In the world of fitness and sports, one of the most popular verses of all time is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” – Philippians 4:13. It’s on running apparel, on motivational trinkets, bracelets, necklaces, water bottles, workout clothes, bumper stickers and in motivational memes. Everyone loves to hear they can do all things “with a little help from a friend” – but this isn’t a Beatles song about just “getting by” in life, it’s a verse about living with purpose, having confidence that God will help us accomplish His will in our life.
Today, I woke up with that verse on my mind. I started to think of how often it is used as a source of empowerment to get a job done – how it is used to further OUR will, and OUR own personal goals. This made me want to look at the verses around verse 13 to get more insight – and, as I expected, it was full of so much more depth, correction and encouragement. I studied and studied. What started as a simple blog post turned into a 3 hour bible study.
People Need More Strength
There are people desperate for encouragement and strength. I felt this text required more than just one blog post, so I decided to do a blog series on it. This will be Part 1. How many parts there will be, I don’t know! I’ll stop sharing when I stop learning! I plan to dig and dig and dig, until I get all the goody out of this one! I hope you are encouraged and enlightened just as I was today. 🙂
Before I continue, I have to share this story. Pastor Tim Keller was talking about a guy running from a bear. He said, at one point, the guy needed to jump up in a tree to get away from the bear. He explained that it didn’t matter how timid the guy was or how eager he was to leap up and grab a branch. What mattered is what branch he grabbed hold of. No matter how great his grip was, a dead branch wouldn’t hold him.
This is what is driving me to search this verse out even more. We can grab hold of this verse, but if this verse (like the branch) is dead to you, it’s not going to hold you for very long. So, let’s follow this branch to its strong roots and see just how Paul could have so much confidence in this kind of strength.
The Struggle In Our Circumstance
This is the other part of the famous verse. It’s the part that is BEFORE it talks about doing ALL THINGS. It’s the part about the struggle.
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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.13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
To fully understand the context of this verse, we have to look at the circumstance of the person writing it. Paul actually wrote this letter to the Philippian church while he was in a Roman prison, literally in bondage. I doubt many of you are reading this in jail, but we all have our bondages, our rough patches, and our hardships, so you can see this text wasn’t written during a super amazing mountain-top experience. He’s writing this letter in the worst possible situation. Now that you have the context let’s look at the verses again and see what we can learn from it.
As I studied this text, I found SO many lessons. This is only ONE of many – and this by NO means is the most important one. I’m just sharing what I’m learning as I study, and I am especially thinking of all our athletes who are preparing to compete next weekend. They are hungry, grumpy, deprived, tired and weak. So, I start with wanting to encourage people who may relate to this part of the verse.
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry”.
The Lesson In Our Weakness
It’s interesting Paul addresses hunger? I believe our relationship of food epitomizes our bondage to fleshly desires. Everyone can relate to it. We all want to give our flesh what it wants and we all hate it when we have to deny our body of its wants.
Paul is saying he learned to be content whether he was well fed or hungry. That implies there was practice and perseverance, but that’s for Part 2, 3 or 4. What I want to focus on is the attitude of contentment. Remaining in joy when we don’t get our way.
Can we say we have learned to be content when we are hungry? Are we learning to be content with smaller portions and practicing healthier habits, or do we complain non-stop because we have had to give up food we feel we shouldn’t have to give up. Are we fighting the process or are we determined not to let our body dictate our mood or rob us of our joy? It’s food for crying out loud. People have fasted for days and we get grumpy when we haven’t eaten in 2 hours. Really?
Conquering Our Hanger (Hunger + Anger)
Food shouldn’t have that much affect on us. God doesn’t want us to be in bondage to food. It was designed to be a blessing, not a curse. However, it’s our overindulgences that turned it into something it was never created to be. Nothing should have that kind of grip on us. I imagine Paul wasn’t eating very well in prison. I imagine he probably dreamed of his big feast too! While he wasn’t dieting for his health or a smaller waist, he still was probably experiencing hunger pains and feeling unsatisfied by whatever slop they were feeding him – and on THEIR time schedule.
We need to learn (practice required) to be content whether we are drinking water or drinking our favorite beverage. We need to be completely content ordering grilled chicken and broccoli while everyone else orders whatever they want. We need to remind ourselves it is just food, and ironically, what we are eating when we are so-called dieting, is healthy and good (or should be!). Our food choices shouldn’t determine if we have a great time or not. Food will never make us happy. Food is not the answer to stress, depression, anger, PMS or whatever other excuse we have. Food is food, and that’s it. Why do we make it to be so much more than just nourishment and a blessing?
While Paul was able to conquer difficult circumstances, like hunger (and I mean REAL hunger), by looking at everything in light of eternity, I believe we can do the same thing. We must look at the big picture. He kept his eye on the prize, not looking back, but pressing on toward the goal (Philippians 3:13-14). I don’t want to use scripture out of context here, and apply it only to fitness and fitness goals. His goal was much greater than any weight loss goal. His prize was heaven. but I do believe we can learn from his example in every situation – even something as small as a diet.
“but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
Paul was able to stay strong because he kept focused. One of Steve’s things he says to me often is “where’s your joy?” When I’m grouchy, hungry or frustrated, he reminds me that my joy should not waiver. He reminds me that there are more important things than the current circumstance. While I may not be thrilled to hear his loving correction in that moment, I know he’s right – and realize I have to suck it up and get over it. How do I do that? I look at the bigger picture. I look at the reward. I look at my testimony. I try to look at my life as God looks at it. It doesn’t take long to realize every temporary struggle pales in comparison to what really matters. It reminds me there are more important things to focus on. What freedom!!
The first part of becoming stronger is not allowing yourself to focus on your weakness. Don’t give it that much power. The next time you want to have a pity party or you feel weak, stop and decide to change your focus. Ask God what HE wants you to focus on and ask Him to remind you of the big picture (HIS picture), and to give you the strength you need to do His will, not just yours.