I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me – Philippians 4:13

Happy New Year! Please forgive me if I am not sounding quite as upbeat as I would hope to. Usually I come back after a bit of holiday after Christmas full of energy and enthusiasm and excitement as we look forward to all the New Year will bring. This year instead my mood is best summed up in a picture I discovered a few years ago. In it a polar bear is saying, “I’m up! If you’re expecting bright eyed and bushy tailed, go catch a squirrel!” That is a bit like what I am feeling today. The truth is that after all the pressures of last year I am still pretty worn out, and I am sure I am not the only one. We are very grateful to have enjoyed a few pleasant and relaxing days, but not enough to feel refreshed and recharged. And while the arrival of vaccines against Coronavirus is very good news for the long term, for the next few months at least life is still going to be full of challenges and even hardships. On top of that, today the sleet is falling. With the joys of Christmas almost over and very little to look forward to, we should be grateful for the very many blessings we are receiving. But this can sometimes be hard to do.
I feel unprepared and inadequate to face all that 2021 is likely to bring. So for this evening, a verse of Scripture to encourage and inspire us for the days and weeks and months ahead. A wonderful promise to claim when the going gets tough.
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”
The obvious question to ask with this text to begin with, and one reason why it is sometimes misquoted, is, what does Paul mean by ALL THINGS? Surely Paul wasn’t saying he could fly, or walk through walls! This verse is not a guarantee that every Christians will have a successful career, or that we will be brilliant at every hobby we enjoy. We need to look at the context to see what “all things” means here and the context is that Paul is talking about everything he had suffered for Christ’s sake.
Paul had been through tough times. He was writing to the Philippians while he was in prison in Rome because of corrupt officials, waiting for possible execution on false charges. But it hadn’t been an easy ride for Paul to that point either! Years earlier he had made a list of the ways he had suffered for Christ up until that point when he was writing to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 1123 I have in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
In J.B.Phillips’ words, many times Paul had been, “Knocked down but never knocked out.”
Yet still Paul could write in Philippians 4:12,“I have learned the secret of being content it any and every situation.”
MESSAGE I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty.
If only we could learn as Christians to be content with what God has chosen to give us, however much or however little. If only we could learn to the secret of contentment whether we are well-fed or hungry, full or empty. If only we could learn not to chase after things God does not want us to have!
We should not need a nice job, a nice house or a nice car. We should not need to be successful or to have lots of friends. All these things may bring superficial happiness but they don’t make anybody content. We should not need money or possessions to make us happy. Paul wrote to Timothy,
1 Timothy 6 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. … 8… if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
When they face problems, many people think they can just buy their way out. They rely on money to avoid troubles and hardship. But the truth is that Money can’t solve every problem and possessions don’t bring contentment – materialism brings so many problems and doesn’t solve any.
Other people think they can achieve contentment through sheer hard work. When they face problem they just try to plough on through by their own efforts. Other people rely on their own willpower to get them through the hard times. The truth is there is nothing any of us can do for ourselves which will guarantee contentment. And we just don’t have it within ourselves to cope with every problem we may face in life.
In these days, many people are putting their trust in science to solve the whole world’s problems. Others turn to technology to make them happy. When we face problems with our health, folk look to medicine or therapy to help them cope, and at times this is absolutely the right thing to do of course. But too many people rely on prescriptions when they don’t need them. Not to mention those who try to drown their sorrows with alcohol, or illegal drugs. All to find the contentment which these things can never provide.
In contrast, Paul had found the secret of true contentment. “I have learned the secret of being content it any and every situation.”
For Paul contentment meant an inner sense of rest or peace that comes from being right with God and knowing that He is in control of all that happens to us. It is not always easy to be content, especially when life is not going well and things get tough. I don’t know how well any of us would have coped with all those terrible things which Paul went through. Yet we sometimes think life is tough for us!
Notice that Paul does NOT say that his secret of contentment was that God miraculously rescued him from all those times of danger, although that did happen on several occasions. Paul does not say that he learned to be content because God always took his problems and hardships away. Some peddlers of the false “Health, wealth and prosperity” doctrines teach that the believing Christian will never have any problems like poverty or bad health or indeed any suffering of any kind. That is not what Paul says here and it’s not what the Bible says anywhere! Christians will all go through rough times. If Christ suffered, we can expect to suffer too. That is “the normal Christian life.”
So what was Paul’s secret of contentment?
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” “I have strength for all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The Message translates the verse like this. “Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”
Or in other words, Christ gives me the power to cope with life no matter what comes my way. “I can make it through anything,” That was Paul’s honest testimony. Whatever life had thrown at him, he had come through. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul’s secret for contentment was Christ Himself, giving him all the strength he ever needed for a joyful life and an effective ministry.
The secret is clear. “Christ strengthening me”. “Strengthening” there is a present participle and that implies an ongoing continuous or repeated action. Forgive me if I labour the point. Paul is not saying that at some point in his life Christ gave him some kind of strength which Paul can then use whenever he likes to help him cope. What Paul is saying instead is that whenever he is facing hardship, at that point he is able to cope because at that moment Christ strengthens and keeps on strengthening him. The strength and help come each time as Paul relies on the strength Christ gives him and not on his own human resources.
And this takes us right back to a well known passage earlier in Philippians 4.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Everybody faces problems sometimes. We all have things to worry about. Jobs. Family. Money. Health. What the future may hold. And our worries will rob us of our joy and our peace and our contentment. Whenever we face problems or hardships, whenever anything burdens or distresses us, God does not want us to be anxious or worried or afraid. He simply invites us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is our conversation drawing near to God and petitions are our specific requests to Him. And heartfelt thanksgiving to God for so many blessings is always appropriate. We can even thank God for the problems we may face, because these are opportunities for God to give us strength and for our faith to grow and for God to be glorified in our hours of weakness. Our contentment and our rejoicing and our peace and our strengthening will come to us directly from Christ and they come to us as God answers our prayers! Here again, for emphasis. “Present your requests to God” is another continuing action. “Keep on letting your requests be known to God.” And the result will be that each time God’s amazing peace will keep on garrisoning your mind keeping it safe in Christ. The peace of God will stand sentry over our minds and hearts keeping us safe from anxieties and fears. God does not offer anyone a guarantee that he will always take all our problems and all our sufferings away. What God does promise is strength to cope with whatever may come – the strength that comes from Christ Himself.
Note again, there is no once-for-all-time experience from God which will give to a Christian some kind of permanent peace and contentment which will never go away whatever troubles we face. But Paul’s experience and God’s promise to us is that on every occasion as we bring our requests to Him, Christ WILL give us the strength to cope and the peace and contentment we all long for.
Isaiah 26:3 You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.
It is precisely as we trust in God, and fix our minds on Him, and bring our requests and our needs to Him, that we experience His peace and His contentment and his strengthening.
“I can do all things through Christ strengthening me.” Paul uses this same word for strength in his prayer for the Colossians. Colossians 1 9 … we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience …
God wants us all to be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that we might have great endurance and patience whatever life may be throwing at us. In the challenging months ahead, God wants us to bring all our prayers and petitions to him. That is the way we will prove again in our own experience that we too can make it through anything through Christ as He strengthens us!

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