I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
-Philippians 4:13, English Standard Version (ESV)
You see it everywhere. On t-shirts. On coffee mugs. On athletes eye black. On posters. In self-help books. It has become a phenomenon among pop-culture theologians to be a cure all for Christians. It has also been a verse taken to mean that you can literally do anything. Need financial support? Oh I can do all things. Need to win a marathon? I can do all things. Need to overcome impossible odds? I can do all things. It is so often used in the context of “I can do anything cause Jesus,” it’s hard to consider it outside of that framework. Except, once you throw that passage into the proper context – that is not what it means. It is not about achievement, it is about contentment.
While imprisoned, Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi in the 50s/60s. Chapter four is a postlude where Paul is beginning to wrap up his letter. Beginning in verse 10 of this section, Paul begins talking about the Lord’s provision in maintaining satisfaction. Here is the full passage in context:
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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
-Philippians 4:10-13, ESV
In the passage, Paul begins by the fact that he is happy the people are worried about him. It shows they care and they love him in Christian brotherhood. He then continues to state that he can handle it. He can get through whatever the situation may be and remain content. How? Jesus.
Jesus did not provide him strength or power to break his chains. Quite the opposite. Over and over because of Jesus, Paul was thrown in prison. Yet, Paul was content. He was calm, he was capable of persevering. Christ got him through.
Athletes in Action wrote an excellent piece on this piece of scripture. Here is a short excerpt:
Paul grew to believe with great conviction that all of who Christ was in his life—his Savior, his Friend, his Provider, his Lord—was the essence of what he needed most. The sufficiency of Christ that Paul experienced enabled him to have a strong heart of contentment (joy, peace, and gratitude) in the best and worst of times.
Sufficiency is tough for us. We are always believing we need more. We need to do more. We need to work harder. We need to keep going. But being content in our current situation, allowing the stress to dissolve as we focus on where we are now – that is a real challenge. This is not to say we need to stop trying. This is not to say that we need to ignore the things that are around us. What it is saying is that Christ is sufficient. His grace is sufficient. We’ll get through.
We may not have superhuman strength. We may not get through unscathed. We may come out on the other end damaged, beaten, and bloodied – but with Christ’s sufficient love, grace, and strength we will make it through. Either in life or to the other side to be with Him. Christ is our full and complete reward – not material things of this world. When we lose sight of that, we lose sight of our faith.
Let us stop trying to make this about us and what we can gain – and remember the Bible is about God and His strength, sufficiency, and true nature.