One of the purposes of Paul's letter to the Philippians is to thank them for their financial support while he is in prison. The context of Paul's imprisonment must not be lost when seeking to understand this passage, especially in understanding Philippians 4:13-a verse frequently taken out of context and, therefore, completely misunderstood.
"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble." -Philippians 4:10-14 ESVThe Apostle's points are basically these:
- The Apostle rejoices (as he instructed the Philippians to do in 4:4) in the Lord, specifically because they have given him financial support. His financial need has provided an opportunity for the Philippians' need to express their concern for him. This is win-win, in other words.
- Next, the Apostle wants to assure the Philippians that with or without their support, he would still have rejoiced in the Lord because it is the Lord's strength, and not his own, that would see him through regardless.
- Finally, the Apostle thanks the Philippians for sharing in his trouble none-the-less.
Second, the often misunderstood Philippians 4:13 needs to be addressed. The Apostle wrote, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." The Apostle is NOT saying that he is capable of doing anything he would like and that God will give him the resources need to accomplish it. Such a thought would be so foreign to the man blinded on the road to Damascus as to be unrecognizable in his theology and, perhaps more importantly, life. The Apostle, you may recall, was frequently thwarted in his own plans (see Acts 16:6-10 or his lackluster success in Athens in Acts 17:32-34 or his failed desire to go preach the Gospel in Spain in Romans 15:22-24). The Apostle is not claiming to be able to do anything he wants and God, like some kind of cosmic butler, will support his every desire. No, the immediate context states that so long as Paul has the Lord, he has everything that he needs. This allows him to find contentment in any number of circumstances and not fail to the particular temptations of that estate (pride in plenty, despair in lack).
So what do we take from this all? First, like the Apostle we can enter into and partner with the suffering and ministry of other Christians through our direct support-especially financial support. Second, God is not our cosmic butler, but so long as we trust in him and find our heart's desire in his presence, we will always be supplied with the strength to endure any situation. Finally, we should be thankful when others come alongside us in support thank them for sharing with us.