It isn’t uncommon to find certain verses of scripture become the “life verse” of believers, meaning, if they could sum up their thinking on life and spirituality, it would be this verse that they chose out of scripture. One of these verses is Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. And, on the surface, as a life verse, this sounds very encouraging. Don’t worry – I’m not going to suggest it doesn’t mean what it says, however, let’s try to understand where Paul might be coming from by looking at the context surrounding this verse. I think you’ll find this verse to carry far greater weight than simply a pep talk of positive reinforcement.
Before we look at the context, I want to explain why looking at the context is so important. If I took this verse by itself, there is nothing that overtly states that “all things” literally means “all things.” So, I guess I can sin through the strength the Christ gives me? What a horrendous thought! Yet, it says “ALL THINGS”, does it not? Again, without proper context, we are much more prone to make the scriptures mean more than what they actually say.
When Paul is writing to the Philippians, he has a few items on his agenda. First, he writes of the fellowship they have with Paul in Christ. He explains that even though there are some out there who preach Christ differently, nevertheless, Paul rejoices because Christ is being preached. (Note, Paul doesn’t say they are preaching a different Christ – but preaching Christ differently. If they were preaching a different Christ, Paul would have absolutely not rejoiced in that (see Galatians 1:6-8, for example). Yet, some were preaching the SAME CHRIST but of contention, thinking it would poke and prod Paul some during his imprisonment, yet Paul says that he rejoices that whether in pretext or in truth, Christ is preached).
In Chapter 2, Paul reminds them that their oneness (fellowship) should translate into action and that action is humility. Paul says to let every one look up on the needs of others and to esteem others better than themselves. He draws on the humility of Christ as the ultimate reason we can be humble one toward another. Therefore, Paul says, in light of this humility, to work out our salvation. It should be noted that he doesn’t say to work FOR our salvation, but to work it out. This should tell us something about the relationship of our salvation and humility. In other words, recognizing the splendor of His grace which He bestowed up on us should drive us to a mindset of humility, one with another. We work out (of) our salvation, or, we allow our salvation to drive our thoughts and actions. In other words, we do not take action in order to become, but we take action because of what we already became. A true sensitivity to His grace leads the individual believer down paths of humility, not only when considering his own being, but also his fellow believers.
In Chapter 3, Paul, perhaps sensing there was a bit of a pride issue in Philippi (hence the topic of Chapter 2), begins to explain to them that if they want to glory in their flesh, then get a load of him. Paul describes his life as a pharisee and if it weren’t for Paul’s understanding of his life in the flesh, this would be Paul’s ‘mic drop’ moment. But, Paul doesn’t bring up his past to shame them, but to remind them that when it comes to the flesh, the grass is always greener somewhere else, so to speak. Paul concludes this section by reminding them that our righteousness is not of the law – of performance – but is of the faith of Jesus Christ. This is another aspect of our humility – despite our differences in fleshly performance and status, and despite what heights we achieve (or don’t) in the eyes of ourselves or others, we all stood unrighteous in need of redemption.
Towards the end of Chapter 3, Paul says that in light of this truth – that he stands in the righteousness of God, he is therefore going to press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. In other words, Paul simply dropped his shoulder and led into the wind knowing each day he drew closer to the invitation of God to come home – when Paul would be called on high. Therefore, Paul says, to walk in such fashion – in humility, in the safety of His righteousness, and in the hope of His high calling.
We are ready for chapter 4. I haven’t highlighted everything from the first 3 chapters, but it should give you a good background for what Paul has been marching towards by the end of his letter. I do, as always, encourage you to dig into the letter more thoughtfully and carefully to really uncover all that Paul has to say to the Philippians.
In Chapter 4, Paul opens by expressing his desire that a couple of women there be of the same mind. Not much detail is given, but we can safely assume that there was some discord between these two ladies and it was having an impact on the believers there. Paul pleads with them for unity. Then, he goes out of his way to tell them to honor those WOMEN who have helped Paul in the gospel. This is very telling – think of the patriarchal society of the day and yet Paul is going out of his way to not only honor these women, but also telling the Philippians to do the same. Perhaps in another post we can look at the women of the new testament and what they impacted – it is very fascinating indeed!
Paul says for the Philippians to give thanks in all things and by their prayers, they can be focused on the peace of God which passes all understanding in order for their hearts to be kept in Christ (that they would remain stable in Christ, despite their circumstances). And, despite these circumstances, Paul says that there are some THINGS to think about. (Keep that word “THINGS” in mind). There are some things that Paul says these Philippians should be meditating on: THINGS that are true, THINGS that are honest, THINGS that are just, THINGS that are pure, THINGS that are lovely, THINGS that are of good report – if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these THINGS.
Then Paul says that those THINGS which the Philippians had witnessed in Paul – whether physically seeing it or even just hearing about it – do those THINGS. What did they witness from Paul? They witnessed boldness of faith; humility; thankfulness; a Christ-elevating purpose, to name a few. Paul says that he has learned to be content in whatsoever state he finds himself in because the peace of God keeps his heart and mind on Christ, and, all of the THINGS he mentioned to think on are flooding his mind. He has been on both ends of the spectrum – hunger and fed, abased and abounding, satisfied and suffering need, yet, “[he could] do ALL THINGS through Christ which strengtheneth him”.
Despite the spectrum of circumstance he found himself in, he had the absolute ability to rejoice and be thankful and have his mind centered around things that were true and honest and lovely, etc. because it was in his circumstances that he found the power of God resting upon him. Christ was the source of strength. While in prison, Paul could think on things that were true because Christ gave him the strength to do so. Paul could think on things that were honest because Christ gave him the strength to do so. Paul could be content with whatever state he found himself in because Christ gave him the strength to do so.
Paul had a source of strength that despite the rubble and destruction that the circumstance was for Paul’s physical existence (being imprisoned in Rome), he could steadfastly rejoice in the Lord for even in the worst of circumstances, Paul could do all things through Christ, who is the source of his strength. He even essentially closes the letter with another life verse – Philippians 4:19 – But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus. Not only can Paul do all things through Christ which strengthens him, but as a bonus of God’s grace, Paul also knows that God is actively at work to ensure that our need is supplied, and, that the account that is covering it is the account overflowing with His grace.
In the context of what we’ve read, it seems that Paul is confident that not only can he count on the strength of Christ to allow him to rejoice in his circumstances, but is likewise confident that God is not distracted nor surprised by these circumstances and will supply all our need (of strength and peace and stability) through Christ. The winds of life may blow, yet within us, Christ is the ever-present reality of “Peace, be Still.”