Philippians 4:13 (Week 1 – That’s Not What That Verse Means)
Jason White


Philippians 4:13 is one of the most famous verses in all of the Bible, but many have stripped it out of context and use it as an inspirational slogan to tray and accomplish their dreams and goals. That’s not what that verse means. In its context, Paul is talking about contentment. Jesus gives him the strength to be content in whatever situation he is in.



Sermon Transcript
So would you agree that with the things that you say, the things that other people say to you, or the things that you read or are listening to, that context matters? Of course, it does. Context really does matter. I mean, what you say, the content is extremely important, but how you say it and within which context you say it, the meaning of it can change drastically. For example, if I was surrounded by family and food on a dinner table and I simply said three words, let's eat grandpa. Then you guys would understand that I was talking to grandpa and getting his attention, that it was time to get around the dinner table to eat. But if we changed the context, and we were on a desert island and we hadn't eaten for two or three weeks, and I happen to say, let's eat grandpa. You might think that means something entirely different, right? Exact same three words, but context really does matter. Here's another example. We all know that the phrases, I'm sorry and my bad, pretty much mean the same thing. I mean, if I ran into you in the hallway and I said, Either I'm sorry, or I said, my bad, you would know what it was that I meant that I'm apologizing for running into you. Now, if you showed up at a funeral and you told your friend I'm sorry. They would really appreciate you saying that, but if you happen to say, my bad, they're going to think something entirely different that you might have had something to do with your friend's death there, right? Let's take this as another example here. Oh man, where are we at? I've moved this all up here. It is right here. So if you see this number on a road or a sidewalk or something, and you're looking at it from this perspective, then you would see that that's clearly a six. But if you happen to be walking from this direction and see it from here, you would obviously think that that number is a nine, and so quite honestly, being whatever perspective you're looking at that from, you could both be right in that particular context. But here's the thing, what if the person that originally wrote that number intended for it to be a certain number. I mean, this may be a silly example, but let's say they're out on a scavenger hunt, right, and they had to have the right clue to get to the next clue, and whoever it was that wrote that number there as their clue, intended it to be a sixth then one of them would be right and one of them would be wrong, even though they could look at it from a different perspective and try to make an argument that they were right. And of course, the same thing is true about verses in the Bible. The authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what it is that they wrote, and there was an intended meaning behind the words and the phrases that they were using. They use the exact words that they wrote down in order to convey a certain truth about something. But just like we've seen in these silly examples that I used, words or phrases can mean different things in different context, and there's no difference when it comes to Scripture as well. Context really does matter. A lot of people would say that context is king, and so in order to truly understand what certain verses are saying, We must seek to understand the context within which those words or those phrases were used, and so today we are starting a summer message series, just simply titled. That's not what that verse means. We're going to be looking at a number of verses throughout this summer that are popular verses that I feel like a lot of times people strip out of their context to think that they mean one thing. And many of us may be doing the same thing and trying to live out these verses in ways that they were never intended to be lived out. And today we're going to start with one of the most popular verses in all of the Bible, which is in Philippians, 413, and as you know, says, I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength. Now, here's what that verse has come to mean. For a lot of people today. It mean that Jesus is going to give me the strength to accomplish all. All of my goals in life. If I rely on him in his strength, in me and through me, then he's going to help me fulfill the desires that I set my mind to, whatever it is that I'm trying to accomplish. He will give me the strength to accomplish those things. In other words, it's basically become like an inspirational slogan for many people to accomplish their hopes, dreams and their goals, to get somewhere that they feel like they need to be in life, or to earn something that they were intended to earn. I know this is true because this is the way I used to use it when I was playing contented, competitive tennis in high school and in college, I would go to this verse a number of times whenever I was in the middle of matches, and we would get deep into a match and I was struggling, or maybe I was losing, or maybe it was a tight moment, and I would start to repeat this verse in my head over and over and over again. I can do all things through Christ who give me strength. I can do all things through Christ who give me strength. In other words, give me the strength to make sure that I win this point, God instead of that other guy over there who's my enemy right now. But do we really think that God was going to give me more strength than my opponent to help me win a tennis match, and above and beyond that. Do we really think that that's what the Apostle Paul had in mind 2000 years ago whenever he wrote this verse? Did he really picture that one day people would be using it as an inspiration to win a sports competition? I don't think so. But it's not just me. I hear a number of people using this in a number of different