I can do!?
One of the most misquoted, mis-applied and misunderstood verse is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” It is presumed that a Christian can do anything and everything, as s/he wishes or pleases. However, it is instructive to read the passage in context: “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, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.(Phil4:10-13)
Paul thanks believers
Paul expresses his gratefulness to the believers in the city of Philippi. They were providing his needs: personal, travel and ministry expenses. Paul rejoices for the renewal of friendship and the believers in Philippi had the privilege to partner with Paul in the ministry. The joy of Paul was not that he had provisions and supply from them, as he had disciplined himself to even live in the midst of pressing needs, rather than solicit funds. Paul rejoices because the Philippi believers would receive blessings according to divine riches for their investment and involvement in the ministry. The joy was not connected to his enhanced budget or provision.
Need and Plenty
Paul states that: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.” Paul experienced both extremes in his life. There were times he was in need – even desperate need – for even food, clothing and shelter. Also he was cared for by many friends. Rich people like Philemon, Lydia and many Roman officials were his host. Paul did neither lose dignity or overwhelmed when he was in need; nor did he become conceited and arrogant when he had plenty. His spiritual sensitivity and maturity helped him to cope well in both extremes. He was not swayed by riches or deprived by poverty.
Secret of being content
Paul writes that this attitude or lifestyle of contentment did not happen automatically. He learned it diligently. His lofty education at the feet of Gamaliel did not help him. Only the guidance of our Lord and his divine inspiration and model help him to grow into maturity. He also reveals that he learnt the secret of being content. A secret is not an open knowledge but a hidden knowledge or truth.
Many times people have asked me a valid question: “There are many Christian leaders (Pastors, evangelists, missionaries..etc.) who began their ministry with simplicity, sacrifice and suffering. After an initial phase of few years, their attitude towards life, ministry and money changes. They become egoist, selfish, grabbing wealth and arrogant. What could be the reasons for this?” In simple words, these servants of God are not content but pursue material gains and not the Kingdom of God.
Of course, they began well in the path of simplicity and sacrifice. However, their worldview regarding suffering and sacrifice was not right. For them ‘suffering’ was not a calling (Phil 1:29) but an investment for future profit. The intention and expectation with which they faced suffering (losses, deprivation, harassment, persecution and shame) was not right or biblical. In other words, they were not motivated by the love for Christ, but by the hope of future blessings in this world. When the phase of difficult times is over, they see the fruit of their labour. Now, they look at the fruits with the entitlement mentality. So, they want to grab all they can and refuse to share or sacrifice. It is not only entitlement, but also their exclusive privilege. With added selfishness they choose luxury over simplicity and their kingdom over the Kingdom of God. As they are blinded, that the ‘blessings’ are directly connected to their ‘sacrifice’ they are not obliged to share with anyone. Also they refuse to share as others also should earn theirs by going through similar sufferings they went through.
God gave me the privilege of being a speaker in an important conference along with another speaker whom I considered as role model. I thought it was a great opportunity to spend some meaningful time with him. We both were booked in a small (but neat and clean) hotel according to the budget of the organizers. When the other speaker saw the room, he was annoyed. For sure, he was not born with the silver spoon in his mouth. He shouted and rebuked at the organizers for their ignorance, non-recognition of his status and demanded a five star accommodation. My respect and regard for this great leader was gone. That speaker had an inflated ego and had entitlement mentality. He was not able to be content in need (according to his perspective) and demanded plenty.
Contentment and Godliness
“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Timothy 6:6) The mark of true Christian spirituality is contentment and satisfaction with what God has graciously provided. However, the converse of this principle is: godliness without contentment is great loss and even grievous loss. It is possible to gain the whole world, in that process lose the soul. Many people (including full time Christian workers) today have godliness without a trace of contentment. Their lavish and luxurious lifestyle puts many worldly people to shame.
Contentment results in joy and happiness. Contentment is being joyful even when the situation seems to be adverse, not favourable but painful. Contentment is a character that refuses to oblige Satan or allow him to rob our joy and gladness in the Lord.
Contentment means not to grumble or murmur in any circumstances. The Book of Numbers in the Bible could be alternatively termed as the Book of Murmurs. The Israelites began to murmur when they forgot to be grateful. Unfortunately, they could not remember the wonderful deeds of God, His miracles or His plan and promise of the Land that flows with milk and honey. However, they remembered only the food they ate under slavery. Gratefulness is anti-dote for murmuring and grumbling.
Paul writes that he can do ‘all things’. It is ignorance to consider all carnal, worldly, material and even unrighteous aspirations as ‘all things’. It is important to understand from the text the meaning of ‘all things’. Paul means here as all things are: Secret of contentment; being grateful when there is not enough; being grateful and humble when there plenty; sharing even when we are in need; not losing dignity in deprived circumstance; not soar in clouds when there is surplus and being joyful and content in all circumstances.
Today the world is having an insatiable thirst for material riches and wealth. The global market economy promotes a consumerist culture that has roots in covetousness which is idolatry. Envy, covetousness, lust, possessiveness, and selfishness is encouraged for making more profit and gains. In spite of mad race for wealth, luxury and power, a Christian could do all things – remaining content and joyful in all circumstances in Christ Jesus. Amen.