Pastor Dennis Smith
Many years ago when I worked in a secular job, one of my coworkers was enrolled in a college chemistry class. As the day for the final exam drew near, she confided in me that although she was concerned that it would be a challenging test, she was confident in her ability to pass. She said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I hated to burst her bubble, but I had to suggest to her that that’s not what the apostle Paul was talking about when he penned Philippians 4:13. He was not talking about being somehow able to do anything and everything he set his mind to — like being a brain surgeon or something! Instead, he was referring to his ability to handle the uncertain and changing circumstances in which he often found himself as he went about fulfilling his call to preach the Gospel. There were hard times as well as good times. Leading up to what he wrote in v. 13 he said,
I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both
how to be abased [live in humble circumstances], and I know how to abound
[enjoy abundance]: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full
and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (Philippians 4:11b–12)
Paul was saying in these verses that it scarcely mattered to him whether he was in physical distress or enjoying abundance and ease. He had learned to be content whatever the situation. He had learned how to handle such vagaries through experience, the great teacher.
And it was in light of this testimony that he shared the thought of v. 13. He could handle all of those situations through his union with Christ, the one who indwelt, enabled, and empowered him. He knew how to be abased and to abound; he had learned to trust God when there was a lack, and he thanked God for supplying when there was plenty. I suspect that Paul chalked it all up to God’s will for him.
So what about us? How well do we deal with changing circumstances? Is it our testimony that we can put in perspective and properly handle whatever our present lot? (Are you reminded of the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul”?) If you can’t honestly say, at least to yourself, that you are not greatly moved by the present trying situation, why not?
I have to admit that I think preachers sometimes improperly hold up Bible figures as strictly intended to be character examples for us (when in actuality we should be seeing what God is doing in them and through them). But I might have to see an exception in Paul here. I think we can indeed take a lesson from his testimony and remind ourselves that we too can deal with any circumstance, all because of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ who indwells, enables, and empowers us.