. . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11–13)
Smash a homer. Climb a mountain. Blast through the pile for a touchdown. Run a marathon. Establish a new personal best on the bench press. Hit the game-winning shot. You can do it. I can do all things through him who gives me strength!
So some would say.
Snatch this powerful verse from its context and plug it right into your triumphalistic American athletic Christianity. Or take a step back and see the bigger picture. And see that there’s even more power than maybe you imagined.
For Times Good and Bad
Philippians 4:13 isn’t mainly about doing all the great things you’d want to do anyways, but sprinkled with a little Jesus gusto. Rather, the verse is mainly about how Jesus is strong enough to give us contentment in life’s very worst circumstances.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians from a dirty, miserable first-century jail, not from the end zone or the top of a freshly scaled mountain.
Yes, he does want to make sure that Christians are able to handle the good times. He wants us to remember Jesus when all is well, when we’re at life’s peaks. To thank Jesus when we succeed. To express appreciation when there’s a feast set before us. To bring him to mind as the giver of every good gift when we’re swimming in abundance.
But just as much as he wants us to lean on Jesus when times are good, he wants us to have strength from Jesus to endure when things are hardest. Maybe even more so.
Strength for the Weary
When we’ve been humbled or embarrassed. When there’s no food on the table — can you imagine that? When our team loses. When we’re unmotivated. When we err. When we’re feeling depressed. When we think we may have lost the strength to go on. That’s precisely when we need strength from Jesus.
Jesus is the one who by his Holy Spirit loves to give strength to his people both for doing life’s most enjoyable things and for enduring in life’s hardest things. Jesus is the strength-giver both for eating a good meal with thanksgiving and for missing one with thanksgiving. Jesus is big enough to sustain us when we’re low. He’s strong enough to hold us when we’re at our weakest. We can do all things — not just the things we want most to do, but even (and especially) the things we want least to do — through Jesus who strengths us.
Lord of Wins and Losses
Jesus is Lord over feast and famine. Lord over homeruns and strikeouts. He is Lord over touchdowns and fumbles. Lord over web-gems and errors. He is big enough to be relatively unimpressed with your greatest accomplishments and kind enough to be gentle in your greatest failures. He is Lord not only over champions, gold-medalists, and MVPs, but also Lord over losers, failures, and the disqualified.
According to 1 Corinthians 1:26–29, he is perhaps Lord all the more over the losers:
Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Jesus Is the Secret
So when you’re at your highest, turn to Jesus in gratitude and for the strength to take the next step. And when you’re at your lowest, turn to Jesus in faith that he’ll provide for you the strength to keep going.
It’s true — in Jesus we really can do all things — especially, be content in him in the midst of life’s most difficult, painful, and tragic circumstances. Leaning always on the Savior is learning the secret for everything.