Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. 

Most often when we, as Christians, quote this verse, we are attempting to draw on either strength (confidence) or courage. Then, inevitably, we run up against something that is stronger than us or our courage wanes, and we wonder, can I not only not do all things, but can I not do anything? Where is this Christ who strengthens me?

But that is what happens, as we've been seeing for the past several days, when we read Scripture out of context and try to figure it means whatever it seems like it might mean (or maybe whatever we need it to mean). Put back into context, it's clear in Philippians that Paul is not talking about confidence or courage.

He's talking about contentment.

Broaden verse 13 out into its wider context, and we see that Paul is talking in three contexts: poverty or prosperity (a social context), full or hungry (a physical context), too much or too little (a psychological context). He's hitting the big three of our existence as human beings, and what's more, he's not making value judgments about which is the better state to live in. 

Rather, he's saying that either state is okay with him, as long as Christ is present. 

Nor does he muddy the discussion by implanting his own personal experience/reaction of the situation. He doesn't say when he was happy in fullness or desperate in hunger, when he was satisfied with too much or scared with too little. He doesn't include what for us would seem to be a natural human reaction; he's letting these states stand on their own, simply as they are. Poverty and prosperity. Fullness and hunger. Too much and too little. No editorializing; these things just are what they are. 

And they're out of Paul's control. Poverty and prosperity doesn't depend much on him. He can work as hard as he can possibly work, but if the market for tents happens to be down, then he's not going to have much to show for his work. If there's a big camp meeting coming up, business might be booming. Full or hungry doesn't depend much on him. Even Jesus walked by a fig tree hungry and found no fruit on it. Sometimes, the crops are just thin for the pickin'. Sometimes, the meat spoils. These things happen. Too much or too little doesn't much depend on him. Sometimes, he looks around and his life is overflowing; sometimes, it feels empty. That's just how life is. (Don't we know it?)

Yet Paul says, I have learned to be content. No matter what it is, I have learned to be content. (And notice, mind you, that whatever it is, it is never simply "enough" - it's always too much or too little, more or less.) 

To understand how deeply this vein of contentment runs through this verse, we have to go to the Greek and to this little word that we translate as "do" - I can do all things.... It doesn't mean "do" as in "perform." Rather, its three most common meanings are: "to be well," "to be of service," and "to be serviceable."

Which means that when Paul says he can "do" all things, what he means is that he can be well through all things, he can be of service to Christ through all things, and he can be serviceable in Christ through all things (he can grow in Christ through all things). 

So what we're talking about here is not really doing, but being

Being well. Being of service. Being serviceable. 

Being content.  

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