There was a little Golden Book that I heard Captain Kangaroo read to me on TV, The Little Engine That Could. It’s the story of a little train engine that tried to make it up a long steep hill. The engine was convinced that he could do it if he believed he could do it so he kept saying as he pulled the train up the hill, “I think I can. I think I can.” Of course he was successful. He did it!
It is a story teaching us the power of positive thinking. If you think you can do it, then you can.
So Philppians 4:13 becomes the spiritual version of The Little Engine that Could. “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”
You can accomplish some seemingly impossible task or achieve some unattainable goal because you have apparently learned that God gives you strength in that time of need to do so. So the Christian athlete who finally overcomes the difficult or impossible obstacle in their sport does so because they reach down and use this verse. Its as if this verse is a muscle building steroid enhancing a Red Bull adrenaline rush
The disabled doing something beyond belief and ability because of their disability because they believe “I can do all things through him who gives me strength! A person gains emotional strength to work through difficult situations and problems, a tough marriage, chronic health issues, financial worries and such because they claim this verse.
I put on Facebook that I was preaching on this verse and several of my FB friends noted that Philippians 4:13 is their favorite Bible verse. My favorites are Leviticus 13:40 and Revelation 21:3. But Philippians 4:13 means a lot to me and it should. It should for you too. Let’s see why.
First – What is it that Paul is Talking About?
That’s the question, what is Paul talking about here? Let’s view the context.
It seems there is a lot going on here. But does Paul mean, that no matter what the issue, no matter what the situation that in anything, even everything, I can do everything because I have God’s strength?
We need to understand:
- The context
- What “everything” or “all” is.
- What Paul means.
Paul is talking about “contentment.” Another question then is contentment in a global everything or something specific?
After a quick look at the passage we see that Paul is talking about the ability to endure all situations and where the source of that ability to endure is from. He makes a paradoxical claim, at least it seems odd to an American and European culture that is about gaining wealth and being comfortable and satisfied with our situation. Paul claims that he can tolerate and endure hunger and want. But at the same time he understood how to handle prosperity.
In his autobiography Just As I Am, Billy Graham tells about the paradox of contentment:
Some years ago Billy Graham and his wife Ruth were invited to the Caribbian by one of the wealthiest men in the world to his lavish home for lunch. He was 75 years old, and throughout the entire meal he seemed close to tears. “I am the most miserable man in the world,” he said. “Out there is my yacht. I can go anywhere I want to. I have my private plane, my helicopters. I have everything I want to make my life happy, yet I am as miserable as hell.” They talked to him and prayed with him, trying to point him to Christ,who alone gives lasting meaning to life.
Then they went down the hill to a small cottage where they were staying. That afternoon the pastor of the local Baptist church came to call. He was an Englishman, and he, too, was 75 and a widower who spent most of his time taking care of his two invalid sisters. He was full of enthusiasm and love for Christ and others. “I don’t have two pounds to my name,” he said with a smile, “but I am the happiest man on this island.”
Billy Graham relates how he asked his wife Ruth after they left, “Who do you think is the richer man?” She didn’t have to reply because they both already knew the answer. Citation: Billy Graham, Just As I Am (HarperCollins, 1999)
Wealth is a greater temptation than poverty. Paul said in verses11&12 that he has learned to be content no matter what the circumstances are. Paul is talking about the strength that enables contentment regardless of his physical circumstances and that strength to endure and persevere comes from the Lord.
Second – This is Paul’s Own Claim not a Global Promise to All Christians
Paul himself has learned to be content. He has been through the ringer.
- He’s been run out of town
- He’s been accused of stirring up controversy
- He’s been arrested
- He’s been on trial
- He’s been in prison (and was in prison when he wrote Philippians)
- He’s been in peril, including shipwreck
- He has as he said known want but he has also had plenty and he mostly means that he food, clothing, and shelter.
Paul has learned in every situation to rely upon the Lord’s strength. I think he knew what Jesus said about all of this. Paul never worried about his next meal, or whether his money would last because Jesus said to do this one thing and it will be provided in need. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” Pretty good promise.
