I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
Many of you are familiar with the more common translation of this verse, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” That translation has been pulled out of context and used to support endeavors ranging from good and righteous to completely absurd. After all, if I can do all things through him who gives me strength, I should be able to grow a full head of hair and run a four-minute mile. If you know me, stop laughing. You get my point. When Paul wrote these words to the church in Philippi, he was not envisioning that believers were about to become the next generation of super heroes. But, if you just bought a T-shirt with this verse on it to train for your first marathon, don’t throw it away yet. Paul’s words are much more encouraging than simply “naming and claiming” you will finish your 26.2 miles in under five hours.
There are references in Paul’s letter to the Philippians indicating that he wrote it from prison, probably when he was under house arrest in Rome around 61 AD. In this section of the letter, he has just thanked the Philippians for the gift they sent to help take care of his needs. He goes on to make this remarkable statement, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 this through him who gives me strength.”
The Philippians would have been familiar what Paul had been through for the five years or so before he wrote this letter. In case you’re not, I’ll give a quick review. Around 57 AD, he had finished his final missionary journey and returned to Jerusalem. While there, Jews from the province of Asia recognized him and accused him of taking gentiles into the Temple. That caused a huge riot in Jerusalem from which he was “rescued” by a Roman centurion who promptly placed him under arrest.
Immediately following his arrest in Jerusalem, a group of men vowed they would not eat until they killed Paul. The centurion heard of the plot and moved Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea under a heavy guard. Paul spent over two years in prison in Caesarea while the current governor tried to decide what to do with him. When a new governor came to Caesarea, he heard Paul’s case and decided to send Paul back to Jerusalem, where Paul would have faced certain death. Paul asked for his case to be heard by Caesar and the governor sent him off to Rome. The trip to Rome took over a year because the first ship he and the centurion boarded was caught in a storm and wrecked in Malta. When he finally made it to Rome, he was placed under house arrest and waited for a trial. When Paul wrote this letter, he had not been a free man from the time he was arrested in Jerusalem five years earlier.
In spite of all that had happened, Paul doesn’t dwell on the hard times. Instead, he says, “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.” And we ask, “Paul, how did you do it? How did you find contentment in such difficult circumstances?”
Paul’s reply is our verse today. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Paul knew trouble. He knew hunger, hardship, suffering, loneliness and betrayal. But more importantly, Paul knew Jesus. He didn’t just read about Jesus, think about Jesus, or believe Jesus was a good person and wise teacher. Jesus gave Paul a peace that passes understanding, which we also call contentment. (www.thedigitaldisciple.net/the-peace-that-passes-understanding/) Through the good times and bad times over the 30 years since Paul first met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul found his peace and contentment in his friend and savior, Jesus.
What is your “this”? As you look back over the last five years, have you encountered a string of trials and hardships? Are you facing problems now? Write them down. At the end of the list, write, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” As you go through the week, when you face problems and difficulties, instead of saying, “How will I ever get through this?” say, “I can do even this through him who gives me strength.”
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