March 24, 2024

I Can Do All Things Through Him (Philippians 4:13)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Scripture: Philippians 4:10–13


Children's Lesson (click here)

I. Is That What It Means?

When I think of the most well-known verse from our main text this morning, verse 13 of Philippians chapter 4, I immediately think about the very thing the following blogger addressed in a somewhat recent post. He wrote...

I did some searches online of people quoting this verse. [On] Instagram... people have quoted this verse over 56,000 times. The most common references I saw were people quoting it in regards to some sort of exercise or fitness goal. I saw others quote Philippians 4:13 after winning beauty pageants or graduating from college. Some people, to my surprise, used it in reference to their diet: “Pre-workout meal coming up. Healthy creamy chicken with mushroom and sundried tomatoes + brown rice” [hashtag] Philippians 4:13. (Josh Benner)

In so many of these instances, I have no doubt that there are good motives behind these references to Philippians 4:13; individuals genuinely motivated to give God the credit in this or that success; this or that achievement. But is this the right verse for those occasions? Let's try to figure that out this morning as we look together at chapter 4 of Paul's letter to the Philippians.

II. The Passage: “I Have Learned the Secret” (4:10-13)

Follow along as I read from that chapter, starting in verse 10. Paul writes...

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. [11] Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. [12] 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. [13] I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

So the first we want to do is understand what we might call the prompting circumstances of Philippians 4; that is, the circumstances that have prompted Paul to write what he writes in the final half of Philippians 4. 

Verse 10 speaks directly to this issue. Listen to another translation of verse 10, one that I believe helps us better grasp Paul's heart behind these words: “O yes, and I rejoice in the Lord greatly because now at last you caused your thoughtful care of me to blossom once again.” What is he talking about there? He's referring to a financial gift of support that the Philippians sent by way of a man named Epaphroditus. This is clear a few verses later. Scan down to v. 18:

I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

You see, Paul is referring to a beautiful reality he touched on in the opening verses of the letter. This financial support is one aspect of what he referred to in chapter 1, verses 5 as “your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

And just beyond our main text in chapter 4, Paul goes back over the details of their financial partnership. Look at verses 15–16 of chapter 4: “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” So for whatever reason, verse 10 tells us that a longer period of time had elapsed since their previous gift of support for his ministry work in neighboring Thessalonica. It appears that it was long enough for Paul to wonder how these believers were doing. But as he writes, this most recent gift was one more encouraging indication of how God was still at work among and through these faithful disciples of Jesus.

But this sets the stage for a second idea. The second thing we need to understand about this passage is what we might call the possible circumstances of Philippians 4; that is, the possible circumstances that Paul describes here in verses 11-12; possible circumstances he may face (and on so many occasions, has faced) in his continuing gospel ministry. Right away in verse 11, Paul wants to clarify what motivates his rejoicing over their most recent gift of support. As one commentator, Paul is essence saying, “my gratitude is not a beggar’s thanks for charity” He rejoices, “not on account of his being in dire straits at the time it arrived” (Gerald F. Hawthorne). As he goes on to explain in 4:17, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Paul's joy is not ultimately inspired what they did for him, but by what God is doing in and among them.

But it's this issue of his own needs that leads directly to verse 13. Notice the two categories of possible circumstances that Paul has faced and will inevitably face again in his ministry. On one side, you have things like (v. 12) “being brought low”, “facing... hunger”, and “facing... need”. On the other hand, we read about the opposite circumstances: (again, v. 12) “abound[ing]”, “facing plenty”, and “facing... abundance”. Why is Paul listing these possible circumstances? Because he wants them to understand that whether they can or cannot partner with him financially, they don't ultimately need be worry about his mission or his mindset. Why is that? Because Paul has (v. 11) “learned... to be content.” He has (v. 12) “learned the secret of facing” such things.

