In writing the following, I want to be sure to establish the heart from which this devotional message has developed over the course of years.
Having been through two brain surgeries and the arduous ensuing times of recovery brought about from them, it was at those points so often, people would write brief notes of encouragement followed by an uplifting biblical verse. Although their notes were the highlights of my day and that part of my journey, I frequently struggled with not experiencing the biblical encouragements they offered in hopes of lifting my spirit.
To be more succinct (or blunt if you will), their biblical quotations intended for comfort weren’t cutting it!
However, over time, God in His never-ending patience with me began to open my eyes to what I was so often missing. An every-present truth, right there, in front of me in His Word, and yet, I never apprehended the relevance therein.
Allow me to point to one specific example: Philippians 4:13 – this particular verse is so often quoted for those whose journey finds them a path of being totally weak. Either spiritually, physical or emotionally, this verse is often quoted to that believer in hopes of offering encouragement; that Christ will give them the strength to accomplish “all things,” including getting beyond their particular season of weakness.
I believed that with all my heart, but truth be told, week after week, month after month, I got nothing! No added strength, no bolt of God’s power hittin’ me on the head to jump up and get with it again. Nope… I got zilch… nada… zero! And I became increasingly frustrated because I was waiting for the strength to come and it wasn’t coming to me.
And then one day, instead of just looking to the single verse, I began to read the chapter in its entirety… and guess what? There I discovered my problem and the problem wasn’t that Christ hadn’t fulfilled His promise… the problem was with me not fully understanding what His promise entailed!
Being able to quote Phil. 4:13 from memory is wonderful, but I respectfully would like to ask, how many can quote verses 11 and 12 from memory? And that was my problem… let me take you to exactly what Paul wrote, prior: “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, plenty or little. And then he follows with: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” But wait, there’s more for us to grasp here my friends!
You see, when Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi he did so around A.D. 60. Now, if we turn to 2 Corinthians 11:16-30 look at what we discover here in Paul’s letter:
“Again I say, don’t think that I am a fool to talk like this. But even if you do, listen to me, as you would to a foolish person, while I also boast a little. Such boasting is not from the Lord, but I am acting like a fool. And since others boast about their human achievements, I will, too. After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face. I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too “weak” to do that!
But whatever they dare to boast about—I’m talking like a fool again—I dare to boast about it, too. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying.”
And here’s what I was missing in the connection of biblical truth when solely looking at Philippians 4:13. When Paul wrote his testimony of trials to the church at Corinth, he did so around A.D.56. And yet, the letter to the believers at Philippi was written in approximately A.D. 60. So, Paul had already been through these most trying of circumstances in his walk of faith. Severe testing, painful afflictions, imprisonment, beatings and so forth… and after all of that, several years later, it was then that he could right, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
As if the shutters in my mind had been flung open wide to allow the light to come streaming in… I finally understood why so many biblical quotes, used for comfort, often fall short in bringing the immediate depth of peace, strength or comfort I longed for… all due to my not fully apprehending the total truth. As in the case with Phil. 4:13 – He was able to write his testimony of Christ being totally sufficient for the strength he needed, only after he had endured so many of life’s trials. No doubt, during the various aspects of what he had to endure, there were thoughts if he’d make through the night. And years later, he was able to look back at the sustaining arm of Christ Jesus and be able to testify of Christ being his strength provider.
Make no mistake my friends, as we quote Scripture in hopes of building up each other, it’s always a good thing. And yet, we must be careful to seek the truth of the passage we are quoting. Picking and choosing a snipped of Scripture might well support a sentiment we desire to convey, but our conveyances should not misrepresent the truth God’s Word communicates. Otherwise, we might unintentionally be setting others up to become discouraged as what appears to be an unfilled promise of His Word.
Heavenly Father, may our hearts be compassionate as we seek to edify and encourage one another, while we actively submit to the Holy Spirit to do His work as he engages to equip each of us. May we become devoted to the study of your Word, your whole Word and we ask that you to impart to us, both wisdom and discernment in order to effectively minister to one another for your glory alone. Amen!