“I can do all things through Christ.” Wonderful. But what does that really mean? We must examine the setting. Paul was writing to the Philippians from prison. He thanked them for their “partnership in furtherance of the Gospel from the first day until now” (1:5). Toward the end of the letter he added: “You did well that you shared in my affliction… I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you” (Phil. 4:14, 18). So, the setting is material aid Paul received while in prison.
Here is the immediate context: “Not that I speak because of lack, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. I know how to be humbled, and I also know how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in need. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (4:11-13).
What Paul Was NOT Saying
Before we continue to explore what Paul was talking about, let’s consider what he was not talking about. Paul was not talking about accomplishing great feats. You’ve probably heard that “you can be what you want to be.” The power of positive thinking. Philippians 4:13 has nothing to do with such fantasies. Not everybody, if they just dedicate themselves, can become an astronaut or win an Olympic gold medal.
This is true not only in the physical realm but also in the spiritual. A most graphic text is 1 Cor. 12:14-21. The foot, hand, ear, and eye all belong to the same body, and each obviously has different capabilities and limitations. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?… If they were all one member, where would the body be?” (12:17-19). God does not tell the foot that if it tries hard enough it can become a hand. No. God expects the foot to be a good foot. “I can do all things” was never meant to teach that anybody can be a great preacher, a super soul winner, an amazing comforter if they just try hard enough.
Yes, most (or all) of us can do more, can do better, can do new things. But we all have numerous limitations. None of us can do “all things” out of context.
What Paul WAS Saying
“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. I know how to be humbled… I have learned the secret… to be hungry… and to be in need. I can do all things…” (4:11-13). Paul is discussing the circumstances of life, what life threw at him. He was thankful for the Philippians sharing with him, but he had learned the secret of handling jail time. He knew how to cope with being hungry. He was not thrown off balance by being in need. Paul was able to be “content” when the going was rough.
COVID-19 has turned the entire world upside down. How are you handling whatever it has brought your way? Has it “ruined” your life? Or have you “learned the secret” to be “content” in your current situation, whatever that may be? And your “current” may be all kinds of things apart from the pandemic. Paul was telling us that the difficulties of life do not have to control us.
What Else Paul Was Saying
Much of the Bible and much Christian exhortation deals with handling adversity. But Paul didn’t limit his remarks to the bad. He also said he could handle “to be filled… to abound.”
Have lots of money? Jesus said it is difficult for the rich to be saved (Matt. 19:23-26). Why is that? Pride. Self-satisfaction. Proverbs speaks to both sides of life’s situations in 30:8-9: “Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, deny you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor, and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
A striking example of being ruined by blessing is seen in the life of Hezekiah. A longer account in 2 Kings 20 is shortened in 2 Chr. 32:24-26, with a sad addition: Hezekiah was filled with pride when God answered his prayer. Pride because God has blessed you? Pride because I won someone to Christ? Oh, to be on guard over even spiritual success. Can we handle it? Have we learned in every situation – good as well as bad – to be overcomers, to be humble?
How Can We “Learn” To Do “All Things”?
First: this kind of learning takes place in real time. It takes more than agreeing with this Insight. It takes practice working on our attitudes through both the good and the bad times.
Second: Doing all things is “through Christ, who strengthens me.” Pour out your heart to Christ. Plead with Him for grace to overcome. Fix your eyes on Jesus, not on the situation nor on yourself. Be filled with the Spirit.
In short, “do all things” does not mean doing anything we want. It means to be able to bear up under whatever life brings our way.