So what are these opposite circumstances emphasizing? They're emphasizing the very idea Paul expresses in three different ways in verses 11, 12, and 13. Verse 11: “in whatever situation”. Verse 12: “in any and every circumstance”. Verse 13: in “all things”... that is, in “all [these] things”. Paul is telling them, “I am so thankful for your concern for me, but you don't need to be ultimately concerned for me in terms of my circumstances. Why? Because I can do all these things, I can face all these things, through him who strengthens me.” And what does it look like when Paul is facing need or abundance with the power of God? It looks like contentment.

I love how another blogger explains this, a blogger who works in a ministry to Christian athletes and understands that popular usage of Philippians 4:13. He (Brian Smith) writes...

Is Paul talking about making the winning shot, or winning a championship, or setting a new personal best? No. What he is saying, athlete, is that regardless of whether you succeed or fail in your sport—or at anything in life—you can find contentment in Christ. We wrongly claim Philippians 4:13 to help us succeed in sports, but what God is saying in this verse is that we already have everything we could ever need in Christ. More satisfying than gaining people’s approval is getting to a place where you no longer need it. That’s the real promise of this verse.

Isn't that wonderful? But can the passage itself, or the context, help us understand the foundations of that contentment? I think it can. Look down at verses 18-20.

What powerful truth would strengthen Paul when he was “brought low” or facing “hunger” or “need”. I think one clear answer is right there in verse 19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Over and over again, Paul knew that to be true in his own life.

Okay. So what powerful truth would strengthen Paul in the opposite circumstances, when he was tempted by “plenty” and abundance”? Tempted to be ungrateful? Tempted to a kind of sinful self-sufficiency? Tempted to coast? Tempted to be greedy? We find two ways to answer that, one in verse 18, and one in verse 20. In verse 18, when Paul was “well supplied” (Do you see that phrase there?), he didn't think about their gift as first support for his ministry (that is, he didn't think about himself first). No. The first way he looked at their financial gift was as a spiritual offering, one that was “acceptable and pleasing to God”. And the purpose of that (v. 18) “fragrant offering” was (v. 20) to bring “glory forever and ever” to God. That perspective kept Paul grounded. It kept him sober-minded when it came to the topic of money or abundance.

Of course we could add to this many other truths, including Paul's exclamation in 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” All of these truths shaped Paul's perspective. And this truth-informed, gospel-centered perspective is the perspective with which and through which God strengthened Paul “in any and every circumstance”.

III. You Can Learn the Secret

But what about you and me? Through Paul, God is calling us to this same strength this morning. As the Apostle wrote in a previous letter, “ strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10) You face the same temptations, don't you; the temptations that come from either need or abundance? Think about it: what kind of lack tempts you most? What kind of gain tempts you most? When, where, how are you most vulnerable? Maybe for you it's financial abundance. Or maybe it's relational lack. Whatever it is, God has a word for you this morning. Do you hear it? Brothers and sisters, Philippians 4:13 is not a generic reassurance that no matter the challenge you can overcome it through God's power. No. It is reassurance that no matter the spiritual challenge, and no matter the circumstances which inspire that challenge, you can experience the peace of genuine Christian contentment through God's power. That's what it means to “do (or to “face”) all things through” God's strength.

But as you think about facing “any and every circumstance” in that way, also be encouraged by this: two times in this passage (in verses 11 and 12) Paul tells his readers that he has “learned” how to face these kinds of differing circumstances and the temptations they bring. He “learned” how to draw upon God's strength in order to rest and to walk in true contentment. That's good news, isn't it? If Paul could learn that secret, so can we. Why? Because we serve the same God as Paul. And we cling to the same Savior as Paul. And we are led by the same truth as Paul. And we cling to the same promises as Paul.

Friends, we can do all things through him because he has already done all things for us. Because of a gracious Redeemer, who, with nail-scarred hands, invites us to come to him, because of the forgiveness he offers to those trying to live according to their own strength, the forgiveness available to the sinfully discontent and ungrateful, because of the cross of Christ, and the reality of his resurrected life, there is power to change. Power to learn this secret. And power, like Paul, to cling to God's words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness... For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a-10).