Some years ago a few of us were helping a church family move to a new home. There were 3 of us trying to convince their refrigerator it could squeeze through the doorway, but it was wedged solidly in the door frame. With a mighty last push and grunt, one of the guys said, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ and out the refrigerator popped – with a little less paint on the side – but free to be loaded onto the truck.
Using Paul’s quote in Philippians 4:13 of ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ has been used to mean a final push, an extra effort when there is no energy left to expend, to resign oneself to the circumstances and muddle on through.
I’ve also seen this verse used by people who try to use God to make money. To them, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” means He will help them make a lot of money out of this next business deal if they can just hang in there and grunt their way through the process. In general it has been used every way except how Paul actually wrote it.
Just make it work?
Paul said he had learned a secret, ‘mysterion’ in the Greek, which means ‘one who has been initiated into mysteries’. In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul said he had entered a new dimension in his life, he had been initiated into the mystery that he could be independent of his circumstance – “whatever state I am in, to be content”, or self sufficient in Christ. He knew how to be hungry or filled, rich or poor, for he had been initiated into the mystery: He could do all things through Christ who strengthens him.
How do we become sufficient in Christ to the point it doesn’t matter what swirls around you?
Have you ever felt like this?
I first saw this self-sufficiency in Christ no matter the circumstance in my mom, trying to raise 4 kids with minimal support from our dad and her job.
There were numerous times she came to the end of her strength, the end of her ability, the end of her wits, and just quit her efforts, choosing rather to rest and let the Lord handle the rest. She would face people and the situations – like calling the power company asking for a payment plan so our lights wouldn’t be turned off. Talk to our priest about a small loan to get through the week. But she did so knowing the Lord would provide. She didn’t shy away from dealing with situations, but she would deal with them knowing He had provided; it was just a matter of discovering how.
Initiation into the mystery that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you comes through being in situations in which you make a choice to end your own efforts, and just turn things to Him.
Pressures squeeze the life out
For instance, in II Corinthians 1:8-11 Paul writes of a time he was convinced he was going to die. In v8 he says he ‘even despaired life’, which in the Greek means he saw no way out, no way of escape, he was convinced he was going to die.
Also in verse 8 he says this was because he was ‘pressed’, which means ‘weight’, or we might say he was being squeezed by a great weight, similar to an olive press pressing and squeezing olives to get the oil from them. Paul was saying his life juices were being squeezed out of him by the situation. He said this squeezing was ‘above measure’, which means ‘above and beyond’ normal pressures.
Later in II Corinthians 11:23-28 he listed some of the situations he had been through: Stripes on his back more than he could count, many prisons, 3 times beaten with rods (practice of the day was to beat the bottoms of the feet with rods), once stoned to death (Acts 14:19-20 raised from the dead), 3 times shipwrecked (we have record of one; Acts 27), a night and a day floating on the ocean awaiting rescue.
Besides what he experienced, he then lists the risks taken: Perils of water travel, robbers, threats by the Jews, by unbelievers, threats in city and country, perils among false brethren, and on top of all that, the continual daily burden of all the (house) churches who looked to him for leadership.
It wasn’t the difficulties he went through that enabled him to reveal to the Philippians that he knew how to be self-sufficient in any situation in Christ, but it was how he handled these situations that initiated him into this mystery.
Faith is not work
In Hebrews 4:3, 10-11 it says “For we who have believed have entered into rest.” and “He who has entered into His rest has ceased from his own works, as God did from His.”
Faith is not ‘believing’ God as ongoing, but ‘believed’ God. For instance, when I was a teenager I believed in Jesus. I’m not ‘believing in Him’, I have already believed. Now I walk in what I have believed. I rest in what I believed so many years ago.
Faith isn’t something we struggle and wrestle with God about, forcing Him or helping Him bring something into being in our lives. Faith is receiving revelation about the Father and/or His will, and choosing to believe in what you’ve received. Once received and believed, we rest.
Peter was in prison
Peter was to be executed in the morning. But Acts 12:7 says the rescuing angel, whose presence bathed the jail with light yet that light failed to awaken Peter, had to strike Peter on his side to wake him up. The variation of the Greek word used here, patasso, means to strike, and is used to describe the soldiers hitting Jesus on the face in Matthew 26:51.
How was it the light from the angel failed to awaken Peter, and it took a hit on his side to arouse him, and he was so soundly asleep he was on the street before he woke up and fully realized it wasn’t a dream?
It was because in John 21:18 Jesus had prophesied to him how he would die and the circumstances: By crucifixion and when he is old. In Acts 12 they were executing by sword and he was still young, just a few years after the Resurrection. So he was able to sleep soundly, powerless and yet independently sufficient in Christ in that situation. He slept because he had believed, and now rested. That is where peace is found.
Similarly, just before his first of three shipwrecks, an angel appeared to Paul and told him in Acts 27:24, ‘Fear not Paul, you must be brought before Caesar’. Because he believed and then rested in that word, the subsequent shipwreck and 2 others, and everything else he went through, he knew he would get through – because he knew he would appeared before Caesar. He believed, and then rested.
In the early 1980′s Barb and I faced situations we had no control over. Chris’ diagnosis of brain damage, a business situation threatening to take our home and livelihood, a church situation where the pastor who hired me to become senior pastor abruptly changed his mind, leaving me in a holding pattern at that church.
We got to the point we couldn’t pray another word, we couldn’t think through ‘if God did this and I did that’, we couldn’t rearrange the checkbook any more – and we stopped. We gave it all to the Father. We believed a core truth that He would provide for us, that He had a plan, that He would see us through. That was our initiation into the mystery that we could know abundance and lack, and be internally independent of circumstances in Christ.
What did we do?
The first thing we did was Hebrews 10:32-35 – we called to remembrance the former days and purposed NOT to throw away our confidence – He had a track record of providing for us and we kept those in our minds.
The next thing we did was to take Philippians 4:6-7 literally. I had noticed those verses were not happening for me, for I was as fearful and worry filled at the end of my prayer as I had been at the start. I realized I was disobedient to the outline Paul provided:
1) Be careful for nothing. Stop. Do not proceed to 2) In everything by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God. 3) The peace of God will guard your heart and mind.
I did not proceed to #2 until I got to the point I could have no care, no fear. Only then did I pray. That meant I sometimes wrestled with the fear and worry for 2 weeks before I’d pray. I’d wrestle while worst case scenarios’ played in my mind, but each scenario ended with that track record He had of providing for us. When I came to a point of rest and peace, THEN and only THEN did I make my request to Him.
In that way, what Paul said would happen, did happen. The peace of God as stated in 4:7 did ‘keep’ or ‘hem in’ or ‘guard’ my heart and mind. Verses 8 and 9 happened too – I was able to think on good things and the God of peace was with me.
Externally it seemed we were perishing, but internally we had peace, joy, and confidence He would provide and walk us through each situation as we bravely faced each challenge. And He did. And He has. We had been initiated into a great mystery – we knew how to abound and suffer need, to be full and to be hungry, for we had entered a new dimension we’ve never left as we discovered this truth of initiates: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
New subject next week, blessings,