“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Philippians 4:13 is one of the most recognized and oft-quoted verses in the whole Bible. More often than not, this verse has become a slogan for personal empowerment, self-achievement, and goal attainment:
– I have a hard test tomorrow I didn’t study for: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
– I really want to win the track meet: “I can do things through Christ who strengthens me.”
– I want that job promotion so bad, it’s a long-shot, but: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
– I can only bench 150 lbs., but I need to impress that girl, in order to do so, I need to be able to bench 250 by tomorrow: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Phil. 4:13 has been molded into a motivational motto for athletic success, personal prosperity, business success, and weight loss. It has become to us, as one author wrote, “a blank-check promise of the good and successful life if you just apply yourself.” And don’t forget to take Jesus with you!
In its context, and read as Paul meant for it to be understood, Philippians 4:11-13 is nothing short of a declaration of one man’s experience that true contentment is found in Christ alone. Paul’s contentment was not found in success, in power, in influence, in popularity, in position, or in self-actualization, but in Christ alone.
Contentment is something most of us as American Christians know little of. We are perpetually restless and dissatisfied with our circumstances and lives. We’re always seeking to improve our situation. In doing so, we’ve developed an escapist mentality in which we cannot fathom it could be “God’s will” because it makes us uncomfortable. Because it doesn’t make us happy. Because it doesn’t make us look of feel “blessed.” Therefore, we’re constantly obsessing over finding a way out, not being content in.
Philippians 4:11-13 is nothing short of a declaration that Jesus is our strength. Not us + Jesus, but just Jesus. In our brand of Christianity and culture, personal strength and ability is prized. This is counter to what Paul said.
He wrote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians is one of Paul’s prison letters. Scholars generally agree that he wrote this while in a Roman prison. Tradition says that Paul was in Mamertine prison, which is more accurately described as a “dungeon.” It was brutal. It was a cold, dark, damp hole in the ground, and a former rock quarry. The prison was foul, smelly, dangerous, and brutal. It was basically a sewer with a man-hole for an entrance. Prisoners relied solely on friends to supply them with straw for beds, clothing, more food, and to clean up their “kennel.” This is why the Bible exhorted believers to visit and minister to those in prison (Hebrews 13:3) – it wasn’t a pleasant place to be incarcerated or to visit!
Loneliness and the sense of abandonment was probably the greatest punishment of all. It was in this cesspool of death and Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Paul recognized that Jesus ultimately had placed him in his situation: “My chains are in Christ” (Philippians 1:13). He also understood that his incarceration served a greater purpose: “ I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (v. 12). This was much like Joseph, who after being sold into slavery by his brothers, and imprisoned in Egypt, looked at his ordeal and said to the very brothers who’d betrayed him “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
Here is a few “take home” points from Philippians 4:11-13 —
Our present situation, however stressful, uncomfortable, or embarrassing, should not be viewed as a sign that God isn’t with us, blessing us, or we’re out of his will.
Paul sat chained to a wall in darkness and God only knows what else, and could say that his situation had been purposed by God for the advancement of the Gospel.
Boast of Christ’s strength in your weakness, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30).
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-11).
Learn to be content in Jesus, he is the source of your strength.
Paul said that Christ was his everything whether he had love-handles, or you could count all his ribs. Many of us have everything, yet are content in nothing. In Christ, Christ alone, we find our hope, purpose, and strength. All the earthly securities we look at as our strengths can be easily snatched away: health, family, job, etc. Christ and his strength can never be shaken or removed.
The focus of Philippians 4:11-13 wasn’t that Paul’s could do anything he set his mind to, but that he couldn’t do anything apart from Christ. It’s a very Christocentric passage, though we often try to make it a very us-ward passage. Many of us may not have to endure the hardships Paul talked about, but we’re still facing circumstances and situations which have sucked the joy, peace, contentment, and strength out of us.
The good news is still “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”