contexts. People quote it as inspiration to do well on a test in school. And I know I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I've got to get this A to be able to pass this so that I don't fail and have to take it over again, right? I hear people use this as inspiration to do well on a job interview, because if they could just land this job, then they're going to get where it is that they need to be. It's going to give them a title or status or a lot more money than they have right now. And so I need Jesus' strength to make sure that I ace this job interview. I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength. He's going to give me this job. He'llhelp me complete that marathon. He'll help me close that business sale. He'll use it to help me encourage my teammates or classmates in any number of situations. Philippians 413 has become one of those things that we see on signs at sporting events and on T shirts and coffee mugs and posters on Christian businesses. It is just all over the place, and we use it for inspiration to accomplish big things or to overcome difficult things in our lives. Quite honestly, it's become the Christian stamp on the American dream, if you will. You know what the American dream is? Of course, it's the concept that you and I can do anything or everything that is that we want to do. We can become anyone that we want to become here in the United States of America, if we're just willing to work hard enough, because this is the land of opportunity. It's the vision of being ultra successful and getting rich. And once we get there, this dream that we have in mind of who it is that I want to be one day, and whatever it is that I'm going to become, then, then I'm going to be happy, then I'm going to be satisfied. At that point, I'll be fulfilled, and I will be content. And sometimes Philippians 413 gets used by those of us who are Christians to make that a Christian doctrine, because it, of course, is not a Christian doctrine the American dream. And so we use it as inspiration to gather strength, to accomplish more in our jobs and in our sports and to fill our bank accounts or even earn favor in the eyes of the world. But once again, is that really what Philippians 413 means? Is this what the Apostle Paul intended when he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this to the church at Philippi, or even for us today. And of course, the answer is, no, that is not what that verse means. So what does it mean? How do we know what it is that it means? Because he says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. So why doesn't that mean that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Well, we have to dive into the context, and so we look back at the few verses before that and the verses after that. Quite honestly, we even may have to look sometimes all the way back through the entire letter, because when the apostle Paul wrote it, that's how he intended it to be read. Was. From the very first line all the way to the end of it to so that we see the big context in it all. Now we're just going to back up a couple of verses, because we can see the context even right here. The apostle Paul starts off in verse 10 of chapter four, and says, I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last, you renewed your concern for me. He says, Indeed you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. Now, one of the questions that arises is, what is it that they were concerned about for him? What was their concern? Well, we don't know. I mean, once again, he doesn't say, if you just look at this particular verse, and that's all we had, we wouldn't really know what it is that he was talking about. But once again, this is a letter, and just a few verses later, we see the Apostle Paul say this. He says, I've received your full payment, and you have given me more than enough. I am amply supplied now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts that you sent. In other words, the Philippian church was concerned for Paul that he didn't have what it is that he needed to complete the task that the Lord had called him to, to go and make disciples of all nations, to reach the Gentiles with the good news of Jesus Christ. And so they had collected money, and they sent this financial gift through Epaphroditus to him, Paul wasn't saying that they necessarily owed him any payment. It wasn't something that he was demanding from them. He's just acknowledging that he received this gift, that he received this blessing from them. Now, again, as we read in the verse earlier, evidently, this isn't the first time that they've done this. How do we know that? Because they've renewed their concern, you don't renew something that you haven't already done and so evidently, they had given to Paul before, and this was at least the second, or maybe the third, or who knows how many times they had sent him a financial gift to provide for his needs. Now here's the thing, the apostle Paul just says this, and he's basically thanking them for that, right? He's thanking them for this gift, but it's kind of like he realizes that in saying thank you for it, that it could imply that he's just using their friendship to get some financial gain from them. And he wants to be very clear that that's not what this is for and why he's saying thank you. Therefore this is what he says next. He says, I'm not saying this because I am in need for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. What Paul wants them to know is that he's learned to be content whatever the circumstances are, which is an absolutely incredible thing for the Apostle Paul to say, since he's writing this from jail right now. Now, again, we don't really know that from the verses that we've read. But when you look at your context, if you went all the way back to Philippians chapter one, there's a reference to him being in chains in the moment, and so he's in jail, and he's basically saying, I've learned to be content even in the situation that I am writing from right now, being in jail for my faith now, as incredible as that is for the situation that he's in right now, we