Theological Mistakes: I Can Do Anything

Tire liftMy son, Jesse, and I are workout partners. We try to go to our local AnyTime Fitness twice a week, and we have been fairly consistent for the last year. I appreciate him greatly in this, because I would never go by myself.

At the gym, there is a piece of “equipment” that has intrigued me, a tractor tire. It is not a super big one, maybe four and a half feet in diameter. As I have toned up a little, I wanted to see if I could wrangle that tire. I have seen the strongman competitions on ESPN where they take such a tire, stick their head in the hole, lift it, and then walk a hundred yards or so. I didn’t think I could do that, but I wondered if I could just lift it off the ground. So, one day after we worked out, I talked Jesse into helping me try. We rolled out the tire. I stuck my head through the hole, and positioned it on my neck and shoulders. Then I lifted with my legs. It didn’t even budge off the ground. Nada.

I have since learned that the tire is there to do an exercise where you “flip” it on the ground without lifting. I’m not sure I could do that either. One estimate I found is that these tires can weigh 500 lbs.

Philippians 4:13 is a very popular verse, often quoted. I have quoted it to myself in tough times. In the NIV1984 this verse reads:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

This is often taken to mean, “I can do anything” if I have enough faith. And, since I should be able to do anything through God’s infused strength, my failures are my fault, my lack of faith. In this way of thinking, the most successful folks are the ones with the greatest faith. The people with the most setbacks and problems are the ones with weak faith. So was my failure to lift the tire a lack of faith?

I don’t think that is true, and I don’t think that is what the verse is actually saying. There are two problems here. First is mistranslation. Notice how the NIV2011 translates this verse:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

This is much better, I think. It is not an easy set of words to translate, but I might render it like this:

I have strength for all these things by means of the one who empowers me.

The second problem is taking this verse out of context, using it as a proof text. The NIV2011 won’t let us do this. It demands that we know what the “all this” might be, and that drives us back to the previous verses. In these, Paul is talking about his own experiences of sometimes being in need, even being hungry. He is saying that God has given him the strength to get through the times of need, when it didn’t seem like he had enough. This is what he is talking about in 2 Corinthians:

12:10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses,
in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So, I’ll never be able to lift a 500 lb. tractor tire. That does not negate the promise of Philippians 4:13. But when I am weak, when I am broken, God will see me through. He is always strong, and he has strengthened me over and over. He will do it again.


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