Have you ever heard someone quote Philippians 4:13? The verse states “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”. We usually quote this verse when we need to muster up some courage or we quote the verse toward others when they need some encouragement. When we see someone go through a struggle, maybe it’s ill health, maybe it’s a financial trial, we quote Philippians 4:13 to say “you can get through it because Jesus will give you strength. You can do all things”. The problem is that we often quote it out of context! Let me explain.
Paul writes the letter of Philippians to a small house church in Philippi, it was the first church to be established in Europe. The church had been financially and practically supporting the Apostle Paul throughout his missionary journeys. Addressing this support, Paul writes from verse 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. 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.”
Paul states in verse 11 that he has learnt the art of contentment. He has been at rock bottom, with nothing to his name and he has also been high in the mountains with all his needs and wants covered (verse 12). Paul recognises that his journey with Christ has taught him no matter what circumstance – nothing or plenty, food or no food, needs covered or many needs to be met, he can be content in life! It is in this context we find verse 13 - “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”.
Paul isn’t saying, I can do everything in life because Jesus will make me strong. He isn’t saying that he can go run a marathon or get over sickness or somehow get out of financial stress because he can do all things (even quoting a verse or two). Instead he is saying, he can be content in all things. He will not envy or complain or wish a different circumstance. Rather he will be content by the strength of Jesus. Which is to say he will be satisfied with his lot, because he has fixed his eyes on Jesus.
In verse 13, Paul is saying - I can do all things in life, fully content because God provides all for me. He provides the very air I breathe and sustains my life! I can do it, because he allows it. I can do it because I am content no matter the result. Charles Spurgeon summed this sentiment when he said, "As long as a man is alive and out of hell, he cannot have any cause to complain."
Yes, you can quote Philippians 4:13 to those (and to yourself) who are going through a trial or a difficult time, but just remember, it is in fact all about contentment, which leads me to ask – are you content in your trial? Are you content in the struggle? Are you content in the plenty? If not, God will give you the strength to be content in all things!
James 1:2-4 says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I leave you with a quote from Isaac Watts "I would not change my blest estate for all the world calls good or great."
Pastor Ross Ferguson