I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me . You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, and abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)
I don’t know about you, but I have frequently heard that last line used in reference to some herculean task that needs to be done. Juggling too many balls in the air? Need to raise funds for that upcoming mission trip? Have to achieve a big project at work? Don’t worry, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
As nice as these sentiments sound, they unfortunately miss the context of what Paul is addressing. Note first, that he is saying this in reference to contentment in circumstances. Another observation concerning the context of this passage is that Paul refers to tangible needs being met, specifically financial needs. Reading further in vv 14-18, his specific reference relates to ministry support though certain there can be application to individuals as well. But there’s something else here I think gets often missed. Christ gives strength through whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, whether it is flourishing or in need.
I don’t think anyone would complain about prospering and otherwise times of abundance. But when you are in need is a different story. While Paul refers specifically to financial circumstances in ministry, I think there is an application for the loss and/or deficiency of various needs. It could be that you are unemployed or underemployed and unsure how the financial gap will be met. Or maybe you have been knocked out of the career loop or been demoted. Or maybe you lost your house or other material blessings or taken a hit in same way in ministry. Such losses can be devastating, especially when it impacts your reputation and can make you feel underachieving or unaccomplished.
This is the context that Paul says he can learn contentment and do all things through Christ that strengthens him. When you’re in a situation where you are in need, lacking and frustrated that that things aren’t working out, and that situation becomes prolonged, we’re apt to say “I can’t take this anymore.” We wonder will the Lord will come through and meet the needs. Paul’s words provide encouragement and comfort for these moments. In and of ourselves, we can’t. But we can endure through the deficits because Christ strengthens us to do so.
What is your need today? What is lacking in your life? Rather than focusing on the deficit, focus on Christ and God’s promises through Him. The Lord may very well allow a prolonged period where we do without. Yet at the same time assures us that through Christ, we can walk through it and learn contentment.