Can I Really Do All Things through Christ?

René Malgo

Philippians 4:13 is “one of the most well-known and often-quoted verses in the New Testament,” writes Bible teacher Nathan Busenitz. “A quick internet search reveals that you can buy key chains, rings, buttons, t-shirts, stickers, postcards, bracelets, handbags, and other Christianized trinkets with the words of this verse emblazoned, embroidered, or embossed upon them.” The irony of all this, according to Busenitz, is that they turn the actual message of the verse upside down, into a “slogan of personal empowerment—a declaration of self-achievement, ambition, and accomplishment. For many, this verse has been trivialized into some sort of motivating motto for material prosperity, career advancement, or athletic success.” Without context, many twist Philippians 4:13 into “a blank-check promise for whatever is desired. But in context, it is a verse about contentment. It’s not about your dreams coming true or your goals being met. Rather, it’s about being joyful, satisfied, and steadfast even when life is hard and your circumstances seem impossible.”

It’s all about the famous statement of the Apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

In Philippians 4:1, Paul calls on the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord because their citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20-21). In Philippians 4:2-3, he shows that standing firm “in the Lord” deals with unity in the church. In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul gives some concrete instructions for personally standing firm “in the Lord,” such as: “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and bring everything to Him in prayer. In Philippians 4:8, he shows how the believer can remain firm “in the Lord” in thought. In Philippians 4:9, Paul makes it clear that standing firm “in the Lord” means obedience, and Paul is not above presenting himself as a role model. And now, in Philippians 4:10-19, we see, for one thing, what the exemplary attitude of the apostle consists of. Having said that, he also recognizes the exemplary attitude of the Philippians.

Paul rejoices “in the Lord” over the Philippians’ gift. He is aware of to whom he owes the support; namely, God Himself. He gives the Lord honor for the Philippians’ provision. He is not just pleased because he has received a gift, which he didn’t seek (Phil 4:17; Paul is not a prosperity evangelist); but he rejoices over the fruit that the Philippians have produced through it. And so, Paul isn’t thinking of himself when he writes, “I desire fruit that may abound to your account” (Phil 4:17).

In everything that happens, Paul is thinking of the glory of his Lord Jesus Christ. His testimony also underscores this: “…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil 4:11-12).

Paul, through the grace of God, has learned to be content in every situation of life and to rest in his Lord. Whether he is humbled, hungry, and lacking…or whether he abounds and is satiated…in all things he stands firm “in the Lord.” If things go badly for him, he doesn’t accuse God, but clings to Him firmly; if he is well, he doesn’t forget God, but clings to Him firmly. For, as Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” John MacArthur explains that in this statement, Paul uses a Greek verb that means “to be strong” or to “have strength” (cf. Acts 19:16, 20; James 5:16). He had the power to endure “all things” (vv. 11-12), including “all difficulties in the material world, all times of prosperity.”

That is the art of a fulfilling Christian life: to live so dependently and closely with Christ, that neither need nor abundance drives us away from Him. This means that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It is not that we realize ourselves with Jesus’ help, but that in Him and through His power, we can be content and happy in every situation in life, and thus stand firmly.

What is remarkable is not just Paul’s own testimony that he gives here, but also the testimony that the Philippians demonstrated to him. Paul recalls that the church of the Philippians was the only one that had supported him in the province of Macedonia (Phil 4:15). That was in the beginning, when he spread the gospel there, in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16—17). Of all those whom Paul had tirelessly served with the gospel, they had been the only ones who had supported him. Even when the apostle was in Thessalonica, the Philippians had “once and again” sent something for his “necessity” (Phil 4:15-16).

And now, at last, they had thought of him again, as Paul says in Philippians 4:10. He didn’t mean this as an accusation. Paul knew, as he wrote, of the times “though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity” (Phil 4:10, NKJV). For a long time, the Philippians had heard nothing of Paul. They didn’t know exactly where he was. But they had thought of him. This was in the days before telephones and the Internet! Yet as soon as the Philippians heard word of Paul and learned that he was imprisoned in Rome, they sent Epaphroditus with a gift to Paul. What an attentive church!

And so it is remembered 2,000 years later, as the church that financially supported Paul. James Montgomery Boice writes, by comparison, “Corinth is remembered for its divisions and moral laxity; the church at Laodicea for its apostasy; the congregation at Thessalonica for its doctrinal disputes centered on Christ’s second coming.” How will our respective churches be remembered? What reputation do we have?

Paul called the Philippians’ gift “a sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18). The language here recalls the Old Testament; it seems that Paul is referring to the sacrifices made correctly under the Old Covenant to the God of Israel. The sacrifice of money that the Philippians brought was a fragrance for God. It was a true sacrifice, a fruit, as Paul says in Philippians 4:17. A fruit “that may abound to your account.” Spiritual fruits are not only spiritual traits such as love, long-suffering, joy, etc., but also the practical implementation of these spiritual fruits: in this case, a gift of money to one of God’s children who needs it.

“Let your gentleness be known to all men,” Paul writes in Philippians 4:5. Do we let it be known in action? Do we think of other people, fellow Christians, missionaries, friends, the needy, those seeking help, and the destitute, as the Philippians thought of Paul? How attentive are we?

The money that the Philippians sent Paul was probably a real sacrifice. It wasn’t a trivial matter of abundance, after they had already ensured their home renovations, new horses, and vacation trips to Gaul. No, because Paul reminds them of the following after thanking them: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). The apostle let the Philippians know: What you have brought me as a personal sacrifice will not be forgotten. Your deficiency resulting from this gift will be filled. The God to whom all treasures belong will give you everything you need. He will care for you.

Paul called God “my God.” He knew his master. He rested in Him. He knew, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Whether I am well or ill, He is always with me. He always gives me the strength I need, and He always gives me the necessities. You too can do all things through Him who strengthens you. You too can be satisfied in Him.

God cares for us. We can be content in every situation in our Lord Jesus Christ. The questions we face are, how do we deal with the things that God gives us? How do we act in the situations God places us in? Are we satisfied, like Paul? Are we generous, like the Philippians? Do we think of others? Think about the fruit? Do we think of our Lord? Whatever we do, in whatever situation, let us remember what Paul believed, knew, and lived: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

Midnight Call - 03/2019

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