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. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. ~Philippians 4:12-13
This verse is undoubtedly a Christian “favorite.” In fact, it was one of the first verses that I fell in love with. Unfortunately, the verse I first found so appealing was this: I can do all things (through him who gives me strength) – and I don’t think I am alone in this. We live in a culture of self-confidence. We like to feel empowered, we like to feel strong, and we love Philippians 4:13 (often forgetting about verse 12) because it makes us feel invincible. In reality we are none of those things: we are weak; we fail over and over again; we forget to forgive; we forget to love; we are sinners.
The Apostle Paul speaks a beautifully powerful truth in these verses that we often miss. First, we must consider the “all things” of which Paul speaks. “All things” was not exactly running a 400m dash in record breaking time, acing a test, getting a job, or whatever else we have on our to-do list. Paul’s “all things” included being beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and a slew of other things which I don’t usually have in mind when I recite Philippians 4:13. In the midst of our struggles, we often question God, wondering why he will not spare us from our grief. What we forget is that it is in the very midst of our struggles that we learn to be content. Paul learned contentment in a jail cell; he learned contentment when he was shipwrecked on an island; he learned contentment when he was beaten and left to die.
Notice that he learned to be content; it was not his natural inclination. It is one thing to read it when we already feel strong; it is another thing to live it when we are weak. Paul says that he is content or “autarkes,” that is, he is satisfied. The two Hebrew counterparts to autarkes are ‘avah and ya’al. The first is used in Proverbs 6:35 and Genesis 24:5, and the latter is used in Exodus 2:21 and Genesis 18:27. In these instances, both words convey the idea of choosing. To be content is a choice.
Paul knew this: that no matter what he went through, Christ was worthy; Christ was holy; Christ was his strength; Christ was sufficient – Paul knew this, and was satisfied. Contentment is knowing that we are not dependant on external circumstances; rather, we are dependant on a God who is sufficient to meet our needs. We find contentment in God’s grace, in God’s promises, and in God’s providence. We can endure all things because our strength is rooted in the love of a king.
One of my favorite parts of this verse is that it is a reminder that we are dependent on his strength daily. Paul praises the God who “gives” – present tense – him strength. Have you ever wondered why it seems God gives us strength as we need it, equipping us for a particular circumstance. I am reminded of the Israelites as they were led through the wilderness by Moses. I have often wondered how the faith of the Israelites could waver even after they had witness miracle after miracle as God led them out of Egypt. Not only did he lead them out of Egypt, God delivered food, manna, every morning. Every day he gave them enough for the day and asked they trust that he would do the same the next day. He never once let them down; he never once gave them reason to doubt his promise and his providence. But they did – and so do we. We forget that God is the source of our strength, and because of that we are not satisfied. Like the Israelites, we are anxious about what tomorrow holds, paralyzed with fear, because as we gaze into the future, our eyes are fixed on our own weakness instead of on God’s strength. We read Philippians 4:13, saying to ourselves that we can do all things, and then trembling when we look forward and are surprised to be greeted by our own inability rather than God’s power.
God provides strength for the day. The manna on the ground was not enough for today and tomorrow. I’m sure if he had given manna for a month, some of those Israelites would have packed some of it into Tupperware and stuffed it in the freezer- just in case God forgot to provide the next morning. He provides us strength as we need so that we remember that we are reliant on him.
As Christians, we recognize that we must strive to please God with our actions; we often forget, however, that we must seek to be pleased with God’s actions. In the midst of our struggles and our vulnerability, remember that Christ is sufficient. His promises are enough. There is always manna in the morning.
“There is no work which God has made – the sun, moon, stars and all the world – in which so much of the glory of God appears as in a man who lives quietly in the midst of adversity.” Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment