Tag Archives: -Philippians 4:13

Final Surprises about 2014’s Most Popular Verses (Part 3)

This is the third and final post about the Bible verses that were most popular among readers of YouVersion and Bible Gateway in 2014. (See here for background data and surprises 1-3, and here for surprises 4-7.)

Hopefully this little series reminds us that even the most familiar Bible verses contain surprises worth pondering. Woe to the Bible reader who has become so accustomed to Holy Writ that he navigates its pages on autopilot, with eyes closed! Blessed is the reader who never loses the joy of puckered-brow pondering: “Now I wonder what that might really mean?”

I’ll summarize the first seven surprises and continue:

  1. Bible reading is growing fastest in unlikely places.
  2. “World” in Romans 12:2 might better be translated “age.”
  3. “Finally” in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t necessarily indicate Paul plans to quit soon.
  4. Despite Philippians 4:6, not all “anxiety” is wrong.
  5. Some who are claiming Jeremiah 29:11 are actually destined to experience Jeremiah 18:11.
  6. The “you” in Matthew 6:33 is plural.
  7. The Gospel writer John uses bad grammar in John 3:16.
    Now, on to the final three surprises:
  8. Philippians 4:13 is Paul’s testimony about his contentment, not God’s promise about my ambition. This surprise is well-known to any of you who are good Bible readers, but it is worth repeating since I still commonly hear this verse misused. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” says Paul. And so says a hopeful football team before a game–or perhaps both teams before the same game! (At least hockey teams, being rather scarce in the Bible Belt, are less likely to abuse Scripture in such ways.) The context of Paul’s statements should save us from any such foolishly ambitious über-confidence and also from such self-centered appropriations of Scripture.
    According to the surrounding verses, “all things” refers to “any and every circumstance,” –“whatever situation” Paul finds himself in. These circumstances include, according to Paul, both living in abundance with plenty to eat and also living humbly–being hungry and needy (Phil. 4:12). “I can do,” according to the context, means “I am able to be content.” Paul said nearly the same thing a few verses earlier: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11). Now he repeats the same idea: “I can do all things.” I don’t really need your gifts, Philippian believers, Paul says, for I know how to be content without them–the Lord gives me strength to always be content! It is also worth considering why Paul frequently suffered hunger and need. Again, context reminds us: Paul suffered need because he was engaged in dangerous frontier evangelism (Phil. 4:15-16).
    So perhaps football teams, if they really wish to quote this verse, should do so only if they consciously and honestly view the football field as an evangelism field–and only if their principle desire is to display Christ’s abundant power to make them content in him–whether they win or they lose. And maybe, like Paul, they should only say it after the game, after their actions have demonstrated that their testimony is indeed true!
  9. “For good” in Romans 8:28 might not mean what you first think it does–nor what you “second think” it does, either. “All things work together for good,” Paul writes (or perhaps “in all things God works for the good,” see the NIV). Many people just wrap this verse around themselves like a cozy blanket, without ever really defining what “good” might mean. That’s up to God, they might think. Some define it in very materialistic or at least temporal ways–the things that happen to me are kind of like a Christian karma that God magically turns to my benefit, making me or those around me happier/better persons. They are content to read this verse in a translation such as the VOICE and stop mid-sentence: “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful.” Ah, something “good and beautiful.” Lovely! I can cozy up to that!
    Those who give the verse a second look know better. First, this promise is only for “those who love God… who are called according to his purpose.” No matter what we conclude about the doctrines of election and predestination, one thing is clear: Everything won’t work out for good for everyone–just for those who are devoted to God. Second, the following verse defines “good” for us: “to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Rom. 8:29). What is the image of God’s Son? When I read this phrase, words and images appear: holy, righteous, cross, suffering, discipline. And I am partly right! I am encouraged when I hear people say we should never quote verse 28 without also quoting verse 29. But I think we should press on to verse 30.
    Those who give the passage a third look know there is still more! Verse 30 outlines God’s plan for those whom he “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” And what is the end goal of this plan? Glorification! “Those whom he justified he also glorified.” This should not surprise us a bit. God’s Son–the one who is “bringing many sons to glory”–is right now “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9-10)! Suffering for the Christian is never the end goal. It is always the means to an end. As Paul wrote earlier in the same chapter, “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17). For those who love God, God plans that they will experience the ultimate “good”: sharing in Christ’s eternal glory at the resurrection!
    Verse 28 without verse 29 can lead to humanistic definitions of good. But stopping at verse 29 can lead to ascetic or Gnostic definitions of good that sometimes, frankly, don’t sound very good at all. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
  10. God is with us! (Psalm 23:4) There are many potentially surprising things I could explain about this verse, such as how the word translated “shadow of death” doesn’t actually mean that the psalmist is literally dying, or how this verse transitions the psalm from talking about God to talking to him. But the biggest surprise is the one that makes all the difference, the one that makes this verse so popular, and rightly so: “You are with me.” Why in the world would God choose to be with us humans? I don’t know. And not only with us in green pastures and beside still waters; he is with his sheep even in “the valley of deep darkness” (ESV footnote; or “a dark ravine,” see Waltke1).
    I am reminded of another Psalm passage which was a favorite of my maternal grandfather:

