Just about everyone has heard the last verse in this passage. You see it on the walls of our homes, on the front of greeting cards, we print them on t-shirts, and plaster them to the bumpers of our cars. Everywhere you look is the battle cry "I can do all things through Christ!" What a wonderful notion! What a great idea! What an excellent rally cry to battle! Yet, the glaring reality is that there is so much more to what is actually being said here. Yes, we can use this to rally the troops. Yes, we can use this to be a point of encouragement, but we must carefully consider all that Paul is telling us in this closing portion of his letter to the church in Philippi.
Paul's letter to the Philippians is a letter that stresses the importance of joy in our lives. Regardless of our circumstances (and Paul could definitely speak to less than ideal circumstances), we are to be filled with the joy of the Lord. It should radiate from our character. Paul says to "always be full of the joy in the Lord" (Phil. 4:4, NLT). Many respond that it is unreasonable, perhaps even irresponsible to expect that we should be full of joy at all times. But, we are forgetting the difference between joy and happiness. Joy is a deeply rooted and very spiritual state of being that comes from a right relationship with Jesus. Happiness, on the other hand, is a surface emotion that is easily swayed by circumstances and outside factors. Joy, when properly rooted in a relationship with Jesus, is not easily changed or removed. The deeper the roots, the harder it is to remove. Happiness can be quickly knocked off its pedestal.
Joy, like contentment, comes not from our circumstances, but from our convictions. I can look at my circumstances and see that I am unhappy with my body shape. I have the ability to work to change that, but I cannot allow it to somehow impact the deeply rooted joy that lives in me because of Jesus. I can look at my circumstances and see that I am unhappy with my job. I have the ability to work to change that, but I cannot allow it to somehow impact the deeply rooted joy that lives in me because of Jesus. I can look at my financial situation, my family situation, or any other situation in which I find myself and I can begin to make changes to improve or change my circumstances. But the joy that lives in me is far deeper than any of these surface issues. When we get to this place of spiritual growth, we can stand with Paul and say "I am content wherever I am." This doesn't mean that we will not seek improvement, but it does mean that we recognize our joy is in something much more important than our earthly situation.
Why does Paul say he can do everything through Christ? It's not a battle cry. It's not a rallying point for followers of Christ to get all fired up to go, fight, and win. No. It is a statement that says no matter where I am, no matter what the circumstances are in which I find myself, no matter what the Enemy throws my way, I know that Jesus is alive in me, I can do this. I can get through this situation, I can make it out of these circumstances, I can live the deep joy that is in me, and through it all, I will radiate Jesus to everyone around me.
That is being content. That is being a follower of Jesus Christ. That is doing all things THROUGH Christ.