“To be or not to be – that is the question.”
Everyone knows that line. It’s one of the most famous quotes in all of literature.
In fact, it’s so famous that few people actually take it seriously. People throw it out as a joke or part of a pun, and I doubt that they give a thought to the context while they’re saying it. This line opens Hamlet’s brooding thoughts on life, death and the afterlife – but it’s been turned into just a saying. A combination of words that hardly seems to mean anything at all.
It’s sad that there are passages of Scripture like that, too. Maybe they’re not made into a joke, but they’re tossed around lightly, stripped of context, their full meaning so easily forgotten.
Take Philippians 4:13 as an example. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Raise your hand if you’ve seen this verse misapplied. I certainly have. I’ve heard people use it to mean, “I can win.” “I can succeed.” “I can do great things.” Somehow it’s been turned into just an inspirational quote – like a mini pep talk, with something about Jesus tacked at the end.
“I can do anything. Watch me and see.”
But Paul’s intent here is so very different. Realizing those big dreams, living impressive and invincible – that’s not what he was referring to. This passage has nothing to do with achievement, and everything to do with contentment.
“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 all circumstances, 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
“Through Christ,” Paul is saying, “I can do this thing called life. And it’s going to be hard. There will be ups and downs, some of them more like roller-coaster plunges than anything else. I’ll need God’s strength to get me through.”
Through Christ, I can accept humiliation.
Through Christ, I can live with less.
I can tough it out when I have nothing.
I can be adaptable. I can transition gracefully from seasons of plenty to seasons of want.
All these things I can do, and only through Christ.
There will be times in our lives when we feel filled and abundant. We may feel spiritual vibrancy, boldness and passion, and we may be financially comfortable and happy in our relationships. And then there will be the other times. Dry seasons in our walk with God, times of loneliness, poverty, rejection and stress. And we are to flourish, content, in all of these things.
It’s an impossible task. In our own strength. But we have God’s strength, and that is more than enough to sustain and empower us until we reach our Home where we will no longer face lack or leanness.
I hope that next time you read Philippians 4:13, you will remember God’s power in humility and want. It makes this verse more about real life, less about wishful thinking.
God wants to help you in your hard and messy. He wants to make you victorious in contentment – right where you are.