The Christian's Great Ability
Philippians 4:13

by Robert L. Cobb
-Administrator, The Lamp & the Light
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. ..

We all appreciate greatness.  The great speaker commands the attention of all hearers.  The great athlete receives the gaze of every onlooker.  The great craftsman's work is displayed for all to marvel.  Aristotle's principle restated for modern times says, "Humans enjoy watching the most capable people perform great feats, and the enjoyment increases the greater the feat."

Someone said sadly, "The closest I will ever come to greatness is to maybe be in the presence of it."  Shakespeare said "...some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."  If we are honest, we  would not put ourselves in the category of "great."  Most of us are average, mediocre, and ordinary.  The self-help gurus may tell us to "think great thoughts."  But we know our limitations.

But there is a sense in which God's people can be called "great."  Our text tells us that we "can do all things through Christ."  I believe the Bible teaches that the Christian is completely equipped to accomplish the purpose that God has for him.  This ability is not a blank check, mind you, to do what we want.  But it is a divine power to accomplish great things for God in His will.

The letter "I" is a frightening letter.  It signifies oneness, aloneness, isolation, and separateness.  It is personal, just for us.  We like crowds; we like to blend into the woodwork. As youngsters, how many of us flinched when we heard our name called over the school intercom?  Or how many of us, when traveling the highway, become fearful when we realize that the state trooper's blue light is meant for us?  Paul says, "I..."  In chapter four of Philippians, Paul uses the word "I"  sixteen times.

"I" denotes responsibility.  It is not a "we" proposition.  It is an "I" proposition.  We are individually responsible to God for our works.  God has given each of us certain gifts and abilities, and we must accomplish His will in our lives.  We can blame our church, our pastor, our wives and family, our jobs, or our station in life, but none of that accounts for the "I" in our accomplishments.

"I" denotes enabling.  Paul was divinely prepared for the work God gave him to do. 1 Timothy 1:12 says,  "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry."   The word "enabled" means "to receive strength, to endue with sufficient power."  We need not fear the "I" of service.  God has endued us and enabled us to do His work.

In Isaiah 6, God asks the question, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Isaiah answered, "Here am I; send me."  We must all reach this place in the Christian life.  Have you answered God's singular call for your life?

There is a movement in our culture today I will refer to as the "self-esteem" movement.  They are the "power of positive thinking" crowd. They are the "Can-Doers."  They are the ones who say, "If you can think it, you can accomplish it."  Many of them even use Scripture to back their positions.

Some of the verses they like to quote are found in chapter four.  Paul is teaching believers to "keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."  He tells them to "think on" positive things, virtuous things, good things.  On the surface, it sounds like the "self-esteem" crowd.  But this "can-do" ability is not the kind that makes the top seller, the best athlete, or the best student.  It is the supernatural ability of God, given to His people to accomplish His work.  It is not a power that we can "plug into,"  it is being guided and controlled by the Hand of God for His purposes.

The Greek word translated "can do" is "ischuo."  It means to be "empowered by extraordinary means."  It is translated in other places "prevail" and "be whole."  Such power should not be cheapened by those who preach a "self-help" gospel.  They say that greatness is within each of us  just waiting to come out.  But we find our our text verse that we "can do" only "through Christ which strengtheneth me."  Remember John 15:5, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing."

III. THE SCOPE OF GREAT ABILITY   "...all things..."
Jesus told His disciples in John 14:12 "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father."  "All things" is the English translation of the Greek word, "pas."  "Pas" can mean "all things individually" or "all sorts of things collectively."  In other words, there is no limit on the Christian's abilities.

12  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
13  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14  If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.          John 14:12-14

Hebrews 11 is the Christian Hall of Faith where we find the great exploits of the Old Testament saints.  In all their great works, none of them approached the hem of the garment of the works of Jesus Christ.  Yet He says that we who come after Him will do greater works than His.  What an awe-inspiring statement!

How can this be true?  With the great innovations in our culture today, we can reach millions while Christ only reached thousands.  This message will be placed on the internet and will be accessed by web surfers thousands of times over the years.  Mass media gives us opportunities that Christ never had in His ministry.  Of course, we realize that the Holy Spirit made sure that Christ's words and deeds would live on with great power.  Our ministries could never have as much power as Christ's.  But we do operate "out of" the same power, if we follow and obey Him.

I think of Commander Rick Husband, pilot of the doomed space shuttle Columbia.  He was a wonderful Christian man who had a great testimony among all who knew him, believer and unbeliever alike.  Though in a glamorous career as an astronaut, he never had the opportunity to be a worldwide witness for Christ.  But when the shuttle went down, the world learned the story of his life and faith.  His wife has written a book about his life and many more will now hear his witness.  "Greater works than these..."

Cyrus McCormick, born in Walnut Grove, Va in 1809 to a poor but godly family, is still affecting the world today.  It was he who invented many farm implements that improved cultivating and harvesting methods greatly.  Though he became rich with his inventions, he gave great sums of money to Christian causes.  After the Civil War, he tried, without success, to bring the northern and southern Presbyterians back to one group.  Farm implements and a Presbyterian seminary still bear the name of McCormick even today.  "Greater works than these..."

