by Tim Herwaldt
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
In Philippians chapter 4 Paul speaks in language that seems singularly well suited to our present day circumstances. To some degree, all of us have a very real sense of the uncertainty that seems to hang in the air these days. We are prompted by all that is happening around us to wonder whether we, in the not too distant future, might face need in ways that had seemed but a dim possibility only a few weeks ago. One of the unnerving things about our present day is that there seems to be so much that even the “experts” seem puzzled by. How long will this last? How widely will unemployment spread? Will my job be one of the casualties?
This passage from Philippians makes clear to us that Paul, too, faced much uncertainty in his life, and from his description in 2 Corinthians 11:21-29, it seems that for him it was not just a temporary, one- time event. This, it seems, was normal life for Paul.
But it seems clear from the language he uses in our passage today that Paul is not fishing for sympathy, nor is he making bold pronouncements about his own superior strength or ability to withstand pain. Rather, he intends to encourage and embolden saints who are probably struggling with their own weakness and their own troubles in life. As someone who has lived through a litany of hardships and challenges that few others will ever face, he is uniquely qualified to teach us, many of whom are novices at this sort of thing, how to live in the face of such challenges.
The secret he reveals to us comes as no surprise, and it is certainly not a complicated formula. To paraphrase Paul’s revelation, “It wasn’t me, it was Christ working in me.” He has said, “I have learned”, “I am to be content”, “I know how to be brought low”, “I know how to abound”. From what deep well has he drawn all of these things? From the one who held out the offer of living water to the woman at the well, and who promises living water to all his people. From the Savior who promised that he would never leave us or forsake us. “I can abound in any and every circumstance”, Paul says, not in my own strength, but “through Christ who strengthens me.”
There is the secret that we all know and need to remind ourselves of every day. Christ strengthens us, therefore, we are able, in him, to face whatever comes our way! Let us give thanks for this great sufficiency that we have in him.