...I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. ¹²I 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. ¹³I can do all things through him who strengthens me. —Philippians 4:11-13
Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is a familiar one to many believers. This joy-filled letter has multiple passages we gladly memorize. Perhaps the most beloved is the beautiful doxology found in chapter 2, verses 9-11. Another favorite verse is found as part of our current focus, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This verse is commonly found embroidered on pillows and etched on coffee mugs. In fact, it is one of the most popular verses in the entire Bible. But we must be responsible to interpret it in context so we don’t misunderstand what Paul’s intent was, as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Paul wrote this letter somewhat like our missionaries would write a letter of appreciation to their supporters. Paul was under house arrest in Rome at the time and fully aware that his earthly life could end at any moment. Yet he wanted to thank the Philippians for their contribution to his ministry and assure them of his well being. He was convincing as he described his contentment no matter what the circumstances. His secret to contentment was to trust the Lord at all times, even facing death. His settled tone here is truly an encouragement to us more than 2,000 years later.
We are told the Greek word translated here as can connotes the ability to “prevail over.” Thus, Paul is not saying that we can win every race or hit every goal we set. He is saying that with Christ’s indwelling presence in our lives as we seek to be conformed to His likeness, we can indeed be truly content whether we find ourselves in abundance or in need. Paul is living proof of that!
We will all face difficult circumstances, but contentment in Christ is possible in “any and every circumstance.” Paul faced untold suffering but his message is clear. The natural response to suffering is despair but it is a learned skill to be content. Our trials can be used by the Lord to draw us closer to Him in a way we would not have known without the undesired circumstance.
The lesson here is rich! It is not about us and our supposed ability to do all things while Christ helps us along. No, it’s all about Christ’s work in us to draw us to Himself so that we rest in Him as we eagerly await His glorious appearing when everything will be understood. Until then, we live by faith. And we seek to do so joyfully and with contentment.
Have you seen how this verse is misused to inspire people to “go out there and win” in the name of Christ? How can you help redirect the meaning of this verse when you see it being used to promote personal accomplishments instead of contentment in Christ?
Do you notice when you are lacking in gratitude to the Lord, that your level of contentment also wanes?
How can you encourage someone who is currently undergoing intense suffering to embrace this passage for all its worth?
Mary K. Mohler is the author of Growing in Gratitude and a forthcoming book about Susannah Spurgeon. She is the wife of Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, and is the director of the Seminary Wives Institute. She says, “Scripture memory is one of the most vital and rewarding tasks I have ever undertaken. The Lord has used it to draw me near, to encourage me in hard times, to enhance my prayers for myself and others, and to teach its importance to those I mentor.”