Eliza Agnew was born in 1807 in New York City.  She told her parents when she was eight years old that God wanted her to become a missionary.  She was saved at seventeen and searched for God's choice of a husband so that she might pursue missions with him.  No husband came and Eliza was reduced to the life of an "old maid."  She cared for her aged parents until they died in 1839.  Now 32 years old, considered past marrying age, she applied to American Board of Missions and was accepted as the first single woman missionary to a foreign field.  She went to the island of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, and became matron of a boarding school for girls.  She continued in this capacity for 40 consecutive years, never going back to America on furlough and never taking a vacation.  She became known as the "Mother of 1000 Daughters," though she never had any children of her own.  Over half of her schoolgirls made professions of faith and lived dedicated Christian lives.  Her health caused her to give up her position as matron of the school in 1879, but she stayed in Ceylon and ministered to her converts.  She died at 76 years old with many of her "daughters" at her bedside.
"Greater works than these..."

In the year 1854, Charles Kimball was a humble Sunday School teacher at the Mt. Vernon Congregational Church in Boston, MA.   He taught the teens and young men and thought it was more than he could handle.  He was naturally a shy man and did not feel comfortable presenting the gospel in one-on-one encounters.  He had a 17 year old student that God placed on his heart in a special way.  He prayed for the young man's soul and resolved to witness to him.  The young man was working as a clerk in a shoe store when Mr. Kimball called on him and nervously presented the gospel to him.  The young man called on God and was saved right then and there.  That young man was Dwight Moody.  The great D.L. Moody was converted by the witness of a humble Sunday School teacher.  "Greater works than these..."

Fanny Crosby lived in a time when the blind were treated as badly as the mentally disabled.  She attended a blind school and learned what she could.  She began writing poetry when she was eight.  She had books of secular poetry published as a young woman.  She was not converted until she was thirty, turning her talents to writing Christian verse.  God sent her a husband at the age of 38, who wrote much of the music that was set to her verse.  Though she died in 1915, there are few church hymnals today that do not have a Fanny Crosby song inside.  "Greater works than these..."

"All things" is not just for preachers, teachers and full time Christian workers.  "All things is for every Christian alive today!

IV. THE SOVEREIGN OF GREAT ABILITY   "...through Christ..."
Now we come to a great qualifier in the Christian's great ability.  Our works are "through Christ."  This means that they are done "in the power" of Christ.  We are the instruments by which Christ accomplishes His work!  Our gifts and abilities are at His discretion; our opportunities are by His will; Our power is through His power.  We do not walk along side those who say, "The power is within you.  All you must do is believe it and it will happen."  The power is in Christ.  And to do great things for Him, we must center ourselves in His will and surrender ourselves to His direction.

2 Corinthians 3:5 says, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God."  There is no place for pride in the work of God.  The potter's wheel receives no glory, but the potter. The tools receive no payment when the automobile is repaired.  It is the mechanic who receives the pay.   The brushes hold their tongues when the painter begins to create.  Likewise, our work is "through Christ" and He receives the glory!

V.  THE STRENGTH OF GREAT ABILITY   "...which strengtheneth me."
The Christian who is an instrument for God should be the most unassuming person around.  I believe the great man of strength, Samson, was like that.  He was not built like Arnold Scharwenegger, with muscles on muscles.  His strength was in God, not in his body.  Our strength is not in ourselves, our talents, or our abilities.  It is in Christ, who strengthens us.  The word translated strengtheneth is "endunamoo,"  from which we derive the word "endue."  It means "to make strong for the task,""to provide needed energy."

Most of us are familiar with The Hiding Place, the story of Corrie ten Boom, who was arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps during World War II for harboring and assisting Jews.   Years after those experiences, Corrie  met face to face with one of the camp guards.  He had humiliated and degraded her then, but now he stood before her with hand outstretched and said, “Will you forgive me?”  She struggled within herself, knowing that she could not, on her own, forgive him.  Her family had died in the camps in part because of him and other men like him.  She writes, “I stood there with coldness clutching at my heart.  I prayed, Jesus, help me!  I thrust my hand into his and I experienced an incredible thing.  A warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.  ‘I forgive you, brother,’ I cried with my whole heart.  For a long moment we grasped each others hands, the former guard, the former prisoner.  I have never known the love of God so intensely as I did in that moment.”

In 1555, the Catholic church held sway over England.  The protestant bishops were jailed and scheduled to be burnt at the stake as heretics.  The three greatest leaders were Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer.  Ridley and Latimer were to be burned together.  Both were pressured to recant their Bible convictions.  Both refused.  As they were led to the stake, Latimer said to a faltering Ridley, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man.  We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England, that shall never be put out."  Cranmer witnessed the martyrdom's from his prison window.  Watching his friends burn brought great fear to his heart.  When his tormentors demanded that he recant, he did so.  He signed seven letters of recantation, each more humiliating than the last.  Even after this, he was still condemned to die at the stake.  As he reached the flames, he thrust his right hand into the flame and held it there.  "This hand hath offended." he said, referring to the letters he had signed.  He never stirred or cried out as his hand burnt.  Then he was pushed fully into the fire to die.  Cranmer was a man who tried his best to save his life, but in the end found that it was God that was his strength to meet the challenge.  He did not face martyrdom alone.

Conclusion:  Most of us never think of ourselves as "great."  We tend to exaggerate the abilities of others and denigrate our own.  But Paul tells us here that God's people are "can-do" people.  We have no excuses for our slackness and lack of results in the Christian life.  During World War II, there was a group of men called the Seabees.  Their official designation was the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions.  They were the men who went ashore behind the Marines during the Pacific island battles and constructed the facilities necessary for the support of the initial assault forces.  They referred to themselves as "can-do" people, and were often quoted as saying, "The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer."  Christians are God's special forces.  We are His instruments, His can-do people.

Someone said, "“It is not our abilities that determine who we are. It is our choices.”  Can He turn to you for results?  Can He count on you for service in His army?    Will you choose to serve Him?