Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Most Cliched chapter in the Bible

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice"
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God"
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me"
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus"

Anyone know where all these verses come from? Only the most cliched chapter in the whole Bible - Philippians 4. It's got to be the chapter with the most mug verses (as in coffee mugs) listed, and the most t-shirts with Bible verses ever made. I can't count how many times I've seen "Phil 4:13" on a football players eye liner, or a workout shirt with some slogan like "His pain, your gain" and then Philippians 4:13 slapped on there like a cheesy ad-on. It's one of those chapters that, if you're not careful, could rob us of some of the real depth of these verses.

We were reading and talking through Philippians 4 in our young adults group last night, and constantly had to say things like "I learned this in a song but never thought it through" or "It's a nice idea but can it really happen?" Once we looked more at the context of each verse and actually followed the thought process of Paul (as best we knew how), we did start to see some measure of depth actually restored to the verses.

Take Philippians 4:13 for example. it is used often in sports with Christian kids to encourage them to "go for it" and to tell them they are a winner. But what if you have two athletes competing against each other on different teams, both of whom are Christians, and both of whom have repeatedly told themselves "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"? What if you have a pitcher who is repeating that to himself hoping it it means he can strike someone out, while that very batter is repeating it to himself hoping it means he'll home run? What is God doing in that moment up in Heaven? Is the Father saying to the Spirit, "We really shouldn't have put that one in there, now we have to be inconsistent!" And does that Son say "I told you not to let Paul write that" with a smirk on his face?

I know it's getting a bit ridiculous, but here's the point: that verse isn't about you succeeding because Christ gives you the strength to do so. In the context it's basically about contentment in all situations, regardless of the circumstances. Paul had just said that he's learned to be content in whatever situation he is in, and describes his situations as ranging from having an abundance to going hungry. He's been at the highs and the lows, and has come out realizing he can do it all, whatever the circumstance, through Christ who strengthens him. So, the pitcher can handle failure, the batter can handle striking out to end the game, your son or daughter can get through getting cut from a team or not making it into a college, all through the strength that only comes from Jesus Christ. Contentment can be found in great success (where the temptation would be arrogance) as well as epic failure (where the temptation would be despair), and in having more than enough or lacking basic essentials for a period of time.

These verses that are ripped out of their context don't get "greater meaning" when this happens; they actually get short changed and we lose a great deal of their value. When we see what Paul is claiming we begin to see the depth of the Christian life that God offers us in Christ. Avoid taking popular verses as cliches and do your best to reclaim the beauty that is in them as you understand God's Word in deeper ways.

Soli Deo Gloria

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