also know that that's not the only thing that happened to the apostle Paul, because when you go back and you read the book of Acts, or you go back and read a lot of the other New Testament letters, what it is that we begin to see is that the apostle Paul went through so many other things. Not only was he imprisoned for his faith, but he was beaten, he was tortured, he was slandered. He was treated harshly on so many different occasions. And he's saying, no matter whether they beat me, no matter whether they were slandering me, no matter whatever it is that they were doing to me, I've learned to still be content amazing that that's what the Apostle Paul had learned in all of those particular situations. But now that he's said this, he even goes on to expand on it, expound on it even more so look what he says in the very next verse. He says, Listen, guys, I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I've learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or whether hungry, whether living in plenty or living in. Want Now again, this is absolutely incredible to me. I think it probably caught your attention if you're looking at it for the first time, maybe as well, because part of this is not a surprise to us, like it's the kind of thing we would expect Paul or God to say through Paul to us is that he would supply for what it is that we need whenever we don't have enough. I mean, that's the kind of thing that we would expect him to say, that we can learn to be content with whatever it is that we have, or Jesus will supply what it is that we have. But that's not all that the Apostle Paul says. It says that he had to learn to be content even when he had more, even when he had more than enough, he had to learn to be content, which for most of us, that makes no sense whatsoever. Why? Because we're thinking, No, duh, you should be content whenever you have more, because that's what provides for your contentment, right? I mean, that's what the American dream, honestly, is all about. If I could just get there one day, I'll have enough. I'll have what it is that I need. If I could just get more money, if I could just be in this relationship, if I can just get this degree or get into this college. If I could just make this great once I finally get there, and I have more where it is that I'm supposed to be one day, because I'm not there right now, and we all feel it, but once I get there, I'll be content.Paul said, no, no, you won't. You still have to learn to be content even when you get there, even when you get more things. Why is that the case? Well, because situations, circumstances, more money, all of the above do not provide more contentment. As a matter of fact, Benjamin Franklin even once said that money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. He said, The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, Benjamin Franklin says it actually makes one. And I think a lot of us would recognize that and realize that that is true. A lot of times. We've gotten to that point. We've got further down the road, we've acquired more things, and it never really ultimately satisfied. It just made us want even more of what we had, and continued to feel like there was a hole there. And so Paul says that you have to actually learn to be content. Now, I don't know if you saw this or noticed it or not, but Paul said that he's actually learned the secret of being content. So evidently, there's a secret. Once you know the secret, then you can learn to be content. Man, I wish, I wish we knew what that secret was, if only he would have revealed the secret, then we could know today how to be content whenever we have less or whenever we have more. But gosh, or maybe, maybe he did. As a matter of fact, this is Philippians, chapter four, verse 12 and oh yeah. The verse that we looked at earlier was Philippians four, verse 13, the one that comes right after Paul makes this statement right here. So now he finally says, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. So in other words, did the apostle Paul, when he wrote this here, mean that, hey, you can do all things that you want to accomplish. One day, you can become whoever it is that you want to be. One day, through Christ, who gives you strength, is that what Paul meant? No. What Paul meant is that this is the secret to contentment, to being content, right that that's the secret, right there. He's going to give you the strength to be content no matter what the situation or the circumstance that you are in. Again, the reason, just to say it this way, that Paul can be content in all situations is because Jesus gives him the strength in each of those situations to be content. As a matter of fact, it even goes way above and beyond that, because Jesus is Paul's contentment. When you look at Philippians chapter one, the very first chapter of this, he writes this for to me to live is Christ. Christ is life itself. Christ is my contentment. Jesus as my life. He's saying, provides for all that I need. And so then, when you get back to Philippians, 40. 13 and Paul saying when I'm tempted to believe that Jesus is not enough, that I don't have my contentment in him, and that I would be more content once I finally get where I need to be or acquire what it is that I am meant to acquire, then he gives me the strength to remind me that he is my life, that I have everything that I need in him, that he is my contentment. So Paul had to learn to be content and satisfied in Christ and all that he had in simply a relationship with Jesus Christ, and this is what Paul is wanting you and I to know today. Yet many of us have turned this verse into something else, something that it was never, ever intended to mean. The apostle Paul is not saying that you and I can do anything that we put our minds to with Jesus's power and strength. As a matter of fact, what he's saying again, is in Jesus' strength, you too can learn to be content whether you have a little bit or whether you have a lot. That's what Philippians 413 is about. You can be content in all these situations if you have Jesus, because he too is your contentment, not