Friday, February 03, 2012


Last night our Ladies' Bible study finished the book of Philippians.  That is, we finished the last lesson in our study book on Paul's letter to the Philippians, but I don't believe I will ever be "finished" with Philippians.  The themes of joy through the hard realities of this life are needful and will be welcome reminders for many a trial yet to come.  Learning to be content regardless of the circumstances in which I find myself, trusting the sufficiency of Christ who strengthens me, giving sacrificially, and knowing that my God will supply my every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus are timeless treasures indeed.

One specific verse from our final lesson which I have heard misused when taken out from its context has been Philippians 4:13,

"I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me."

This has been used to declare an ability to do whatever it is that we are wanting to do, because our Lord has strengthened us.  Looking at the immediate context, however, sheds a different light on what is being said here. The preceding verses are all about learning contentment.

"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 and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me."  (Philippians 4:11-13)

Paul isn't talking here about obtaining our own agendas; he's addressing the fact of our situation, that we are called by God to do impossible things, in the midst of a variety of circumstances, and the God who calls us strengthens us to answer that call.  We are fallen, sinful, imperfect, unholy, infantile and weak; we are called to be upright, righteous, perfect, holy, mature, and strong.  Our study takes us next into the book of James, which is filled with imperatives— commands— to do things which run directly against the grain of our natural desires and abilities.  God calls us to the impossible.

But not without equipping us for the call.

Paul wrote to the Roman church, and in his explanation of the Holy Spirit helping us in our weakness, he wrote-

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."  (Romans 8:28-30)

God is working in us to accomplish His own glorious goals for us— goals to which we would never aspire without His encouragement or enabling.  What are these goals?

"...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ."  (2 Peter 1:5-8)

Yet how in the world do we do this?!  Through the mystery of "working out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."  (Phil 3:12)  God supplies the will, we apply effort.  This mystery stands at the beginning of the text quoted above, written by Peter,

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.  For this very reason, make every effort..."  (2 Peter 1:3-5)

God has granted us everything that we require in order to follow Him and pursue personal growth in Christ and ministry to others which lead, ultimately, to His glory and praise.

And knowing this, trusting this, resting in this, I can be content in whatever circumstance I find myself, for this is all part of the plan.  My loving and wise God has planned for me things beyond my ability to comprehend, through trials beyond my ability to weather, and yet I can be content in the stormiest of seas, doing "all things"—pursuing virtue, knowledge, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love— because He is conforming me to the image of His Son, my precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And sometimes the impossible thing is merely putting one foot in front of another, walking in the dark, trusting that God is at my right hand, guiding me.  Contentment, without Christ, is impossible.  With Christ, I can be content, even in impossible circumstances.  I can do the impossible, through Him.

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