Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
This is one of the best known verses in all the Bible, but also one of the least understood. When I was in the 5th grade I took guitar lessons (which I regret quitting). When I would struggle, my guitar teacher would quote this verse to me. Almost as if when I believed this verse I would suddenly be possessed with the riffing skill of Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix. I’ve seen this verse on the sneakers of a great NBA player, and on the website of a great Christian photographer alongside his testimony of how God made him so successful from nothing.
But the problem with many Christians’ interpretation of Philippians 4:13 is that it has nothing to do with Philippians 4:11-12, and true contentment.
Philippians 4:11-12. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
When Paul says “I can do all things,” he doesn’t mean I can do anything I put my mind to through Jesus. He doesn’t mean that Jesus is empowering my latent guitar abilities, or allowing me to make 3-pointers, or take really great photos of celebrities. The real meaning of this verse is actually kind of the opposite, and actually way better. How so?
Because what Paul is really teaching us is that we can be content in any situation. Any circumstance. Even when we can’t do something, or don’t have something. Even when we fail. Even in hardship, and pain, and suffering. Whether we are brought low or abounding. Facing plenty or facing hunger. In abundance or in neediness.
And Christian, this is a far greater power than “I can do anything I put my mind to.”
Why? Because so much of life is really hard. Failing. Missing out. Lacking. Waiting. Wondering. You see, for every super star, success story, Christian that loves Philippians 4:13, and wears it on a t-shirt, there’s the other 99% of us who secretly hate it because God hasn’t caused us to be able to do the “all things” that we want. God seems to have forgotten us and gone radio silent as we pray, and pray for change in our circumstance, but then wake up to another day of the same hard life.
And when life is so hard we are tempted to remove God and/or his goodness from the equation. We begin to place all our hope in the removal of the hardship, and the changing of our situation. If I could only get the new job. If I could just get this baby out of diapers. When I get my degree, get married, get a raise, get to the weekend, get a new roommate, get sex, get food, get a nap…then I’ll be OK.
But then we see Paul, sitting in a Roman prison, writing to the church about how he “needs nothing,” not because he has everything from God in the material sense, but because he has everything from God in the spiritual sense – in Christ.
Philippians 4:19. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 is the key to Philippians 4:11-13. Why can we be content? How can we face hardship, lack, poverty, loss, and need without giving up on God, or others, or ourselves?
God has given us all we need IN Christ.
Not THROUGH Christ. As if Jesus is a path to a treasure other than himself.
Christ himself is the treasure that becomes our contentment. He is the strength that sustains in weakness. Not his gifts, his blessings, or his stuff. Him.
I had a conversation today with a young man who is in the midst of great personal agony. He has recently lost a parent, a child, and most recently a secret sin has been exposed. He is neck deep in questioning God and his goodness, and because of his sin, his own salvation. There is no hope, no peace, and definitely no contentment. “Does God love you?” I asked. “Does he forgive you?” His answers always revolved around himself. What had happened to him, and what he had done. I asked him to answer the question without putting himself into his answer. He couldn’t do it.
Finally, I said, you can know God loves you no matter what has happened to you, and no matter what you’ve done because of who God IS and because of what HE has done – Jesus’ death on the cross for you.
And he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I forgot about Jesus.”
When we forget about Jesus we lose all contentment. But when we remember all that is ours IN HIM, nothing will be able to steal our contentment away. Nothing. We will worship in all things. We will trust in all things. And all things will become “to live is Christ.”
Are you content?
You in Christ
How can knowing every need is satisfied in Christ allow you to find contentment today?
Christ in you
What do you need to DO today from contentment?
Playlist: Content in Christ.