I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Paul had learned to be content.
As Paul pens this letter to the church at Philippi, he is in prison in Rome, awaiting possible execution for the sake of the gospel. After several failed attempts and with much effort, the church at Philippi had finally managed to send a gift to him. This gives Paul great joy (v. 10). Paul’s joy is not so much in that their gift filled a need in his life, but it is rather in the love that the Philippians had for him and in the work of grace that prompted this love gift.
So Paul adds that he had learned to be content in whatever state he is (v. 11). He goes on to speak of being abased and abounding, of being full and being hungry, of abounding and suffering need. Paul indicates not only that he has experienced these things but also that he has been instructed in the secret of how to be content in these circumstances.
Paul concludes this thought with the claim that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. Here Paul expresses the source of his ability to be content in all things. He is strengthened or empowered by Jesus Christ.
But this statement of Paul has broader application than being content in all things. He is able to do all things that God placed before him to do. He is able to do this, however, only in Christ who strengthens him.
This is no idle boast but a living reality in Paul’s life.
It can and should be a living reality in our lives as well.
Paul makes a personal confession, “I can do all things.”
When Paul speaks of “all things,” he means all things that the Lord had put before him to do in the service of His name. The Lord had called Paul to be an apostle. As an apostle, Paul was sent to be a missionary to the Gentile world. This placed many duties upon him. He had to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Mediterranean world. He had to direct the affairs of the newly established churches. He had not only to instruct others how to live the Christian life, but also to set an example, for the church and the world, of godly, Christian living.
Nor was this an easy work to do. In the previous verses Paul speaks of some difficult circumstances in which the Lord placed him. He speaks of being abased. This means he had been reduced to mean and humble circumstances. In further explanation of this, Paul speaks of being hungry and being in need or want.
These difficult circumstances were brought upon Paul by a number of different circumstances. There were the simple rigors of moving from one location to another without any regular financial support beyond what he could earn as a tent-maker. There was, besides, the constant pressure of opposition and persecution that Paul had to endure for the sake of the gospel. And there was the thorn in his flesh, of which he speaks on II Corinthians 12:7, which was some physical ailment and limitation that the Lord had given him. These all resulted in many trials and temptations for Paul, all of which he had to face in a sinful nature.
Yet Paul confesses, I can do all things. What Paul is saying is that he has the strength to do all that God calls him to do, even in the midst of all the hardship, trials, and temptations that he had to encounter.
What Paul confesses for himself is attainable for every true believer.
God has a station and calling in His church and kingdom for everyone whom He has redeemed in the blood of Jesus Christ. One’s station and calling is his place of service in the church of God. One’s station of service will change as one passes through life. One’s station will involve duties that fall also to others. But every saint has a unique station and calling in the church determined by God according to the gifts He gives. The duties that belong to your station and calling may include being a husband or wife, a mother or father, an officebearer in the church, a teacher in the Christian school, or a young person preparing himself for future work. It may involve caring for the aged, the sick, or the poor, and using one’s life’s experiences to assist the widows, the depressed, or the alcoholic.
Nor is it easy to perform the work of one’s calling. The adversity that Paul experienced in his work comes to all the saints in one form or other. Often we are to serve the Lord in sickness, in poverty, or in the face of opposition. This can make the work that the Lord has for us to do to seem overwhelming. Besides, we must do all these things while contending with our sinful nature.
We must not conclude that Paul, being an apostle, was unique in his ability to do all things. What Paul attained as an apostle is attainable to all believers. The Bible is full of examples of those who did humanly impossible things, when called by the Lord to do them. Think of Moses leading Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Think of Joseph serving the Lord in Egypt as a young man in the face of many obstacles and temptations. Think of Daniel and his three friends. Think of the great deeds of service performed by the Old Testament heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11.
Each one of God’s people is able to do all things that the Lord places before him. None may say, “I can’t,” when it comes to the calling the Lord has placed before him. None may say, “I can’t be a mother to the children God gave me. I can’t live with my spouse. I can’t serve in the office Christ has laid upon me. I can’t overcome this sin.” Each child of God must say to every calling God gives him, “I can!”
We certainly cannot do these things in our own strength.
In John 15:5 Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” The meaning is very clear. Apart from Christ we are unable to perform the calling God has for us in His church and kingdom. We are able of ourselves to live outwardly moral lives. The Pharisees were an example of this. But our station and calling in the kingdom require more than morality. They require that we serve God from the principle of love. Apart from Christ, we are not able to bring forth any true spiritual fruits in the kingdom.
Relying on our own strength we are very likely to fall into sin that brings shame to the name of the Lord and hurt to those around us. Consider Abraham, who sought by his own devices to accomplish the Lord’s will concerning a son. He fell into polygamy and brought trouble to his house. Consider Jacob, who sought the birthright blessing by his own ingenuity, that caused him to take advantage of a hungry brother and deceive his father, again all to the disruption of a covenant home. Consider Peter, who in spite of the Lord’s warnings, publicly denied the Lord three times when he relied on his own strength.
We can expect the same, should we rely on our own strength.
Yet in Christ who strengthens us we can do all things.
To Jesus Christ belongs all power. Just prior to His ascension into heaven the risen Lord told His disciples, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). Jesus said this in anticipation of being seated at the right hand of God, also called the right hand of power. This power is given to Jesus by God on the basis of His perfect work of atonement on the cross, where He earned the salvation of God’s people. This power was given Him so that He can bring to His people the salvation He obtained for them, empower them to live in that salvation, and preserve them from the evil one.
The power bestowed upon Christ, and this power alone, is able to make us strong to do all that God sets before us to do in the service of His name.
Paul experienced this in connection with the thorn in his flesh about which he prayed (II Cor. 12:7-10). Thinking that this thorn hindered his work, Paul prayed three times that it be removed. God’s answer was that His grace was sufficient and that His strength is made perfect in Paul’s weakness. In response, Paul concluded that when he was weak, he was really strong. For in the weakness of his infirmities the power of Christ came to rest upon him.
It is no less true for us. Only when the power of Christ comes to rest upon us are we strong to do all that God lays before us.
We will receive the power of Jesus Christ only when we are in Him. This is not clear from the KJV, which speaks of doing all things “through” Christ who strengthens us. Literally we read of doing all things “in” Christ who strengthens us. Only when we are in Christ does His power come upon us to make us strong to do all things.
Jesus made this clear in John 15:5 with a figure, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” The branch is in the vine and the vine is in the branch with a living connection. Only then does the branch bring forth fruit. So also only those that are in Christ with a living connection receive His power to bear spiritual fruit.
This spiritual connection or union with Christ is faith. Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of being engrafted into Christ by faith. This is because faith leads us to trust in Jesus Christ and to rely upon Him in prayer for all things. Faith leads one to rely upon Jesus for forgiveness, for the courage to meet our responsibilities, for the strength to resist temptation, for peace in time of trouble, and for all things necessary to serve God.
In the way of that faith the power of Christ comes to rest upon us.
Do not rely upon yourself and your own strength. To the degree that you do that you will fail miserably, as did Peter, Abraham, Jacob, and others.
Live daily by faith in Jesus Christ.
Seeing your own weakness, turn daily to the Lord for His help.
Then you will be strong to do all things that God gives you to do as His servant.