“I can do all things…”

In Philippians 4:13, Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:14, NKJV). In what context did he make this well-known statement?

Paul was in prison. Through a disciple named Epaphroditus, the followers of Jesus at Philippi sent monetary assistance to Paul (Phil 4:18). The Philippians were unique in their generosity towards Paul (Phil 4:15-16). Paul’s heart overflowed with joy and gratitude for their gifts. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,” he opened his letter, “always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil 1:3-5, ESV).

Paul sent his letter to the Philippians through Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25). In it, he not only exhorts the Philippians, but thanks them for their concern for him in his imprisonment (Phil 4:10-20). Beginning in Philippians 4:10, Paul expresses his joy in the Lord “that you are concerned about me again” (NLT). In the passages that follow, Paul digresses (Phil 4:11-13) to clarify that his joy is not because of the money they have given, “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” (Phil 4:11-12, NIV). Paul’s rejoicing was not motivated by “the gift, but I seek,” he says, “the fruit that abounds to your account” (Phil 4:17, NKJV). 

Paul concludes his digression, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13, NKJV). What can Paul “do…through Christ”? Part the Red Sea, cause bread to fall from heaven, take up serpents, cast out demons, speak new languages, heal the sick? Perhaps he could do these things with God’s power working through him, but according to the context (Phil 4:11-12), Paul is saying that he is able to “be content” “in whatever situation” (Phil 4:11, ESV). Paul is able, “through Christ who strengthens” him, “to get along with humble means,” “[go] hungry,” and “[suffer] need” (Phil 4:12, NASB). 

This superhuman attitude of complete trust in God and contentment during difficult circumstances was on display when Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in prison by the authorities in Philippi. With their feet fastened in the stocks, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 4:24-25, ESV). Once again in prison, Paul is able to look past his present suffering when writing to the Philippians. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” He wrote with conviction that “my imprisonment is for Christ” (Phil 1:12-13). 

No wonder Paul could say, “I can do all things…” What a powerful display of God’s presence in the life of a believer! The miracle of having peace in the midst of a personal crisis is the result of choosing to trust in Jesus.

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