A favorite verse many Christians often quote is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Found in Philippians, I think we often miss how Paul intended these words to be understood. The phrase is found in the larger context of being content in whatever circumstance life hands us.
As we live life, we are subject to change. Growing older. Changes in jobs, some planned some unplanned. Changes in marital status.
Life can often blind side us.
Even as Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians he was sitting in a dark, damp and gloomy Roman jail. His death was imminent.
From this prison, Paul writes:
11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 NASV)
When Paul was talking about Christ strengthening him, he was speaking in the context of how God helped him to be content in whatever situation he found himself — whether poverty or wealth.
Though he says “whatever circumstance” the emphasis is clearly on money or the lack of it.
The problem is we often want to fight or even deny our circumstances. I remember reading a story of a woman who had suffered a major double whammy in her life. Divorced, she had also recently lost a well-paying job and was now making much less.
Her life as she knew it was unraveling.
But she wasn’t content.
She wanted things to remain the same. Her finances were severely challenged, as she continued on in her old lifestyle running up massive credit card debt in the process.
In her interview, she oddly talked about her unwillingness to give up her two daily lattes that were costing her nearly $300 a month.
She was not accepting the changes life had thrust upon her.
But Paul had learned the secret of being content in whatever situation he found himself.
In this verse, Paul uses two words to explain his contentment. First Paul says he has “learned” to be content.
The Greek word for learned is “emathon.” It covers a range of ideas from “teaching” to “understanding.” We have to first understand and accept that a change has taken place.
Then Paul uses a rather strange word. He says I have “learned the secret.” The word “secret” is a curious word. It is the Greek word “memyemai” and was used to describe the secretive pagan mystery cults in fashion at the time.
These cults often had elaborate rituals that people had to do to be initiated into the cult. This is often how the word is translated — initiated.
Paul borrows this word and says he had been initiated into this mystery and because of this now inhabited that truth.
That mystery was simply this:
“I can do all things (literally I have strength to do anything) through Christ who strengthens me.”
Paul had experienced poverty and learned to be content through Christ’s strength. We may want to accomplish great things for God, but perhaps the greatest challenge is being content with the cards life has dealt us.