On July 27, 2009, the cover of “Sports Illustrated” featured an arresting image of Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow.
The headline—“Tim Tebow: Man of Many Missions”—riffed on the way he’d created a fan frenzy with his unique blend of faith and football. You can accomplish “all things through Christ.” Unfortunately, this way of interpreting and applying Philippians couldn’t be further from its actual meaning.
And if you’re like me, this is a “good news” message.
Because my experience is that life is messy and thorny and unpredictable and chock full of disappointments. I don’t need a God who motivates me to pursue my career dreams or chase down opportunities for personal advancement. Instead, I need a God who hunkers down in life’s trenches with me, who isn’t afraid to get mucky and messy and wade with me through tragedy and pain and failure.
The championship quarterback seemed poised to jump off the glossy cover with pursed lips that oozed determination and a simple Bible verse scribbled within the black grease underneath his eyes: “Phil. To understand what Paul, the author of Philippians, actually meant, we have to read the verse in context.
.” Tebow’s highly churched Southern fan base didn’t need to look up the passage. You may not have a plan, but all you have to know is that if God said you can…you can! Philippians is one of the “prison epistles,” which is to say, it was written during one of the many times Paul was a jailbird.
What man doesn’t try to make life easier for the woman he is trying to impress?No, most of them knew it by heart: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians is one of the most popular verses in any of the 66 books of the Christian Bible, having been printed on millions of key chains and t-shirts, cellphone cases and coffee mugs. I’m not trying to use Joel Osteen as a punching bag—surely enough Christian commentators have already done enough of that—but rather using him as an example of the way many Christians today understand and interpret this verse. So it isn’t surprising that the book draws heavily on the themes of humility and self-sacrifice.(If one wanted to argue the trinketization of Christianity, this Bible verse would be a good starting point.) But it also one of the misunderstood, misused, and misinterpreted. For them, the “all things” that Christ empowers them to accomplish includes fulfilling their dreams, climbing to new heights, and embracing their destinies. When you imagine Paul penning this letter in a dank first-century prison cell—not exactly the new heights and destiny imagined above—you already begin to feel uncomfortable about popular interpretations.They had to learn their occupations from scratch – talk about inventing the wheel! Life was certainly not easy, but they remained committed and I believe they were immensely blessed because of it.As you can see, all five of these love stories are so different, just as your marriage journey is unlike anyone else’s.