God will provide if you will make God’s kingdom of love, hope and eternity more than the most important thing in your life as well as seeking to make God’s righteousness the key element of who you are and God will see that your needs are met.
Did Paul go hungry? Of course but he never starved to death. Why, because of his faith. Did he suffer through trouble and agony for the Gospel of Christ? Yes, but God brought him through it to preach another day. Was Paul ever imprisoned and relying on the generosity of others to provide for his needs there? O yes, and it is because he relied on God. He put God’s kingdom first. He learned to be content whatever because contentment is the activity of faith.
This is not an all-encompassing promise to each and every Christian. This does not happen automatically because a person becomes a Christian. This was Paul explaining something that he had learned because of his experiences a follower of Christ. He had learned to be content.
This was not Paul making a promise to us, however . . .
Third – Each Christian Should Learn to be Content
This is not God’s promise pronounced to you by Paul, but you can learn to be content.
Let me repeat a couple of realities here. One is that this is a not that you can do everything single thing, lift the heaviest object, supernaturally have the smarts to fix something you’ll never attempted before without any knowledge of it, you know where someone accomplishes seemingly impossible things. This is about contentment in Christ for the sake of the Gospel whether you are rich or poor, whether you are in need or not. Second, this is not a promise to all Christians, but let me note, this can be a part of your faith. You can have this contentment through faith and trust in God. His strength can help you endure the difficulty of wealth and poverty.
We can probably all name Christians who are not content. It’s never enough. It’s never seems to satisfy and we have the false prophets preaching to us that there is a formula of faith that says if you exercise these certain taken-out-of-context passages of scripture, that you will not ever experience want, you have more than enough, you’ll even be rich, you’re health will be perfect, blah, blah, blah.
God may do that. God never promises that. What’s important for us is that the Gospel of Jesus is preached. What are we investing in? Is our treasure the treasure of heaven where wealth doesn’t apply? Are we spending our money to make ourselves comfortable and lazy and ignoring the needs of others, sharing our faith and hope, placing our trust in God’s ability and power to provide despite the odds.
We should learn to be content. I am sure that the financial crisis that we as a country are experiencing and appears to be years from being cured has put a lot of Christians in financial want. I wonder, how has their faith reacted to this? Have they continued to trust God and rely upon his provision and be content whichever way their financial situation goes, or have they like a lot of people I read about and see in the news simply become discontented complainers, trusting in government, in organizations, in family, in friends, but not in God?
Not every Christian has learned the lesson of contentment. Maybe you are one of those discontented Christians. Paul learned it. I think Paul’s various companions learned it. I think the Philippians who struggled at times were learning it. See, it’s not the content of our lives (the circumstances, the situations) that determine my contentment. If it is, then I will always be discontented because nothing will ever measure up to what I feel is right for me.
It is also easy to convince ourselves and feel that we are the only ones experiencing whatever it is that we are experiencing. If we simply pay attention when we read the Bible we’ll see that people experience the same things. We will allow ourselves to observe the world around us, we’ll understand that we’re not the only ones that go through whatever it is we are or have gone through.
Hardship tempts us to think that God is unmoved by our plight or that he is against us and so we despair. And wealth and comfort tempts us to believe that we don’t really need God since we think we accomplished it all on our own.
The reality is that God possesses all things. Whatever you have, no matter how little or how much it belongs to God even while it is in your possession. He let you have it for his glory. Also, God is fully able (v. 13) and willing (v. 19) to meet whatever need’s surround you the believer.
What we learn from Paul is that being content is learned. We learn to rely upon God in every situation. We learn that God gives Christians the resources to cope with hardship. And wealth is a hardship.
Examine your hearts. Look into your life and determine now to learn to be content. Whatever wealth you have, can still be lost. Whatever satisfaction in your financial position you my possess can be washed away. Will you be content if you have to scrounge for food, if you have to rely on the love and generosity of Christians to care of your needs?
Learn the lesson “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”