For The Kingdom: Joy-Filled Living In Difficult Days | Day 66

“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 Christ who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:11-13)

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most beloved and misunderstood passages of Scripture.

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most beloved and quoted scriptures in the Bible.  Sadly, it is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied scriptures in the Bible as well.  From athletes to self-help guru’s to bumper sticker believers, the mantra of “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has become a meme for many and a cliché for even more.

When reading and applying Scripture, it is essential we pay attention to the context of the passage. In his letter to the Philippians, which Paul is writing from a Roman prison, the “all things”  Paul is speaking of is learning “to be content” in any and all circumstances (like being in prison for preaching the Gospel).  Whether in feast or famine, rich or poor, sickness and in health, better or for worse… we can be content.  This word “content” is something far more than an apathetic resignation to less than ideal circumstances.  Paul is not pushing a “this is as good as it gets,” shrug your shoulders and stop trying type of mentality.  To be content in Christ is to have a resting heartbeat of peace and joy. 

Do you want that?  At the end of the day, is your resting heartbeat one full of God’s joy and peace? Paul teaches that this is an attitude that must be learned.  Paul was not always content.  He did not instantly become content when he became a Christ follower.  Through an ongoing growth process in his walk with the Lord however, Paul learned how to become content in all circumstances through Christ.  

How does God teach us to be content in all things? We do not learn this skill in a sterile classroom environment, but by being brought low, given much, facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  Life, paired with God, is the greatest teacher. The only way God can teach us to trust Him in all circumstances is for Him to lead us through all circumstances, even when we are not ready or prepared!  What struggles are you currently facing? Job loss, dysfunctional family, struggling marriage, stagnant ministry, pressures in school, failing finances, mental health issues, loneliness or singleness, overwhelmed by the direction of our worldly culture, a lack of direction… whatever it is, these are the struggles that God is using to help you learn to be content.  You may read this and think, “how can I possibly be content (resting heartbeat of peace and joy) right now?”  Now you are ready to understand the true meaning of Philippians 4:13!

Snowboarding can be a very difficult and painful skill to master.  Someone can try to teach you how to snowboard in a classroom or on a youtube video, but you will never learn to snowboard until you strap up and get on the mountain.  You will fall, fail, struggle and likely be exhausted and in a lot of pain, but, if you do not give up, eventually you will learn to snowboard!

Learning to be content in all circumstances can feel as painful as your first few hours on a snowboard.  Focus on your source of strength in this passage- the hero of this verse.  It is not you, it is Christ.  The emphasis is not on the “I can do all things” part of this verse.  The real secret is in the words “through Christ who strengthens me.”  As Jesus taught His disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5 He is the source of strength.  If we abide in Christ… we will bear much fruit! We can do all things!  This is the secret: Christ is in you and He is the hope of glory (see Colossians 1:27). Even our hard work is infused with Christ’s powerful strength when we are abiding in Him, “For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.” Colossians 1:29.

Keep in mind, Paul did not write this inside of a limo on the way to a motivational seminar. These poignant and powerful words were written by a man on the front lines of ministry, on the mission field, suffering for the Gospel; yet doing it with great joy!  Through Christ who strengthens you- you can endure every trial, have peace in every hardship and maintain joy in every disappointment. You can make it through this season of depression, this divorce or this loss of a job, through Christ who strengthens you.  You can follow God onto the mission field or into ministry knowing that Christ will strengthen you. It may be a painful lesson, but through Christ who strengthens you, you too can say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (v. 11)

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