Why I Hate The Most Popular Verse on Twitter (Philippians 4:13)

Why I Hate The Most Popular Verse on Twitter (Philippians 4:13) May 21, 2015

 

Flickr Creative Commons Copy Right by Rachel Titiriga
Flickr Creative Commons Copy Right by Rachel Titiriga

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

That, folks, is the worst verse in all of Holy Scripture.

Many Christians, though, love it. I hate it. It grates on my last nerve. And since the rise of social media, my loathing of this verse — even just the citation itself — has only gotten worse.

No verse has been more misused and abused than poor Philippians 4:13.

A favorite of athletes, achievers and Twitter users, it’s often used as a spiritual performance-enhancing drug, a power-up like Mario’s mushrooms that can transform whelps into powerful heroes. Almost universally, people use the verse as kind of pep talk for achievement, for victory, and for conquering the unconquerable.

In short, Philippians 4:13 has become about winning.

No surprise, then, the verse is the undisputed champion of Twitter, too. In 2014, people tweeted that verse more than 613,000 times, more than doubling the number of tweets for the second most popular verse. A quick search reveals its popularity — and flagrant misuse — shows no signs of waning.

Unfortunately, Philippains 4:13 isn’t about winning or conquering anything at all.

It’s not about achievement or victory.

Quite the opposite.

It’s about contentment in the midst of hardship not overcoming it.

Paul is writing about how he has managed to find contentment in the midst of hard times and in the midst of good times, not about how he overcame the bad times and won victory. It was about centering his life in the love of Christ and in the love of the community of Christ.

Taken in context, the verse is actually quite beautiful and does offer deep wisdom and a prophetic challenge to our consumer, capitalist-based society (see this post) that measures our worth in achievements, what we win and who we beat out.

But the verse has been so marred, almost beyond redemption, that it’s become little more than a motivational slogan. It disfigures Christian spirituality into a selfish exercise of being more, getting more, winning more.

Many people seem to use Philippians as a way to divinely ensure their success. I will win because Christ gives me strength. I will make an A on that test because Christ gives me strength. I can finish that marathon because Christ gives me strength.

This kind of spirituality that lionizes the victors, of course, stands in stark contrast to the Christ who became one of the abused, the marginalized, and the poor. I find it hard to imagine the Christ who identified with the least of these would be so ultimately concerned with divinely emboldening you to max out your bench press or to run your fastest time on the track.

Used in context, though, that verse means something completely different. It means that because Christ gives me strength, I will be content whether I win or lose, whether I pass or fail, whether I finish the race or fall out at mile 11.

Because there is more to life than winning and losing, achieving and failing.

That’s the strength Christ offers — the power to untangle ourselves from how the world measures our worthiness. The strength Christ offers is the courage to see ourselves not for what we do but how deeply we are loved, to see our worth not in terms of success but in terms of how much God loves us.

Then, life is not about competing and our brothers and sisters are no longer our competition — or opponents — in the race for the necessities of life. Recognizing our belovedness requires that we see the belovedness in all others.

And when we center our identity in our belovedness and not in our successes or failures, then we have a chance, like Paul, to know what it means to be strengthened by Christ not so that we find achievement but that we might find contentment.

Because ultimately, when we know our belovedness and the belovedness of others, contentment isn’t found when we have enough or when we win. Rather, it is only found when all have enough, when all are fed, and when justice is offered to all.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Saffy Canady

    Thank you for this … I am so tired of hearing this. I am surrounded by people dripping with wealth and when they go out in “the mission field” they say this to the people they are “serving”. It breaks my heart every time.

  • Elizabeth Skidmore O’Donnell

    I take it more to mean I can bare all things, more of an emotional all things. I never actually EVER thought it meant anything else. what are your thoughts on that take on it?

  • JJ

    Yes. This verse is a comfort to me when I am suffering and the only path out is enduring through it. I have never associated it with success. I also don’t like it when the verse is used against people, if that makes sense.

    • cedar

      I know what you mean by using it against people. I’ve have a tendency to associate the verse with bullying. I’ve seen it used one to many times to bully people into doing church work they weren’t called to do.

    • theprozacqueen

      That’s how I’ve seen it too…a comfort, an inspiration to keep going regardless of how hopeless things look.

  • Michael Moore

    Well said, my friend, well said…

  • Colin Blackman

    Hate is a pretty strong word Curtis! Nevertheless, I agree that this text has been abused and misused so much that I too don’t want to hear it. But since we both know that the problem is not with the text but with its use, why give up such precious sacred turf to abusers of the word? This simply tells me that I need to work harder at debunking this kind of unfortunate misapplication of the Divine Word of God!

