First, if you saw our video on falsifiability, this is a great example of that. There is no observation that can be made in Philippians 4 that could prove Mr. Benge’s claim as being true or false. It’s simply an authoritative statement without a means of testing.
That’s the long and short of it.
Now, obviously many are going to cite context as support for Dustin’s claim.
So let’s unpack this a little bit because I keep seeing people invoke this concept, and frankly, there are some seriously questionable practices being associated with it.
Let me be crystal clear, here: context is invaluable.
That being said, oftentimes Christians use the term as sort of this all-purpose trump card to justify any conclusion needed in the moment. I’ve found it’s usually just a fancy way of saying, “I make certain assumptions about the text.”
I’ll demonstrate using Benge’s comment:
In Philippians 4, many will point out that Paul had been discussing multiple challenges he was facing. Therefore, by the time he reached verse 13, he had endurance in the midst of suffering on his mind and thus, this was the sum total of what is being referred to.
The first assumption, here, is believing that whatever Paul had in mind during the inception of his letter, is the same thing the Spirit had in mind for all who would read it afterward. While it may be likely the apostle was thinking about his own circumstances, God knew that countless generations to come would be reading these words and finding comfort and inspiration for all kinds of situations they would find themselves in.
The other assumption appears to be a somewhat bizarre notion that a person who is talking about a present situation, cannot, or will not make any statements that reach beyond that present situation. This seems to be a, “rule” created in an ad hoc fashion. Meaning, it’s thrown together on the spot just to make a point, with little thought given to its ramifications. The reason I say this is because I don’t know anyone who actually abides by such an idea. Do you?
If your child was struggling in school and you said something like, “you can achieve anything you put your mind to” would you mean that getting good grades was the only thing they could do?
. . . That’s it?
It may be true that when we say things like this we don’t literally mean anything. But it’s also very often true that there are a whole host of other things beyond the present topic that can be included.
If we, (normal human beings) use such terminology without limiting its implications to our immediate circumstances, then on what basis can we claim Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writing to the Church, to be read by countless future generations in countless situations, would have had such a limited scope?
Look, I understand the concern. Things like sports, personal dreams, overcoming obstacles etc, may seem frivolous. And they can be. But they can also arguably be things that are in line with God’s will and calling for certain individuals. Things that give them a platform to preach the Gospel, reach the lost or finance great undertakings for the cause of Christ. So rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to anything that sounds like the evils of, “American Christianity” and coming to weird blanket conclusions in the name of context—it may be better to take a step back, and evaluate each case individually.
Separating the Emotion from the Analysis