Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
People quote this verse when they are about to take a difficult exam, run a marathon, or some other occasion. I see it on social media all the time! Some people call it their “life verse.” It is even etched on basketball star Stephen Curry’s shoes! But is that all what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote these words?
When you read three verses before the passage in question, you will find that apostle Paul was not just talking about academic excellence or winning at sports:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul was in a state of suffering—humiliation, hunger, and neediness. But amidst his despair, we find that he has learned to be content no matter what situation he was in. Perhaps, our day-to-day victories would be included in the “all things” that the apostle mentioned. But isn’t that a little petty compared to the life-threatening situation that he was facing?
Paul persevered with an all-enduring contentment because he was drawing his strength from Christ! It is in this context, that he confidently proclaims: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs also provides the remedy for contentment, in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
Indeed, our afflictions may be heavy, and we cry out, Oh, we cannot bear them, we cannot bear such an affliction. Though you cannot tell how to bear it with your own strength, yet how can you tell what you will do with the strength of Jesus Christ? You say you cannot bear it? So you think that Christ could not bear it? But if Christ could bear it why may you not come to bear it? You will say, Can I have the strength of Christ? Yes, it is made over to you by faith: the Scripture says that the Lord is our strength, God himself is our strength, and Christ is our strength. There are many Scriptures to that effect, that Christ’s strength is yours, made over to you, so that you may be able to bear whatever lies upon you, and therefore we find such a strange expression in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, praying for the saints: ‘That they might be strengthened with all might according unto his glorious power’, unto what? ‘Unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness’-strengthened with all might, according to the power of God, the glorious power of God, unto all patience, and longsuffering with joyfulness. You must not therefore be content with a little strength, so that you are able to bear what a man might bear by the strength of reason and nature, but you should be strengthened with all might, according to the glorious power of God, unto all patience, and to all longsuffering.
Oh, you who are now under very heavy and sad afflictions more than usual, look at this Scripture, and consider how it is made good in you; and why may you not have this Scripture made good in you, if you are godly? You should not be quiet in your own spirits, unless in some measure you get this Scripture made good in you, so that you may with some comfort say, ‘Through God’s mercy, I find that strength coming into me that is spoken of in this Scripture.’ You should labor when you are under any great affliction (you who are godly) to walk so that others may see such a Scripture made good in you. This is the glorious power of God that strengthens his servants to all longsuffering, and that with joyfulness. Alas, it may be that you do not exercise as much patience as a wise man or a wise woman who has only natural reason. But where is the power of God, the glorious power of God? Where is the strengthening with all might, unto all longsuffering and patience, and that with joyfulness? It is true, the spirit of a man may be able to sustain his infirmities, may be able to sustain and keep up his spirits, the natural spirit of a man can do that, but much more when the spirit is endued with grace and holiness, and when it is filled with the strength of Jesus Christ. This is the way a godly man gets contentment, the mystery of it, by getting strength from Jesus Christ.
When we are well fed or hungry, in plenty or in want, in joy or in sorrow, where do we draw our strength from? May we truly echo what the apostle has said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”