  • Mark Lavette

    thank you …I needed this …as one who is forced to measure my success by making it through the day alive… not by the american conception of wealth …knowin that personal success isnt always a monetary progress

  • Toa Reap Sr.

    The strength of endurance in love and faith 🙂

  • Jeremiah 29:11 next, that one is also used completely out of context.

  • I agree with what you said but also think that it does mean victory in all. Jesus was the example that we live by and there is not one thing that Jesus did not excel in why He was on this Earth. Yes that verse is to help us find contemptment and to help us through hard times, but it does also show there is nothing that is impossible for God. For me everytime I want to give up and I think on this verse, God gives me the strength to continue writing a book, or continue getting through a message, or continue in whatever I need help with. I have accomplish so much that I never would have done if it was not for me leaning on that verse, if it produces good fruit for others, who are we to judge if its taken out of context. A scripture will mean one thing to this person and another to the next person. We cant put God in a box, yes you are right with the interpataion that you gave, but allowing scripture to interpret scripture, we can do ALL things through Christ Jesus that strentghens us!

  • jaydweaver

    Thank you, David. This is what happens when we pull verses from the ancient writings out of context. It defiles scripture to simply find strings of words that say what we want them to say.

  • Jesus Bones

    The Bible is all hokum any how, so don’t worry be happy!

  • Rust Cohle

    I thought it was Tebow 4:13.

  • Dan Tucker

    It´s too bad that Christians hate so much, especially some of God´s words. Why can´t Phil. 4:13 mean victory with contentment? Sounds like an unnecessary splitting of hairs. I hope non-Christians don´t read this. Shame on you. Count me in as loving this verse.

  • Robert Hurley

    First: I do not refer to myself as a Christian. But the figure of Christ that emerges from the first three Gospels (John being another matter entirely) is someone I can get behind wholeheartedly. I understand the Bible is a book written (edited and re-edited) by men, and I choose to accept or not accept these writings on their various merits. That being said,I have always had issue with many of the writings following these first three Gospels, and furthermore I have serious questions about what really occurred during Paul’s “miraculous” conversion, something I ascribe more to psychological rather than metaphysical origins. The book of Philippians is no different in this regard.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    It disfigures Christian spirituality into a selfish exercise of being more, getting more, winning more. No offense to you dear, but after my experience and the experiences of other people I think Christian spirituality might be an oxymoron.

  • prophetic challenge to our consumer, capitalist-based society (see this post) that measures our worth in achievements, what we win and who we beat out.

    What I love about this post is that it simultaneously allows its writer to express his thoughts to the unfathomable masses using a consumer, capitalist-built device and infrastructure, and also to blame consumerism and capitalism for society’s ills.

    • Ann

      I wonder what you’d have him do: just not write anything at all to anyone so as to avoid this issue?

      • I find that the very people who complain the loudest about “our consumer, capitalist-based society” are also the first ones to enjoy the fruits of its labour(so to speak). It’s like non-ironically wearing a Che t-shirt made by underpaid semi-slave labour in Asia. So I try to point out the irony as often as I can.

  • Barbara Graves

    I’ve often thought the same thing! Agreed that upon reading the rest of the chapter, its real meaning is clearer. I’ve found the New American Bible version of this verse really gets at the meaning much more clearly: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

  • Samuel Chetty

    I agree that the passage is misused; however, I do think the passage is talking about victory. In the book of Romans, Paul wrote about how Christ’s death and resurrection brings freedom from bondage to sin. Although none of us become perfect in this life, we can trust God to work in us to will and to work (Phil. 2:13) to overcome bad habits and temptations. However, this can sometimes be a long-term process; we can’t expect to quote this verse and suddenly get the power to conquer anything we want. While waiting for our personal development to unfold, the Bible offers us contentment, as this post describes, which enables us to have patience.

  • cedar

    I’ve typically heard this verse used when someone wants to bully someone else into doing more church work. You aren’t called to teach Sunday school? Do it anyways, Philippians 3:14 says you can! I finally heard my own pastor say, “You can do all things through Christ? Well, lets see you fly. Start flapping, I’ll wait.” He then went on to explain the verse in its proper context.

  • walnutosage

    Makes more sense this way. Thanks! A verse I find irritatingly abused is “Trust in God and God will give you the desires of your heart.” I think it means God will give you the desires God wants you to have.