Thursday, March 26, 2020

"I Can Do All Things..."

"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)
Contrary to popular belief, this passage is not about your ability to do whatever you want, achieve success, and fulfill your dreams through Christ. Rather, the point is that God trains his people to be able to face all circumstances, which are often out of their control, with contentment through Christ. Here is the verse in context:
"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." (Philippians 4:10–13)
Paul was writing to thank the saints at Philippi for the gift they had sent him. This joy was all the greater because it had been delayed. But he notes this delay was not their fault - they had sent a gift as soon as they were able. Then he clarifies: he is happy, but not because he was anxious and discontent in his prior position (later he will note that his joy primarily came from seeing their faithfulness and love). He takes this situation as an opportunity to comment on Christian contentment. Paul had learned that whatever the situation, he was to be content. Contentment equipped him to handle both abundance and need. He was able to face all circumstances through the strength given him by Christ.

This is a lesson which is especially important now as our life has been uniquely disrupted by the Covid-19 coronavirus. We have been "brought low." Our plans have been thwarted. Our economy has taken a hit. Some people are out of work, while others are nearly overwhelmed with work. It is easy in this situation to be anxious, frustrated, and discontent. And as many of us settle in at home, this discontentment can make it easier to loose patience with others around us.

So how do we gain this ability to face all circumstances by being content? Note two things. First, Paul had learned to be content. It was a skill that he had learned as he went through many circumstances. As James says in his epistle, the testing of our faith through trials produces steadfastness (James 1:2-4). Trials act like a plow, aiding the soil of faith to produce contentment as its crop. Second, Paul points to the source of his ability: "him who strengthens me." This contentment was a fruit of Christ's work within him. Christ works within his people by his word and Spirit, producing in us patience, hope, and endurance. Contentment is a product of grace.

If we go back one more verse, we see that Paul had said, "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:9). When he describes what he has learned, he does this so that you might imitate him. Paul taught by example as well as by word. This way is not merely the way of Paul, but the way of Christ. Therefore, let us be good disciples and learn to "practice these things," seeking to be content in our current circumstance, with faith in the promises and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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