13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (NKJV)
The Apostle is in prison and experiencing the ups and downs of daily life there, dependent on the unpredictable visits of friends and what they might bring to him. He knows the reality of having enough and doing without but he is not bellyaching he says, because he knows how to be self-mastered in any situation.
It is while arguing in this way that our verse comes and challenges us with the 3 livest options that Christians, especially we Seniors face, when things get really rough in life.
- ARRANT PESSIMISM (“I can do nothing”)
- This option though very tempting should be resisted and rejected because it misreads the text as saying “I can do nothing” and whether that misreading is as a result of advanced age, illness, infirmity, extreme poverty or whatever it is still a misreading of the text.
- I can do nothing is as faithless as it is useless as a response to challenges in life. In this same chapter in v.6 Paul the prisoner had issued a coping command to folk in the free 1st century world of Phillippi, “be careful for nothing” or translated differently, “fret, worry about nothing”.
- Hear me well, nothing is exempted or excepted from the nothing in that coping command and everything is included in that nothing. Pessimism is not a coping attitude it is a cop out. Don’t roll over and play dead you are no actor/actress.
- BLIND OPTIMISM (“I can do all things.”)
- This temptation does not so much misread the text but draws on a portion of the text only, namely “I can do all things.” with an implied full stop. The power of positive thinking informs this approach to the text, with at times a pride-filled emphasis on the ‘I’.
- There are real difficult hurdles and problems in life and this partial reading does not help in dealing with such hurdles and problems in life.
- Optimism is a species of hope and like hope one needs an able guarantee/guarantor beneath optimism to give it substance and plausibility.
- Blind optimism has an appealing face but like persons, on careful examination that is all there is, a face, maybe more correctly a façade.
- CONFIDENT REALISM (“I can do all things through the One who strengthens me.”)
- This is the full text, mindful of the negative realities in life and the limitations within the self, the text wisely counsels “I can do all things through the one [Christ] who empowers/enables me.”
PAUL’S PLIGHT (or dismal situation)
- In prison and in chains, possibly in Rome, when he wrote (1:7, 13, 16). ‘In chains’ then meant having at least 10 lbs. of iron on one or both legs and/or on one or both wrists.
- “rough iron clamped to sweaty limbs in the damp environment of the prison would eventually rust.”
- Under Praetorium (Imperial guard, 1:13) meant stricter supervision and possibly greater restrictions re visits and gifts from friends.
- Facing a trial that could end in a sentence of death (1:19-20;2:17)
Regardless of what we might be faced with right now, indulge confident realism. You should know as well that the word translated as ‘strengthens’ is better rendered as ‘empowers’. The enabling to cope is not self-generated but given by the One, in context, Jesus Christ who enables us to cope contentedly with whatever life throws at us.
©Rev. Clinton Chisholm, November 19, 2019
 Brian Rapske, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1994, 207.