The Problem with Self-Help Theology - Mitchell Tyler
Changing our Approach: Why the Bible is Not a Self-Help Book
This verse has been so true for me. When I’m working out and I’m tired and need to give that final push on the bench press, I know that that last burst of strength comes from Christ, so that I can be the very best at what I do.
Philippians 4:13 is a verse we use in the wrong way a lot. We snip away the verses around it, along with the context, and its intended meaning and plaster it across the backs of our letter jackets to mean what we want it to. During a recent Philippians study, I have seen that there is so much more in the verse than what we give it credit for, and even more how we twist this verse (and others) so that it gives us credit.
If you can- and you most definitely can because you can access the Bible anywhere nowadays- open up your Bible or website or app to Philippians 4. Take a look at verses ten through thirteen. (A quick overview: Paul wrote the letter while he was in prison. In these verses, he tells the Philippians not to feel bad for him, that he is thankful for them, and that he is not in need because he has learned to be content in any circumstance. This is a big deal coming from Paul. He had been beaten up and put into prison before, and here he was saying that he could be content in any circumstance! Following this, he stated the ever-famous line, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”)
Let us now ask the question- what is the verse about? Paul certainly had no reason to write as a means of encouragement toward academic or athletic achievement. He was in a prison without a penny to his name. The last thing he was thinking of was, “Man, I seriously hope those Philippians are winning their games down there. Let me write this!” It sounds silly, and it is, and it should. Regardless, this is how the verse is seen on a large scale.
I think this famous misquoting is not an argument of what or why Paul was writing. He was getting his words directly from God. This has everything to do with how we approach the scriptures. Are we skimming down the lines and stopping only when a famous verse comes along? Are we looking at the Bible as a textbook, a “road map to life” so that we don’t screw up, terrified that any wrong turn will send us spiraling into hell? There is a point at which we must arrive, and it is a game-changer for anyone who is working on understanding the scriptures. Here it is: the Bible is not about you. The Bible was not written so that Sally would know how to talk to Billy about x, y, and z. The Bible was written to point Sally, Billy, and all of humanity to a Savior, a Creator, a Father who loves his children enough to save them. It is all about God. Each book has different contexts, messages, target audiences, and cultural significance to their time, and we learn from them. The context of scripture is so important to understanding the Bible and what God wants to communicate with us. This is all for God’s glory, and therefore our joy.
If this “Christianity” is the faith we aim to hang our hats on, why don’t we care enough to look into scripture honestly, know its context and know its true meaning? If so, a richness will be found both in the pages of Scripture and in a relationship with God that becomes more intimate as time goes on. If we do not care, picking and choosing which scriptures we like and dislike, we are no better or less ignorant than Thomas Jefferson; we keep the parts of scripture we like and cut out the rest.