Philippians 4:11–13 — “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Whether scribbled on a sign at a sporting event or on a Christian T-shirt, this verse has been adopted by many as a slogan that proves we can do something big. I hate to burst your bubble, but it has nothing to do with any of that. Context is everything, and the context here is contentment.
The apostle Paul penned this letter to a group of people he loved dearly while he was sitting in prison. Paul learned throughout his life what true contentment in Christ was. Paul went through a lot. He had ups and downs like most of us, but his was a bit extreme. From the very moment Paul is born again, he goes from high to low time and time again. He preaches his first message in Acts 9 and by verse 23, his former friends want to murder him. He flees, but his new friends want nothing to do with him until Barnabas says Paul is indeed a changed man. So Paul is feeling great again; he’s got a new friend. He preaches to the Greeks, and they’re confounded. He’s a legitimately good preacher. How do they respond? They threaten to kill him. So again, he flees for his life. For Paul this is the tone for the rest of his life. Paul heals a demon-possessed man. The next time he preaches, people stone him. Paul probably thinks, “This is it, I will die today.” But he doesn’t, though they leave him in the street to die (Acts 14:19).
You may have made people mad, but none of you have been left on a street at the edge of town to die. Paul survives and continues on. In the next chapter of Acts, Paul and Barnabas get into such a heated fight they separate. Now, alone, he heads to Philippi. He meets a rich woman and he ends up staying with her family in their lavish home. She is a woman of wealth. He finally has a nice place to stay, but only days later a riot breaks out and he’s arrested and thrown into a filthy jail. Talk about ups and downs.
So this is the context as Paul, now imprisoned in Rome, says, “I can do all things through Christ.” In essence he’s saying, “I can preach the gospel because of Christ.” “I can live in comfort because of Christ.” “I can live in chains because of Christ.” “I can be poor, I can be hungry, or I can be well—all because of Jesus Christ.”
You can be content through Christ which strengthens you. You too can say, “I’ve learned to be content when I received everything I want; or to be content when I got nothing I wanted. I can do either one by the power of Christ.”
The secret to contentment is actually really simple, but it is deeply profound. It is a simple childlike response. It is summed up in Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
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