Many of us have had times in our life where everything seems to go wrong at the same time. Every choice you make is the wrong one. You can't seem to make enough money to pay all the bills. You lose a loved one. All within a month. The world is closing in around you. Yet, it seems like everyone around you has their junk together and everything seems to be going right. It just doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem like God hears you. Your life feels broken down. You just want to give up.
Yet, you know God is bigger than your circumstances. You aren't ready to give up. In times like this you readily turn to Philippians 4:11-13:
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. ~ Philippians 4:11-13
These verses have found their way onto T-shirts, coffee mugs and motivational posters. When we want to be a better boss or crank out one more set at the gym, we rattle out Philippians 4:13. We tell ourselves, "I can do this!" However, is there a more misinterpreted verse in the Bible than Philippians 4:13?
We want to take this verse out of context and apply it to our lives so we can be better employees, students, athletes or just better people, but that's not the point here. This isn't a testimony of someone who is constantly successful. It is instead the testimony of a man who has Christ and has found Him as His source of joy, hope and strength regardless of good circumstances. As Paul writes these words we can't help to think back to what he's been through:
24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. ~ 2 Corinthians 11:24-28
Now take these verses and put them into the context of Philippians 4:11. I am content in nearly being beaten to death. I am content when I am nearly stoned to death. I am content when I am shipwrecked. I am content even when I am persecuted wherever I go. Paul isn't content because everything is going right. Paul is content in the worst moments imaginable because of the constant security of the hope in Christ! This is the anti-prosperity gospel.
His hope isn't doing greater things, being richer and having his best life now.
His hope in this life was crucified on the cross and raised in the resurrected power of Jesus. Our contentment can never be seen, tasted or touched.
In times of unrelenting trial, we taste a grace and hope that can come only from Christ. We understand mercy and love unlike ever before. Imagine if Paul has never had those terrible things happen to him that were described in 2 Corinthians 11. Would Philippians 4:13 carry the same weight if Paul had only experience a life of success and prosperity? No.
A life lived in contentment even in the midst of trial and frustration is a life that glorifies God alone because that contentment is not of this world. When you can find unending hope in Christ in the dark times of life you have a life that shouts about God's grace. Find satisfaction, joy and contentment in Christ alone and you will be able to weather the most violent storm. Find your contentment in Him and you will show others His grace lived out. Find your hope in Him and you will change the world.