I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
If you are like me, you enjoyed watching the Olympics a few weeks ago. The things those athletes can do amaze me. They seem to have super human powers. I was a pretty good athlete when I was younger, but I could only dream of being an Olympian. Maybe I should have recited Philippians 4:13 more. Perhaps I would have made it. Our verse for today is connected to sports quite a bit. People use it to inspire them to reach their goals or win their games. That's fair enough, but there is a depth of meaning in this verse that goes deeper than crossing the finish line and winning a gold medal. Seen in its larger context, this verse is more powerful than we think.
I believe all of us want this verse to be true. I think all of us want strength for living. I know many of you are worn out, burned out, and about to pass out! Maybe you are listening today feeling exhausted by life. Maybe you have a tough decision to make and you don't know if you have the strength to make it. Perhaps you have too many things on your plate and need an escape button. You want off this train! The pressures of work, family and business and life have you at your wits end.
If that is how you feel, it seems that today's verse is just what the doctor ordered. But notice the verse expresses that Paul had found strength in Christ. Paul doesn't say, "You will find your strength in Christ to do all things." Instead, he was testifying that he had found all the strength he needed in Christ. The question is how can we find it?
If we are honest, there are days when we don't really feel that strong. We have prayed. We have been to church. We have read our Bible. But the strength is not there. We go on vacations. We read self-help books. We listen to motivational speakers and still the strength is not there.
I think this is one of the reasons why this is a favorite verse for many people. It expresses a sincere hope and desire to find strength. We yearn for it. We long for it, but many of us don't experience it. How can we find the strength that Paul testified about?
I am going to share with you how you can find that strength. I am going to share with you how you can tap into the power of Christ and have the same strength as Paul.
The key to finding this strength is looking at Philippians 4:13 in its larger context. Most people read only this verse and think, "Okay, Christ can give me strength too." If I took a poll of how many know Philippians 4:12, most people would not know it. But you can't understand Philippians 4:13 unless you understand Philippians 4:12, 11 and 10. We must see this popular verse in light of its context. It is then and only then that we can discover how to receive the strength in Christ to do all things. So let's take a closer look.
Many scholars believe that Paul was in a Roman prison when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. It was his favorite church. He founded it. He loved the people and they loved him. He had a special relationship with them. Philippians 4:13 appears as Paul is wrapping up his letter. He is thanking the Philippians for sending him a gift, probably money to help his ministry. Paul had good etiquette. He knew it was important to send a thank you note! So he says in verse 10:
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need.... (Philippians 4:10-11)
Paul was quick to thank the Philippians for their love behind the gift. But he was also quick to tell them he didn't need it. He wasn't being rude; he simply seized an opportunity to share his wisdom. Listen to what Paul expresses in verse 11:
...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)
This is Paul's wisdom shining through. Many believe Paul was an older man when he wrote these words. He had been through life's battles. He had survived countless bouts of persecution. He sat in a Roman prison cell awaiting death at any moment. He knew what was most important in life. He knew what counted. Life and faith had taught him to be self-sufficient regardless of his circumstances.
Most of us are quite the opposite. We are only happy and self-sufficient when circumstances are exactly how we want them. We feel good when life lines up just like we want it. We put ourselves at the mercy of circumstances, but Paul didn't. Paul continues in verse 12:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. (Philippians 4:12)
Paul was basically saying, "Been there. Done that." I have faced sad and desperate times, and I have face wonderful and glorious times. Each has something to teach us. I have lived life, and I know what I am talking about." If Paul were living today, he might have a t-shirt that says, "Getting Old is Not for Sissies!"
I imagine when Paul was younger he made the mistake of relying on his circumstances for happiness and contentment. But then he realized that life is a series of ups and downs. If you rely on circumstances, you are going to be disappointed.
Then Paul throws in a phrase that blows my mind. We don't find anything like it anywhere else in scripture really. Paul says in verse 12:
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. (Philippians 4:12)
Now, how about that! Paul said he had learned the secret of being content no matter what life threw at him. Whether he was hungry or full, in prison or in his own bed, he knew the secret to being content! I don't know about you, but I want that secret!
It does seem like a secret doesn't it? Everywhere you look folks are unhappy. They have everything they want and are still not content. Everywhere you look folks are relying on circumstances to bring them strength and contentment, and it always disappoints. It does seem like a secret.
Maybe the secret has eluded you. You would love to know the secret! Well, the truth is the secret is found in Philippians 4:13. Paul wasn't trying to hide it. The problem is we have read this verse so many times that we miss it. Let me read the verse again:
I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
Whenever we read this verse, most of us focus on the word "strength." It is an important word but not the most important one. The most important word in this verse is "do." I can DO all things through Christ, the one who gives me strength.
Paul's secret to strength and contentment lay in learning to focus on what he was supposed to "do," not what he felt he should have. Paul didn't say "I can have all things..." He said, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." It was not money, things, power or prestige that empowered him; it was his relationship with Christ and what Christ had called him to DO.
Paul detached himself from the non-essentials of life and focused on what really mattered for eternity. In doing so, he found all the strength he would ever need. So what is the secret to contentment and the way to endless strength?
Let go of what you should have and grab hold of what you should do.
You see, most of us don't have the strength we need because our focus is misplaced. When we focus on having instead of doing, we never have enough energy. Why? Because have is never satisfied. This is why self-centered churches die and outwardly focused churches thrive! Have saps energy: doing gives energy.
You want power? Change your perspective. Do what Paul did. Take your mind and heart off the non-essentials and focus on the eternal. Let go of what you should have and grab hold of what you should do. Get to work following Jesus and everything else will take care of itself. Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you."
The happiest, most energetic people I know are those who faithfully serve Christ and his church. This is because Christ loves giving strength to those who want to be involved with what he is doing in the world. People who are out doing for Christ never complain of not having enough strength. They may complain of not having enough time or resources or money, but not strength. Earlier in Philippians Paul said, "He who began a good work in you will see it to completion."
I have discovered that I find rest when I have worked. I find strength when I am doing for others. I find joy when I am serving. The more I bless, the more I am blessed. That's how it works! I can DO all things through Him who strengthens me!
You will HAVE when you DO. You want fulfillment? Give a cup of cold water in Jesus' name. You want joy and meaning? Talk to another person about your relationship with Christ. You want purpose? Tell God you will do anything for him and watch your life transform. You will be so busy and so alive you won't care anymore about having what you want. You will have found the secret to contentment.
One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. It stars Morgan Freeman as "Red" and Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne. They are both prisoners and become good friends. Andy is sentenced to two consecutive life terms for a double murder he did not commit. He experiences the brutality of prison life and works for a cruel and disturbed warden. He longs to be free from prison so he begins to plan his escape without telling a soul.
There is great scene when Andy and Red are sitting against a wall in the prison yard. Andy keeps talking and day dreaming about what life would be like if he were free. He said he would go to Mexico and live on the Pacific. He would run a hotel. He would buy an old boat and go fishing. Red, unaware of Andy's plan to escape, tries to talk him back to reality: "Why are you wasting time with these pipe dreams? All that stuff is out there and you are in here." Andy replies, "Well, life comes down to a simple choice. Get busy living or get busy dying."
When I read Philippians 4:13, I don't see an Olympic Medal: I hear a challenge: "Charley, get busy living for Christ or get busy dying in trivial pursuits." I choose Christ. Which do you choose? Let go of what you should have and grab hold of what you should do. Get busy living or get busy dying.
Let us pray. Lord, give us the courage to let go of what we should have and grab hold of what you call us to do. Help us to see that you always give strength to those who desire to be your hands and feet in the world. Amen.