“I Can Do All Things Through Christ …”
As Saul of Tarsus neared Damascus, arrest warrants in hand, surely his mind was preoccupied with the task ahead. But in one swift stroke the entire purpose of Saul’s life changed. The light shone, the Lord spoke, and Saul would never be the same.
Guilt. Paul had more baggage than a UPS cargo plane: memories of Stephens last words (Acts 7:58–59); believers dragged from their homes in chains (Dare we imagine their crying children clinging desperately to their legs? Acts 8:3, 22:5); blind rage which badgered hapless Christians into blasphemy (Acts 26:11). One of Paul’s first challenges was to forgive himself of his monstrous deeds. But how? By restitution? No matter how much Paul did, he couldn’t bring one dead Christian back to his children. Self-forgiveneness is not self-loathing, self-pity, or self-atonement. It begins with humble, grateful acceptance of Christ’s forgiveness by faith (1 Timothy 1:12–16). Paul never forgot his hostility to the church, but he did not let unresolved guilt impede his progress.
Error. “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Paul’s visual blindness reflected his conceptual blindness. He had been saturated with his heritage, his education, his religious zeal—and was wrong! Not only did Paul have to reorient himself according to the gospel and the spiritual kingdom it had spawned, but he had to learn to trust his new convictions. He had been wrong once; how could he be sure this time? If a man’s confidence lies merely in his own cognitive powers and good judgment, the door is open to nagging doubts about correctness. Paul counseled the Philippians, “… if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you” (Philippians 3:15). The Lord will not indifferently ignore the hunger of those who prayerfully seek the truth.
Purpose. It wasn’t Paul’s lot to become a Christian and resume a normal life. “But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose …” (see Acts 26:16–18). If Paul only knew what lay ahead! The exhausting travels, the shipwrecks, the beatings, the ridicule, the Judaizers, the false apostles, controversies, abandonment, death threats, narrow escapes, worry (see 2 Corinthians 11:23–30). The obscurity of the future is a blessing. But as the future gradually became reality, how did Paul handle it? He was not some “Super-apostle” who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. He came to Corinth “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Amid the upheaval in Ephesus, “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life … we are the aroma of death to death … And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 1:8; 2:16).
Paul negotiated attempted murder, physical infirmity, lack of charisma, imprisonment and every other imaginable hurdle to become one of the most durable men of influence this world has ever known. How did he do it?
“I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me … I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong … Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (Philippians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:9b–10; 1:9).
Are these merely apostolic sentiments? Granted, we are not apostles in purpose or power, but is not our character of faith the same as theirs? Are not all Christians challenged to relinquish control of their lives to the Lord’s will, to trust in His providential care, to lean our frail, unsteady frames upon His strength? I wonder if some have not reduced Christianity to a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” endeavor. Could it not be that we attempt so little because we fear our limitations and that we accomplish so little because we depend too much upon our own resources?
Paul was a blessed man, for his trials brought him face to face with his human inadequacy and his consequent need for Christ’s power and presence in his life. May we be so blessed.
 Jonas, J. (1998). “I Can Do All Things Through Christ …”—Philippians 4:13. In S. Hall (Ed.), Christianity Magazine: January 1998, Volume 15, Number 1 (S. Hall, Ed.). Christianity Magazine (13). Jacksonville, FL.
From Expository Files 23.5; May 2016