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.” (Ps. 91:14-16)

Before God rescues us–or perhaps as he rescues us–he is first with us. This is the way of our mysterious God.
Jesus, of course, is the ultimate demonstration of this truth. He is the true Good Shepherd (John 10) who has promised to be with his disciples always, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). But Jesus is also Immanuel–“God with us” in the flesh (Matt. 1:23). He, too, walked the valley of deep darkness. We see this in the Psalms, too. The NT reads many psalms as messianic, with both the sufferings and the glories of the psalmists finding their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. Psalm 16 is one of these messianic psalms, according to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. (Read Acts 2:24-32 for a valuable lesson in biblical interpretation!) Listen to Jesus speaking through this psalm:

I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the LORD always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. (Ps. 16:7-8)

Just as David in Psalm 23 feared no evil while walking through “the valley of deep darkness” because he could say “You are with me,” so Jesus was comforted “in the night” because he could say “The LORD… is at my right hand.” Our Good Shepherd is a good shepherd in part because he was first a sheep.
Back to Psalm 23, by way of a detour. Scholars of Hebrew poetry notice that the book of Psalms is highly ordered, with psalms grouped according to authorship and themes. Some scholars note that Psalms 15-24 seem to form one such group, with these psalms arranged in a chiastic pattern. Thus Psalm 15 asks “Who has access to the temple?” while Psalm 24 asks “Who may ascend the holy hill?” Similarly, Psalms 16 and 23 are both confessions of trust in Yahweh, Psalms 17 and 22 are both pleas for deliverance from foes, Psalms 18 and 20-21 are both praises with royal themes, and Psalm 19 is the hinge of this unit, praising Yahweh in his creation and his Law.2
Notice how Psalm 16 and Psalm 23–the two Psalms I just compared above–are matching Psalms. This leads me to a suggestion. If the apostle Peter read Psalm 16 as expressing the voice of Christ, might we also read Psalm 23 in this way? Might we see Christ not only in “the LORD” (the shepherd) but also in the voice of David (the sheep)?
If you want to ponder this interpretive possibility further, read this ground-breaking essay by Douglas J. Green: “The LORD is Christ’s Shepherd”: Psalm 23 as Messianic Prophecy. Although Green’s essay generated some controversy for hermeneutical reasons (see here and here for rather unsatisfactory public explanation of this controversy), I think his interpretation is worth pondering and anything but novel theologically. As Hebrews says, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17). Or, in the language of Psalm 23: “He had to be made like the sheep in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful Good Shepherd.” Truly, “You are with me.” May we never stop being surprised!

And that ends my thoughts on some of the most popular verses in 2014. What surprises you most about these verses? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or forward this post to a Bible-reading friend if you wish. May God bless us with alert eyes and fresh insights into the Scriptures in 2015!


  1. The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary, Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmanns, 2010), 434.
  2. Ibid., 290-91.

Does the Resurrection Matter? (Albert Mast’s Memorial Service)

Two days ago I was privileged to speak at the memorial service of my father-in-law, Albert Mast. This was a great honor, and a wonderful opportunity to ponder the life that is ours in Christ Jesus–resurrection already and resurrection not yet!

This post will be a bit of a tossed salad, so here’s an ingredient list to help you proceed:

 Audio of Sermon and “So What?” Thoughts about Resurrection

Thanks to each of you who prayed for me regarding this sermon! I felt God’s strength and zeal as I spoke, and I sensed people were listening. Our primary texts were Romans 6:11 and 1 Peter 1:13, and my primary goal was to help people rejoice in the blessings of Christ’s resurrection and long for his return.

