There are certain passages of Scripture that we think we know. We rattle them off like we can rattle off our street address, but unlike our street address, these “familiar” verses don’t always take us where we assume they take us. Philippians 4:13 is a verse like that:
I can do all things through Christ which [strengthens] me. (Philippians 4:13)
We often quote that when we’re facing a difficult trial. We claim it for strength to endure. Nothing wrong with that, but Paul is saying this in connection with his ability to find contentment in all circumstances good and bad.
The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus with a gift to Paul to help the apostle through his time in prison. Paul was expressing his thanks for the gift, more for the Philippians’ faithfulness than for the gift itself because their act was a demonstration of their hearts’ desire to serve God. (4:10, 14-17) As he commended the Philippians for their gift, Paul wanted them to know that contentment in every circumstance in a necessary part of the Christian walk:
(11) Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
(12) I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: [everywhere] and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
Contentment is not happiness. Paul was not happy to be a prisoner. He was content in knowing that God’s purpose was being fulfilled and that he was an active participant in that process. (See Philippians 1:12-18.) Contentment that rises above one’s present circumstances is something even the apostle Paul had to learn. Because it is not natural. It is supernatural and it is something we need to rely on God for not just in the moment, but as a way of life. That takes work. That takes a deliberate effort to see everything that happens to us through God’s lens. So, is it any wonder that after speaking of his contentment, Paul said: “I can do all thing through Christ Who strengthens me” (4:13)? Is it any wonder that Paul told Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6)?
Godly contentment keeps us grounded in every circumstance. We can understand this when it comes to difficult circumstances. It’s why we quote Philippians 4:13 in times of hardship. But we need godly contentment in times of blessing, too. Some of the most dangerous circumstances we face can be times of blessing. Like the nation of Israel, we can become so distracted by the blessings that we forget the God Who brought them. We can drown in the milk and honey of our blessings, and we often realize our greatest growth in the desert of difficult times. Godly contentment can keep us grounded through both. Because contentment trumps circumstance any day.