Philippians 4:10-13 Devotional
Philippians 4:10-13. 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. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Reflection. Let’s start with the last, and most famous, verse: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (4:13). Few biblical verses are more violently abused and misapplied today that one. Philippians 4:13 has become a mantra of victorious Christianity and the prosperity gospel—if only Jesus had known about it. Embarrassing and ultimately evil interpretations aside, we must probe what Paul meant. It’s very important that we understand him. Not only so that we can guard against false teaching but also because last week we saw that he exhorts believers - not for the first time - to imitate him (4:9).
The answer, as is almost always the case, lies in the surrounding verses or context— even the letter as a whole. For instance, even though Paul says ‘I can do all things,’ this doesn’t mean he won’t die (1:21). Nor was he able to walk out of his Roman prison cell (1:13). Though Paul believed he could ‘do anything’ he nevertheless needed the help of Epaphroditus (2:25). Perhaps just as strangely, this mighty apostle of God - who could do all things - was morally imperfect (3:12-14). Evidently then, Philippians 4:13 is not a claim to the limitless power or potential of faith. It is not a promise to become like God. However, it does contain a promise for believers.
The promise in 4:13 is not that Christians can achieve or accomplish anything but the assurance that God will be with them in all situations. Read the verse again, but focus on the second half: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Similarly to 4:5-7, Paul was acutely aware of God’s powerful and comforting presence. “The Lord is at hand” (4:5), to strengthen those who trustingly draw near to him, who depend on him. The lies preached using this verse destroy faith because they promise what God doesn’t. They insist on a faith that is measured by our successes rather than the size of our God. Paul was able to face his situation, suffering trials and towering opposition, “through him who gives me strength.” So too can we.
What the above might look like can be seen in the verses preceding 4:13. It can actually be summarised in a word that is somewhat foreign, not to mention offensive, for 21st century ears: contentment. Twice Paul says that he is content (4:11, 12). Incredibly, in both cases he divorces his contentment from his circumstances. In 4:11, after rejoicing in the support of the Philippians (4:10), Paul says, “I am not saying this because I am in need.” And in 4:12 he says, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” In both of these verses Paul points to a contentment that is not determined by his circumstances.
We can draw a point of clarity regarding contentment from these verses. It did not turn Paul into a metaphoric martyr; he rejoiced in the concern that the Philippians had for him (4:10). Linked to this, Paul is not coy about the points in his life and ministry when he had “plenty” and was well fed (4:13). In both his present situation and those earlier seasons there was one unchanging, anchoring, and all satisfying source of contentment: God. Whatever the world through at or took from him, Paul possessed an unthreatened and incomparable joy—”the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8). It is only when God is both our greatest security and delight that we will be truly content. It is only then that we will say with Paul: I can do all this through him who gives me strength.