just Paul's contentment. He too is your life, not just Paul's life, because Jesus said that's who he was. I'm the Way, the Truth and the Life. I'm the resurrection and the life. And if you have Jesus, that means you have the life, you have the contentment. And so when we look to application, when we look to the proper context and the meaning of this particular verse, Then we actually have to say that, okay, start asking the questions, am I chasing after contentment through the pursuit of accomplishing or gaining more stuff, or am I using Philippians 413, as inspiration to accomplish my goals in pursuit of The American Dream? And we ask Jesus, Jesus, is this what I'm doing? If you don't recognize it right off the bat, then ask Him to reveal whether this is the way you're using Philippians, 413, or not. And if he reveals it to you, guess what you do? Stop. Stop using it that way. That's what you do. You turn to Christ as your contentment, instead of trying to feel like you're gonna be content once you get there one day with his help, you turn to Him and you trust that he really is your life, that he really is your joy, that he really is your peace. Here's the reality of it, and what I really hope that you'll take it away. Maybe you will write this down if you're taking notes, honestly, whatever it is that you're using Philippians 413 to get from Jesus pales in comparison to what you already have in Him, and that's what we use Philippians 413 to get something from him. I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength, because he's going to help me get where it is that I need to be. He's going to give me more stuff. So whatever it is that you're trying to get from him, whatever position, whatever rank, whatever status, whatever money, whatever grades, whatever school, whatever it is, honestly pales. Once you get there, you'll realize that it compares, I mean, pales in comparison to what you already had in Jesus, and you still have in him in that moment, because it will never, ever satisfy you like Jesus can. Now, there is one more thing that we do need to address and recognize, because some of you will leave with this question when we talk about Jesus's power, there are certainly passages that do talk about Jesus's power in a different context than the way that Philippians 413, talks about his power being at work in you and through you. The book of Acts, chapter one, verse eight, is one of those places. This is when Jesus was meeting with his disciples after His death, he had been raised from the grave, and he was meeting with his disciples before His ascension, and he's making sure that they know what's coming next, what it is to do. And he had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait, and that after they wait, at a certain point, they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and he says, You will be as a result, as a result of receiving the power, you will then be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And so, in other words, what we see is that he puts the power in them to actually do something, to accomplish something in this world. But notice what? It's not the American dream. It doesn't say you're going to receive my power to go get where it is that you finally need to be to earn more stuff, to have more status, to whatever it is. He goes, No, no, I want to put my power in you so that every. I can do my kingdom work in this world through you. They can't be His witnesses without his power, his work in and through their lives to then go and make disciples of all nations. So we do recognize that we have Jesus's power in us and at work through us to accomplish things, to do things in this world. It's just not that Philippians 413 is one of those verses. Here it is, but it's not for the American dream. It's for that power in us to also go and make disciples of all nations. He puts that power in you, not so that you can be more and you can accomplish more, but so that he can accomplish His work to advance his kingdom through you, to put more people in the kingdom, that's what his power is ultimately there for. And so we recognize that, and we receive that, and we trust in that, and allow his power to work through us in those ways. But when we come here, we just don't quote it as something that he's doing here, because that's not what he means here. He'snot saying I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength in that way here. The power he's referencing here is that he doesn't just put the power in you to do his kingdom work. He also puts the power in you to learn to be content in Jesus, sometimes he's much more concerned not in where it is that you feel like you need to be, not in what it is that you need to feel like you need to be doing and the stuff that you need to gain, but in realizing who he is, in all that you already have in him. Can you imagine the rest you would have in your lives if you truly believed that, if you truly trusted in that, and quit having to chase it anywhere and everywhere with wherever it is that you need to be and whatever it is that you need to accomplish. So Jesus's power isn't just about working through us to accomplish His kingdom work. It's also at work in us to produce true contentment, to produce real joy, real peace that can only be found in him. And if a lost and dying world looks at us as the people of colonial hills and says man in this economy, with all that's going on in our world right now. Do you look how content those people are? Can you see how much joy they have? They sure do seem to be at peace with everything else going on. And around here, I wonder what that's all about. And then guess what we have the opportunity to do, share with them how they can experience those exact same things in their lives as well. So let's make sure that's true about us, and that we're using Philippians 413 in its proper context and not in the way that it's not ever meant to be. This is what it's all about. It's about contentment. Paul says, I've learned the secret in Philippians 413 is the secret to being content anything else is not what that verse means. Let's pray Amen.