Many people have heard Philippians 4:13 thrown around as if it’s the superhero’s Bible verse. “I can do all things through Christ…” is such a positive idea and it sounds so awesome. Why not use it to pump ourselves up when we’re facing a difficult task?
Verse twelve, however, is the context that has a little bit of kryptonite mixed in there as well: “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.” Then the idea of doing anything through Christ who gives us strength comes in. The infamous Philippians 4:13 is actually about being content, not lifting semis or walking through fire.
Even though it doesn’t have the meaning that all the millions of people who tattoo “Philippians 4:13” onto their bodies probably think it does, it’s still a really good verse! (That’s a relief since I may or may not be one of those ignorant millions.) Being content is a hugely important thing, and no less difficult to achieve.
But there’s something else in verse twelve that I think we still overlook. Up until recently, I’ve understood this verse as if it said something more like this:
“I’ve been poor and miserable, but I’ve learned the secret of being content in those terrible situations when I have hardly anything and nothing is going right…”
I subliminally take out the favorable aspects of Paul’s writing because I’m trained to think, “if we have plenty, how could we not be content?” Our culture says that someone who has enough money to chase after the unicorn-goal of having everything we want shouldn’t need help being content in their circumstances. It’s an extremely weak and senseless argument from a capitalistic perspective, because we’re supposed to be able to spend our way to happiness.
And so we read a verse like Philippians 4:12 and only pick out the parts that make sense. We dismiss the rest, maybe giving the excuse that Paul was just trying to be thorough and extra persuasive in his illustration as he is talking to “the poor people.” Or maybe we don’t even know we do it. (And there’s always the chance that I’m the only one.)
But what if Paul was writing to the wealthy aristocrat just as sincerely as he was writing to the homeless man on the street corner? What if he really meant it when he said we also need Christ’s strength to keep us feeling content when we seemingly have everything we could ever need from the world?
Regardless of what we have in the world, the root of our contentment isn’t found on a car lot, in the grocery store, or listed in a real estate guide. Not to sound harsh, but it’s not even rooted in our families, no matter how awesome the marriage is or how many times the kids have hit the honor roll. Truly in “any and every situation,” our contentment can only be found through acknowledging Jesus and the grace, hope, and security we receive through Him.
Maybe you don’t believe me. Maybe you’re convinced you can be fulfilled through your job, your house, your boat, or maybe your spouse… or whatever it is you might think is the end-all be-all at the moment. But if the purpose behind it isn’t to love God, it will come up short in keeping you content. Jesus referenced Deuteronomy 6:5 when He confirmed the greatest commandment to the Pharisees, which is to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength. But it’s with our heart, mind and strength that we use to acquire the material possessions and relationships that we have, which means the command extends to loving God with our entire lives, including our stuff.
What if God created this place to be fulfilling first and foremost through Himself and gave us this greatest commandment for our own benefit because He genuinely wants us to be happy and content? If He was willing to send His Son to a cross to receive our punishment, such an idea would be in line with His nature.
Philippians 4:12 isn’t just intended to bring to mind poverty-stricken families in some other country. It’s relevant to them, of course. But it’s also relevant to the person with a house full of big screen TVs, food for weeks in the pantry, and a loving spouse… but seeks out an extramarital affair because what they have at home just doesn’t quite satisfy like it used to.
It’s relevant to the student whose parents are picking up the tab for college, has all passing grades, and is fairly popular on campus… but turns to drugs and alcohol, or maybe casual sex, to fill that extra void they still feel.
It’s for everyone.