Philippians 4:13 |

A sermon on Philippians 4:13 by Rev Richard Keith on 2 January 2022


God’s Word is true and reliable. We can trust his promises and build our lives upon them. This makes it extremely important, in fact, I can’t exaggerate how important it is, to understand what God’s promises mean.

Let’s put it this way, this is my whole job. I have given my life to understanding God’s Word and trying to explain it to people in words that they can understand.

In Philippians chapter 4 verse 13 the apostle Paul wrote,

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

And it is vital to understand what those words mean. Get that wrong and you can end up getting a lot of things wrong.

So I want to tell you first what they don’t mean.

They don’t mean that you can do the impossible. Philippians 4:13 doesn’t mean that you can fly. It doesn’t mean that you can breathe underwater. It doesn’t mean that you can cut off your hand and grow it back if you have enough faith. I’m not saying that there are no such things as miracles. I believe that God can do the impossible. I believe that God can give the gift to do extraordinary things to people of his choosing. What I’m saying is that Phillipians 4:13 is not promising that you can do miracles. And it certainly doesn’t mean that if you can’t do miracles then there must be something wrong with you.

It also doesn’t mean that God wants you to be happy, healthy and wealthy. This is the lie of what is called the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel teaches that if you have enough faith you will enjoy incredible success and nothing bad will ever happen to you. The prosperity gospel promises that by the power of faith you can do anything because God wants to grant your heart’s dearest wish.

It’s a lie. Our suffering is not a punishment. Our struggles do not mean that there is something wrong with us. Jesus himself suffered and we who follow him are called to carry our cross too. Whatever Philippians 4:13 means, and we will come to it, it does not say that you can do anything you want and the sky’s the limit through the power of faith.

So what does it mean? The most important clue is what we call the context. Sentences in the Bible rarely exist on their own. They live in paragraphs, and the sentences around them help us understand them. In verse 10 Paul wrote,

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.

The believers in Philippi were dear to Paul and he was dear to them. He had brought the gospel to them and became in a sense their spiritual father. They later learned that Paul had been arrested for spreading the good news about Jesus and put in gaol. They were worried about him and sent a young man named Epaphroditus with enough money to care for Paul’s needs in gaol.

Paul was quick to clarify that when he said that they had renewed their concern for him he didn’t mean that they had stop caring about him and only started again in the last few months. He wrote,

Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.

They hadn’t stopped caring about Paul, they just hadn’t had a chance to show how much they cared. Paul was grateful for their generosity but didn’t want them to think that he’d been suffering before their support finally arrived. He wanted them to know that he had learned the secret of contentment. He wrote,

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.

To be content is to be happy with what you have, avoiding both the temptations of poverty and wealth. In Kenya, for example, the average income is $600 a month, compared to Australia’s $7500 a month, and half the people in Kenya earn less. Because that’s how averages work. Many live in 2 room houses on a farm of 1 acre. But they are extraordinarily happy. They are content, happy with less than we have, so that in a way they have more.

Wealth, on the other hand, has its own dangers. The more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the less happy we are with what we have. Money stops being a way of getting the things we need and it becomes a way of keeping score to see who’s winning. We could have a simple car, but what’s the point of having money if nobody knows about it? So that it is possible to die a rich person without having anything worth having.

If Paul had learned the secret of being happy with less, he had also learned the secret of staying happy with more. Perhaps it is because he saw everything as a gift. Perhaps because he used what he had to share with others. Perhaps because he remembered that Jesus had been a poor man so that anyone who has more is incredibly blessed. Do you know the secret of contentment? Or does your poverty make you bitter and resentful and your wealth make you proud and greedy?

In this context of contentment, Paul wrote,

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

This then is the secret of contentment. God, his creator and saviour, had given Paul the strength to avoid the temptations of poverty and wealth so that he could be happy with whatever he had in any and every situation of life. Not by the power of his own faith but by the power of the God who does miracles, who can do the impossible. While poverty can make us bitter and resentful, but with God’s strength Paul could be happy and grateful. He doesn’t have to lash out at the those who have more. He doesn’t have to scheme to take what he wants from others. He can be content. And while wealth can make us proud and greedy, Paul can remain humble and satisfied. He doesn’t have to use his money to control the people around him. He doesn’t have to become consumed by the need to have more and more. He can be content.

It reminds us that people make a lot of excuses for the wrong things they do. They complain that their parents never loved them. They complain that life isn’t fair. They complain that the devil made them do it. But they are just excuses. They are just different ways that we blame other people for our own mistakes. When confronted with the good that they could do, people complain and say, I can’t. But what they really mean is that they don’t want to or they are afraid to.

When actually they can. They can love their neighbour. They can forgive. They can share their things with others. They can turn the other cheek. The secret to avoiding any temptation in order to do what is right and good is the same as the secret of contentment.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

It doesn’t mean that I can fly. It doesn’t mean that I can breathe underwater. It means that I can do God’s will, the right thing to do in any given situation. I don’t have to hurt others because they hurt me first. I don’t have to take what I need from others because life is unfair. I don’t have to break my promise because the devil made me do it. I can choose love and hope and faith. Not in my own strength. But the strength that God gives me in his Son’s name through his Spirit.

One last thing. Just because you can, doesn’t make it easy. The possible is often very difficult. But don’t lie to yourself and say that you can’t do what is right, when what you really mean is that you don’t want to. Because you can.