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Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

There are few verses that are as tortured, misused, and selfishly appropriated as this famous treasure. Most often you will hear it in terms of “self-empowerment,” ranging from “God the Genie in the Bottle” nonsense to “pep rally rah-rah” to the gentle, smiling Osteen-type of therapeutic encouragement.  What a shame.

In context, the true meaning of this verse is genuinely empowering to a degree we cannot even fathom. Let’s take a look by first getting the context (that is, reading the preceding verses to see what the writer is talking about):

Philippians 4:10-12 (emphasis mine) 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.

A book called “The Secret” came out a couple of years ago and was all the rage, even with undiscerning Christians. It was a bunch of New Age tripe and was no “secret” at all. It was the age-old lie that started in the Garden with Adam and Eve when the serpent tempted them with “you can be like God.”  In contrast, the Apostle Paul “learned the secret,” a real secret from God. The secret to what?  See if you can answer that as we consider how someone might state the same sentiment (Philippians 4:10-12) in today’s English:

“I’m so grateful that you have deeply cared about my needs over the years. I know how much you cared even though the opportunity didn’t present itself often. I’m not complaining about it, I’ve learned to be content whether help comes or not. I am content when I have virtually nothing, and I’m content when I have an abundance of what I need. I have learned the secret of being perfectly content whether I’m hungry or full, having a lot or next to nothing.  Want to know what that secret is?”

The Secret to Being Content

Paul learned the secret to total contentment, all the time, no matter what the situation. The tone of Paul’s statement implies the final question: want to know my secret?  You bet we do. A lack of contentment has plagued man from day one. We never have enough. We always want more. We complain about what we do not have even when we have plenty. Very few people are truly content right now, this moment, with what they have or the situation God has allowed in their life. Why? They do not know the secret, or they know it and do not put it use.

A lack of contentment keeps us restless, unhappy, anxious, and feeling like life dealt us a bad hand.  A lack of contentment means we are always one possession, one promotion, one relationship, or one goodie away from being “happy” and satisfied with God’s arrangement for our life.  This lack of contentment questions and doubts God’s plan and provision for our lives. We live an “if only” existence, with contentment dangling like the proverbial carrot just out of our reach. If only we could get that carrot…

The Secret

So Paul reveals to us the secret to contentment: Philippians 4:13… I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

It is not a “rah rah” verse, or a Tony Robbin’s slogan. It is a verse that reveals the secret to lifelong, lasting, and never-failing CONTENTMENT.  Let me expand what the verse implies:

  • I can be content when I am poor and in need because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  God knows what my needs are, and He will supply them or give me strength to deal with them.
  • I can be content during the abundance times of life (when most people simply want even more) because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  God has blessed me with all this stuff and opportunity and will give me the strength not to allow material things to become my security or focus.
  • I can be content when life is handing me a bum deal because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  God has a plan for my life and it includes character-building and faith-building through difficult times. Jesus will give me the strength to not only persevere but to learn the blessed lessons He is teaching me through the difficult times.

I could go on and on with examples but you get the point. Philippians 4:13 is not a motivational verse about your human potential to be brandished as the secret of personal success, prosperity, or empowerment. Philippians 4:13 is specifically the SECRET to being contented every day, every moment, and in every circumstance.  It is an open secret available to those whose spiritual eyes have been unblinded by God.

In closing, let me more specifically exposit (draw the true meaning from) this verse for your edification (spiritual benefit):

  • I can do all things – The Greek verb means “to have the strength” or to “be strong enough to”; there is nothing about this life that God will not supply us with adequate strength to deal with no matter how difficult.  I have a good friend who is bedridden because of debilitating health problems, and yet he serves God and ministers every day to others because Christ empowers him for this service. He knows he will get his health back in Heaven, and this allows him to be content and happy despite current  circumstances that sink most people into a perpetual pity party.
  • Through Christ who strengthens me. – The original picture here is “to put power in.” The power to be content comes from outside of us, specifically from Jesus Christ. He infuses us with His power so that we may be content and enabled to serve no matter what circumstance life throws at us.

Note that this empowerment from Christ is not necessarily (and often not) a removal of the difficult situation but rather an infusion of power to be sustained through it.  On the flip side, we need the same kind of power to find contentment during times of abundant blessing because those same blessings often cause us to lose focus on God and fuel our desire for “more, more, more.”

We have Christ’s strength to be content in all times: need or plenty.  That is a real “secret” worth knowing.

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