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I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but I’m afraid I’m about to. I recall a professor of mine saying repeatedly, “I don’t want to piously believe something that is not true.” I wonder how much of what we think or believe is just not true, regardless of how passionately we believe it. Case in point: Philippians 4:13. Like many of you I memorized it from the King James Version: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
For many people Philippians 4:13 has been one of their favorite verses from the Bible. They quote it consistently as they are facing some obstacle. Some take it almost as proof of nearly super-hero status. I CAN DO ALL THINGS.
Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. Who disguised as mild-manner Joe Christian fights the unending battle for truth, social justice, and the Christian way. . . (with apologies to Superman)
The problem is this. When I began to read the Scriptures in the original Greek I realized something: the word “do” is not there. It has been supplied by the translators. But is it the right word? It’s a bit complicated but a good Greek lexicon, grammar, or commentary can help you begin to sort it out. The Greek verb which is there is “I am able.” But the verb typically takes an infinitive complement, that is, an infinitive to complete the idea. Like this: “I am able TO SING;” “I am able TO MAKE sloppy joes.” So if there is no infinitive to complete the idea, what do you do? Well you look to the context. The context supplies the verbal idea. Walk up to someone and say: “I can.” And they will say, “You can what?” The “what” is the contextual idea. So read carefully the verses before 4:13. What are they about?
I am not saying this because I am in need. I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances. I know how to survive in tight situations, and I know how to enjoy having plenty. In fact, I have learned how to face any circumstances: fed or hungry, with or without.
Now here is another way to translate the text:
I can be content in any and every situation through Christ who empowers me.
Paul was not talking about the power TO DO anything. He was celebrating the fact that he had learned TO BE CONTENT regardless of the situation.
Now I realize that may not have the appeal of saying I CAN DO ALL THINGS. But again: do you want to piously believe something that is not true? Can you really do all things? If you could, then wouldn’t you be God.
Think for a moment about the power of contentment.
True contentment is the result of a heart committed to the risen Lord. Think of all the sins, pain, and brokenness that come from coveting [the opposite of contentment]. Adultery, murder, stealing, and lying can all be traced directly to a prior condition where hearts and minds are frustrated and discontent.
Notice that Paul says contentment doesn’t come naturally; it is learned. The normal, natural state of humanity is discontent and quiet desperation. It takes a powerful, spiritual presence to transform anxiety into joyous satisfaction. Ironically, it may be the shackles more than his freedom that schools Paul in the art of contentment. Despite the chains, Paul discovers this beautiful state of inner peace through the power of Jesus residing in him.
There is power in contentment. It is the power of shalom at work in your life. It will not be long until the next round of worry, anxiety, discontent, and frustration hits you.