We cling to favorite verses, especially those that offer us comfort, strength, and hope. But real comfort and strength come from right understanding. To borrow from the field of photography, there are two ‘tools’ that help us understand scripture. One is a ‘wide angle lens’ that allows us to see the bigger picture. Another is a ‘zoom lens’ that allows us to examine a verse close up in more detail. Both look at verses in the context of their setting. As a single sentence fits within a paragraph, and a paragraph within a chapter, the single verse that we carry as a banner has contextual meaning that might be different from what you think it does.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Have you sometimes been tempted to think this means you will have supernatural abilities to accomplish impossible tasks on your to-do list? Or that, with enough faith you won’t be troubled by the excruciating pressures of life? God might grant you supernatural strength to lift a car off an injured person or to achieve some other formidable task. But this is not the general meaning of this verse.
Looking at the bigger picture through our wide-angle lens, we see this verse set in the context of Paul’s letter to his beloved church in Philippi. The theme of his letter is of living in the joy of following Jesus. A sub theme in chapter four where we find this verse is encouragement to remain steadfast in faith and to pursue unity with others. Looking closer with our ‘zoom’ lens, we find the context of this particular verse, found in the verses that precede it:
“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.”
Paul gives thanks to the church for their gifts and concern. He also explains why he is not in need: Because he has learned the secret of being content, regardless of having plenty or nothing. The secret is that his circumstances do not determine his outlook. He can maintain this outlook because he regards all things as loss compared to knowing Jesus. (Chapter 3)
None of us will ever be fully content pursuing our own personal gains and ambitions. But we can learn and apply the secret of being content in difficult circumstances by pursuing Jesus above everything else, with the very strength He gives through His Spirit who lives in you. Being able to be content in all things is a measure of faith in God verses faith in self. Got the “secret?”