If you pay attention to social media, it’s very common to see athletes posting #Phil413 in relation to their athletic accomplishments. The Bible verse appears on t-shirts for Christian schools, the social media platforms for MMA fighters, and it’s likewise used by Track & Field athletes as they seek to give credit to Christ for their abilities.
The verse became more widely known due to Tim Tebow, the former Heisman winner and quarterback for the Florida Gators during the 2008 season. As Tebow led his team to the national championship game against Oklahoma, he and his teammates would write messages in their black eye paint before every game. As players were in the locker room writing their mother’s name or their zip code under their eyes, Tebow decided to go a different direction. He wrote Philippians 4:13.
During the national championship game, Tim Tebow chose a different Bible verse. He wrote John 3:16 under his eyes knowing that the cameras would be focused on him throughout the entire game. Following the game, he was informed that some 94 million people had searched for “John 3:16” on Google. While that’s certainly a great thing, what about Philippians 4:13? Is it about scoring touchdowns or winning the big game?
One of the pastoral epistles in the New Testament is known as “Philippians” because it was addressed to the church in the city of Philippi. This letter also contains one of the most famous verses in the Bible—Philippians 4:13.
As Paul penned this letter, he was writing from prison. Paul was not writing from a magnificent library. He was not writing from a comfortable vacation resort. He was writing from prison and he had a specific purpose in mind as he addressed the church in this strategic city east of Rome. This city of Philippi was located on the main highway (Via Egnatia) that stretched from Rome to the east. Therefore, it received many visitors, prospered economically, and became a wealthy city. It was there that God raised up a church.
The main theme of Philippians is centered on joy. Paul uses “joy” as a noun a number of times in the letter as well as “rejoice” in a verbal form to drive home his point. Even from prison, Paul was joyful in his soul and desired that this church would experience their joy of faith as well.
A Brief Word About Biblical Interpretation
When we come to the Bible, we must remember that it’s not an open source sandbox for us to use as we choose. The Bible is a collection of some 66 books that were written by 40 different human authors over a period of 1,500 years. Each of these men were moved by the Spirit of God to communicate God’s Word in a specific setting and for a specific purpose. The original author’s intent is where we will discover the actual single meaning of the passage of Scripture.
This is critically important as it pertains to biblical hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation). Whether it’s a small group sitting around with coffee, a pastor in the pulpit, or a football player in a locker room—nobody has the right to assign meaning to a text of Scripture. Every single Bible verse has a context, and that surrounding context will aid the reader in understanding the meaning of a keyword or passage. While that passage may have multiple applications, it has only one meaning and that’s the foundational goal of any good Bible study.
The Meaning of Philippians 4:13
When it comes to Philippians 4:13, the brutal truth is that it has absolutely nothing to do with scoring touchdowns or any other athletic competition, but it does communicate Christian truth. It does communicate a really important lesson about Paul’s Christian life—and a worthy example for us to follow in our journey of faith.
If you begin in verse 10 of Philippians 4, you will notice what Paul communicates to the church in Philippi. He recounts his journey of faith and how he had learned the art of Christian contentment. Notice that Paul was able to be content in a variety of seasons.
– When Brought Low
– When Abounding
– With Plenty
– In Hunger
– With Abundance
– In Need
– While Suffering
Even his present condition from a jail notwithstanding, he had learned to be content in Christ. With all of that context in mind, he then says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
While you should bypass that football shirt with Philippians 4:13 on it, don’t miss the bigger lesson from Paul’s letter. No matter what twists and turns you find yourself taking in the Christian life, you can learn to be content with a joyful spirit just as the apostle Paul exemplified. If you find yourself on a mountain peak or valley floor—the blessings or trials should not prevent you from walking by faith with a joyful heart. If you find yourself suffering for the sake of following in the footsteps of Jesus, as you take up your cross, do so with a heart of contentment and joy.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Phil 4:4).