, think about some more subtle ways Scripture might lead someone away from the grace and mercy of the gospel that is intended to bring seemingly opposing ideas to the life of the Christian, strength and rest. Both rest and strength properly understood are brought into our lives through Christ.