Here is the sermon: “The Lord Is Risen! Come Lord Jesus!” (right-click title to download audio or listen below)

After the sermon, a friend who had read my recent post about resurrection to come (What is the Christian’s True Hope in Death?) and who heard me share similar thoughts in the sermon asked me a question: Why does it matter? Why is it important for us to fix our hopes on Christ’s return and our resurrection then, rather than merely anticipating dying and going to heaven? My friend agreed with what I had shared, but wasn’t sure what difference it made.

Good question! I shared with my friend an illustration that I didn’t have time to share during the sermon. I’d like to share it here, too.

Imagine, if you can, that you agree with me that the “good guys” in the American Rebellion–er, the American Revolutionary War, that is–were the British, and not the American colonists. (I’m speaking here as my adolescent Canadian self, not my adult kingdom-of-God self.) Now imagine that you and I are both British soldiers, returned from the war. Imagine I come up to you after the war is over and say something like this:

“Isn’t it great how we won the war! We had wonderful campaigns in the king’s colonies. We really knocked those rebellious colonists around in some good fights. Sure, we lost some battles, but look at how those Loyalists escaped to Canada! And just when things looked the worst, wasn’t it wonderful to get on our ships and sail safely home to England? Now those colonists can never touch us. Yes, isn’t it great how we won the war?”

How would you respond? I suspect you’d knock me about the head a time or two to bring me to my senses and shout, “But what about the kingdom? What about the king’s colonies? How can you say we won the war when the king lost his kingdom?

(If that illustration is too difficult for your imagination, then use the American invasion of Iraq instead.)

Now imagine a similar conversation, this time between you and me as we discuss our Christian war against sin and Satan. Imagine if I say something like this:

“Isn’t it great how we’ll win this war! Saints in the past have engaged in quite the battles with Satan, and there have been wonderful victories. Think of Noah, and Abraham, Moses, and David–a long list of heroes of the faith that have stood firm against the forces of darkness. Sure, the nation of Israel eventually fell away from God and was sent into exile, but then God started a whole new campaign with his Church! Peter, John, Paul, then Augustine, Saint Francis, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Felix Manz, Menno Simons, William Carey, Billy Graham, and countless more [edit the list as you wish]–what a list of victors! Each one of them, at his death, escaped safely to heaven. And now, just as the war is raging at its fiercest, and the Church is being reduced to a tiny remnant band, we have this wonderful confidence: God is going to call us home and we’ll all go sailing off safely into heaven! Isn’t it wonderful how we’re going to win the war!”

Now, what would be a proper response to such an outburst? I suggest the following: Hopefully you’d knock me about the head a bit (metaphorically, of course) and sober me up with these words: “But what about the kingdom? What about God’s original purposes for the wonderful world that he created? How can you say we will win the war if the King will loose his kingdom?

When God created the world (Gen. 1-2), he created it perfect but incomplete. It possessed the perfection of an immature child. God put humans into his world to steward it and to bring about his creative purposes for his world. But Satan and sin hijacked God’s original intent. More accurately, God foreknew sin’s entrance, and planned all along to work through it. However we word it, this fact remains: God’s purposes for his world remained incomplete at the time when sin entered. If this is true, then salvation alone–the removal of sin from human hearts or even from the cosmos–is not the sum total of God’s purposes for his creation. No, after sin is removed God will want to get on with his other plans for his creation.

Ask a cook, “What do you want to do with these dishes?” and he might answer, “I want them washed.” Ask a 16-year-old what he plans to do with his car and he might say, “I plan to give it a wash and a wax.” But no cook would be satisfied washing dishes without ever getting to cook with them, and it is a rare teen who would be content working at a car wash all day and never driving a car! To reduce God’s purposes for his world to his “plan of salvation” is like reducing a cook’s purposes for dishes to his plan for washing them.

So what difference does it make if we focus on dying and going to heaven rather than on Christ’s return and our final resurrection? I think it is the difference between being satisfied with human salvation or rejoicing in God’s victory. Is it enough for me that I win? Or do I care about God winning? Do I imagine a grand conclusion where Satan succeeds, kamikaze-style, in demolishing God’s good creation? Where Satan, like Samson, dies while bringing down God’s house? Where God wins the war but looses half his kingdom? Or do I grasp God’s vision for creating “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13)? Do I remember that my own eternal glory is bound up in his, and that the Bible hints at things like us reigning with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12) and judging angels (1 Cor. 6:3)–things seemingly timed to happen only long after my death, when Christ returns?

More could be said, but hopefully that begins to answer the “so what” question that my friend raised. There is much I don’t understand yet about God’s purposes for his creation. God still has some big secrets up his sleeve. But this much I do understand: God’s purposes matter, and they will be fulfilled! Through Christ God will “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col. 1:20).

