The Ability To Do Anything
“10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:10-13 ESV
Dear Church Family,
Philippians 4:13 must be one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. It’s easy to see why. It’s very “positive,” very comforting and encouraging. And I’m not here to say that that is not true. I am here, however, to say that it might not be true in the way it is sometimes thought. I remember specifically times that I’ve heard that verse quoted by, say, athletes, as a way of claiming that they will succeed in their sporting endeavors because they have the power of God in them. Today, I simply want to take a bit of a closer look at what this verse says—and doesn’t say.
Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church was generally good. Unlike, say, Corinth, he felt comfortable accepting financial support from the Philippians, and his letter to them was in part a “thank you” note. In chapter 4, however, Paul seems to be tiptoeing around in his language. He wants to say “thanks,” but doesn’t want to come across like he’s in the ministry for money.
He introduces the idea of “contentment.” It’s important to understand that being content is not the same as being comfortable or complacent. As disciples, we always want to strive toward growth; we’re never “satisfied” with our current level of maturity. As far as material possessions go, however, contentment is the willingness to accept what God has provided without being distracted by the quest for more “stuff.” Paul knows that possessions can become a distraction whether or not you have much or little; greed is a disease that infects the rich and the poor alike.
Paul’s pronouncement that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” is not a declaration that Paul can do “anything I set my mind to.” Rather, Paul can be content through the strength God gives him. Now, don’t misunderstand me. God can in fact give you the strength to do anything he wants you to do, but that is a far cry from being able to do just anything at all. Some people have quoted v. 13 to support the claim that Christians can have health and wealth through Christ. I think it’s more in keeping with the context to say that Christians can endure hardships—including sickness and poverty—through the strength of Christ.
God calls all of us to live out our relationship with him. Living for God in a godless world is inevitably going to bring challenges. Living in a world that is still suffering the impact of sin means there are trials in life. These include sickness, aging, financial needs, difficult relationships…the list is endless. Philippians 4:10-13 is a promise that we do not have to face these challenges alone. God has provided all we need to live for him in a difficult age.