Most of us know Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This verse has been the motto of sports teams vying for a championship, athletes racing to the finish line, school children taking exams, and even Christians trying to push through a difficult life situation. Truth is this verse is terribly taken out of context in most of the contexts it is used. Before we examine the meaning of the scripture and how we should apply it to our lives, I want to share a current sin I am battling: discontentment.
I go to work and serve people who have so much material wealth they can flippantly spend it on whatever fancies them. As I watch them I see them laugh, enjoy their company, and act as though they have little worries in life. My heart yearns for material blessing. Well, more material blessing than I currently have (let’s be honest, I have an abundance compared to many). Then I go to church. I see all the families with babies, multiple children, a big family…I wonder why God has not blessed us with children yet. Most parents act as though children are a burden. They even take measures to cap their family at the ‘perfect’ number they desire.
My heart desires it, yearns for it. Discontentment is a sin many of us must battle against. As I sat before the Lord a familiar Psalm whispered to my heart:
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.6 Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.7 Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.8 They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.9 They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
I was envying many people who live this life selfishly, as the Psalmist said, “I envied the wicked” because of their prosperity. But, when I recount all the ways my God has blessed me, not only so much material wealth, but the joys of a beautiful Christ-centered marriage, friends and family who truly love me, and the immeasurable gift of an inheritance in Jesus Christ…I am sickened by my selfish Americanized heart!
Again, the Psalmist echoes in my ears:
16 But when I thought how to understand this (the prosperity of the wicked), it seemed to me a wearisome task,17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
What is important in this life?
Honestly, knowing my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ! He has given me the job of ambassador (2 Cor. 5:16-21), witness (Jn. 15:26-27), discipler (Matt. 28:19-20), and stranger to earth because this is not my final Home (Heb. 11:13-14). I have a job to do here. The desires of material wealth and coveting the blessings of others only causes a sinful, discontent heart that misses the joys God has generously given to me. Jesus said that He has come to give us life and give it more abundantly! (Jn. 10:10). Do I believe that?
The Context of Scripture
Philippians 4:13 is not a blanket verse that in whatever circumstance God will make us victorious. “I can do all things,” follows directly after Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
According to the context, Paul learned to be content in any circumstance or situation he was in. He knew how to be content with much and with little. Greek Scholar, Gerald F. Hawthorne explains, “Those translations (i.e. “I can do all things…”) which give the impression that Paul meant they could do anything and that nothing was beyond His powers are misleading to the point of being false… πάντα (Greek for “all”) as used here can only refer to ‘all those situations,’ both good and bad, that have just been described.”
Therefore, a better paraphrase more accurate to the Greek translation would be: “I can have victory over (be content in) any circumstance through my union with Christ who continually strengthens me.” Lord, may I chant this truth with Paul to be content in every situation and circumstance you place me.
Because I know, in your goodness:
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken (Ps. 16).