We all have them—passages of Scripture that we’d rather weren’t there . . . little unalterable truths we wish would just disappear . . . . statements about God or humanity that we’d like to revise. But no matter how hard we try to re-translate or re-interpret them, those convicting verses just won’t budge. And by the very fact that they torment us, they demand our attention . . . and submission.
I Can Do It!
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
When we take these words of Philippians 4:13 out of context, they appear to teach that with God’s help we can accomplish anything we set our hearts on. We see the extreme form of this with the Benny Hinns and Kenneth Copelands of the world—that is, God’s in the business of making us healthy, happy, successful, and prosperous.
But the context of this passage actually turns this frame-worthy motivational verse on its head:
I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12–13)
When Paul says he can do “all things” through Christ, he means that Christ had granted him the ability to live with plenty, and with nothing; to be satisfied with both an abundance, and with need. The key issue here is contentment . . . not ambition. It’s about being at peace with what you have or don’t have, not passionately pursuing more.
Relying on God for contentment makes perfect sense when we struggle with not having something we need or want. But why would we need to be content with having an abundance? In reality, if we reflect on the unique challenges of both the “Haves” and “Have Nots,” we’ll see that each must depend on God’s strength for contentment in either circumstance.
The Have Nots
Those who have less health, wealth, and success than others face unique spiritual struggles. I can think of three big ones.
1. The envy of others. When we can’t keep our eyes off of what other people have, it generates envy, jealousy, and covetousness. These can boil over into awful attitudes, mean-spirited comments, and evil actions. “I sure wish we could afford a car like the Joneses!” “John, why can’t you get a better job so we can have a bigger house like the Smiths?” The Bible diagnoses the problem this way: “You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2).
2. The quest for more. When we compare what little we have with the abundance of others, it’s easy of set “more” as our primary goal. In our personal crusade for more, we would be tempted to conscript our time, energy, career, relationships, and family. But don’t do it. Heed Paul’s warning: “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9)
3. The pride of humility. Believe it or not, those with little can actually have more pride in their poverty than the rich have in their wealth. Some Christians think the poor and needy are necessarily less worldly than the rich. But this kind of spiritual pride is just as sinful as the boasts of a billionaire. Jesus said, “Many who are first will be last, and the last, first” (Mark 10:31). But seeking to be last in order to be first is really the same as seeking to be first! Just because I may have few material possessions doesn’t make me any less materialistic.
Clearly, the Have Nots need God’s gift of contentment in their humble circumstances. But what about the Haves?
Those who have more than others also face unique spiritual struggles. Here are three.
1. Bragging and boasting. When we acquire an abundance, many of us feel like broadcasting it whenever we can. We’ll even gently steer conversations in a direction that allows us to boast. In many cases the motive can be to present ourselves as superior. It almost always involves an over-confidence in the power of wealth. Yet 1 Timothy 6:17 says, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God.
2. Shame and guilt. Strangely, a common sin of the Haves is to be embarrassed about the abundance God has given them. Yes, some people who believe poverty is the ideal for the Christian may actually conceal their blessings. They may over-compensate by pretending to have less than they really do. But the wealthy should never be uncomfortable with their calling to be rich. Paul said that with their wealth, the rich are expected to “do good, to be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18). Wealth is nothing to be ashamed of when it’s accompanied by humility and generosity.
3. To have and to hoard. Christian financial experts often spend more time talking about saving and investing than about giving and blessing. It seems that “stewardship” has become a synonym for “saving” or even “hoarding.” But Paul could not be more clear: the rich are to be “generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). God blesses us so we can bless others. Ultimately, all that we have and will have belongs to the Lord.
I could go on exploring the unique challenges facing both the Haves and the Have Nots. But this should be enough to see that Paul had a reason for appealing to God’s strength to help him be content in both abundance and need. Whether you consider yourself to be a Have or a Have Not—whether it relates to health, education, wealth, or success—Paul’s prayer of contentment can apply to you: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).