If you want to read more, the book that has shaped my thinking as much as any other (besides Scripture) is on sale on Kindle right now: Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright.

“On the Resurrection Morning” — A Gospel Song that “Gets” Life After Death

In my sermon I quoted an old gospel song by Sabine Bar­ing-Gould that I a friend shared with me just a few days ago. Here are two of its eight stanzas. Notice especially the lines I’ve emboldened. How often do you hear such ideas in a gospel song?  I think this author understood our Christian hope well.

For a while the wearied body
Lies with feet toward the morn;
Till the last and brightest Easter
Day be born.

But the soul in contemplation,
Utters earnest prayer and strong,
Bursting at the resurrection
Into song.

For the rest of the song, click here.

“Burial Ground” — An Article by My Mother

If our sights are to be fixed on our final resurrection and not merely on going to heaven, then how should we bury our loved ones? During the sermon I answered this question by quoting from an article written by my mother (Elaine Gingrich). Mom wrote this article over 20 years ago, after death touched my life significantly for the first time by claiming the lives of five young friends in a car accident.

Here is the article: Burial Ground  (By the way, I discovered just now that in my sermon I misquoted a Tozer quote that Mom uses in this article: It should be “It is hard to imagine anything less hopeful than the sight of a burial”–not “more hopeful.” But sorry, Tozer; I think I like my version at least as well.)

“How Firm A Foundation” — How a Hymn Helped Strengthen Albert’s Faith

At Albert’s memorial service his “little” brother Glen Mast told a story that few of us knew. Five or six years ago, when Albert’s pain was at its worst, he experienced a severe trial of his faith. One time when Glen was visiting, Albert confessed that he felt “worthless.” Worse still, Albert was troubled by this question: What if someday he would stand before God and hear these terrible words: “I never knew you, depart from me.”

Glen reassured Albert, reminding him that, while each of us is unworthy, none of us are worthless. God paid a dear price for us! Glen also explained that when Jesus foretold those terrible words, “I never knew you,” he was warning religious leaders who felt no need for Jesus. Albert, on the other hand, had relied from his youth on the grace of God given through Christ (Eph. 2:8-10). God knew his name! (I might add that Jesus was describing false prophets who seemed more interested in wielding the power of God than in doing the will of God.)

Then Glen showed Albert and Katie (my mother-in-law) a video of a presentation by David Powlison, called “Christ’s Grace and Your Sufferings.” (Click the link for audio and video options. Or go to page 145 of this free PDF book for a transcript.) Powlison shapes his talk around the grand old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation“–a hymn which, unlike most hymns, has God speaking directly to us for most of its verses. (When re-enacting this story at Albert’s memorial, Glen had us turn and face each other while singing verse one, then turn our hands palms-up toward God while singing the rest of the song.)

Glen’s words, Powlison’s presentation, and the words of this hymn were used by God to renew Albert’s faith. Perhaps they will renew the faith of someone reading this blog, too.

Albert Mast’s Obituary

Finally, here is Albert Mast’s obituary:

Alberts Obituary PictureAlbert Mast was born on May 2, 1943 in Thomas, Oklahoma,  the son of Joas and Katie Mast.  He was married to Katie Stoltzfus on November 10, 1973.  Later that year, they moved to Leon, Iowa, where they farmed and eventually established the family baking business, Mast Family Farm.

From a young age, Albert faced many challenges related to what was eventually diagnosed as dystonia.  Though some of those challenges shook him at times, he held fast to his faith in Christ, and lived a vibrant testimony of joy in the midst of pain.  He was known for his determination, his smile in spite of his pain, his care for others who were hurting, and for planting straight rows.  Some of Albert’s favorite quotes: “I may be crippled, but I am NOT handicapped.”  “If you can do it, so can I.”  One of his life verses was Philippians 4:13.

Albert was released from his body on December 15, 2014.  Albert is survived by his dedicated wife, Katie, and their children Zonya (Dwight) Gingrich, Albert L. Mast, and Joy (Craig) Miller; Grandchildren Priya, Shani, and Ayla Gingrich, and Dexter Miller; Siblings Susie Joy Mast, Moses (Sadie) Mast, William (Betty) Mast, Lydia Mae (the late Virgil) Wagler, John (Esther) Mast, Harry (Flo) Mast, Glen (Ellen) Mast, and many nieces and nephews. Albert was preceded in death by his parents, and his daughter Angela.

Donations in memory of Albert may be made to Dystonia-Foundation.org or Hospice of Central Iowa.