This week I've been reading through Paul's letter to the Philippians, and I came across a very popular verse that many of us have memorized (whether intentionally or not). However, we have to make sure that we understand what Paul is actually saying in this particular verse, and we have to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we are actually living out what it means when we quote it. The section in which we find this verse is in Philippians 4:11-13 where Paul writes:
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
The Jesus-followers in Philippi had sent one of their members, named Epaphroditus, to take a financial gift to Paul to support him in prison. So Paul writes this letter and sends it back to the Philippians with Epaphroditus to say “Thank you for your generous support.” But he also wants them to know that he hasn’t been sitting around waiting or wondering when they might finally offer some support. He says, “I want you to know that I’ve learned how to be content in every situation and no matter my circumstances.”
The fact that Paul could be at peace and stay content in the midst of everything that he had experienced was an amazing mindset, but it’s also one that’s available to every other follower of Jesus as well.
And so, how can we get to a place in our own life where we can actually say with integrity that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”?
And you see, that hits on the very thing that Paul has been teaching throughout this letter. He’s been pointing out that living as a follower of Jesus means that you begin to see your own life-story as a living expression of Jesus’ life-story. And so difficult times in life become times where we can experience a heightened awareness of Jesus’ love and presence with us. And this can give us hope and humility during times where things aren’t going as good as we’d like.
And so, Paul shows us throughout this letter that truly knowing and following Jesus is always a deeply personal and life-changing experience. It changes your mindset on life and your own view of yourself.
As Jesus-follower, we must learn to view our life as not being our own.
We belong to our Lord.
Our life is no longer primarily about us; it’s about him.
And that’s what Paul’s been saying since the beginning of the letter. He says for me to live is all about Jesus and to die is a good thing. And so when Paul says here at the end of his letter that he has learned the secret of contentment, he is saying that the difficult times in life have become his greatest teachers and that they have taught him that the secret of contentment is simple dependence on God and devoted service to him.
That is why he can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
This verse is probably the most popular Bible verse among athletes. Players put this verse on their gloves, on their shoes, in their social media bios and if your Tim Tebow on your eye-black. It’s a phenomenal verse, but we have to make sure that we understand what Paul is actually saying here and we have to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we are actually living out what it means when we quote it.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” doesn’t mean that Jesus is going to help me become successful, get that promotion, get that raise, get that call-up or obtain all of my goals and dreams. When I say that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me it means that I have learned the secret of contentment; that true joy and peace and satisfaction in this life is found in a life that is lived with simple dependence on God and devoted service to him.
Perhaps the words of Sinclair Ferguson sum this up perfectly:
“Contentment is the direct fruit of having no higher ambition than to belong to the Lord at his disposal.”