Thursday, August 20, 2015

Philippians 4:13 (a 5 by 5 by 5 Reflection)

Today’s 5 by 5 by 5 reading was Philippians 4. Philippians 4:13 is an obvious focus: “I can do all things through Him [the Lord] Who strengthens me.”

I have often used this verse and heard this verse used to encourage Christians, including myself, that Christ can take us through adversity. I still think that’s an appropriate reading and one that’s true to the context in which it falls.

But it’s interesting to consider that context. Paul is writing to the Christian church at Philippi. This church seems to have its spiritual/faith life act together and Paul thanks them and rejoices in the Lord for what he sees as a revived concern and material support for him by the Philippian Christians.

But then, he says: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Then he presents these couplets:

“I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.

“...I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”

That’s when he says: “I can do all things through Him [the Lord] Who strengthens me.”

Paul says that there’s a secret not only in knowing how to get through circumstances like having little and being hungry, but also a secret to knowing how to get through having plenty and being well-fed.

And, it seems to be the same secret: trusting in the Lord to help us endure “in all things.”

It seems to me that Paul is saying that there are peculiar spiritual dangers both in plenty and in  poverty. Each circumstance and every other in between have the potential to lure us away from dependence on the God Who “is the giver of every good and perfect gift,” tempting us to go our own way (James 1:17; Judges 17:6; 21:25).

In poverty, we may be tempted to give up on God’s will to provide and be prone to pursuing other gods.

In wealth, we may be tempted to give up on God because our plenty deludes us into thinking that it’s all ours by birthright or because we’ve worked so hard for it. We or our achievements or our money can become our gods.

This can probably also apply to the other ways in life in which we can experience plenty or need: happiness or its lack in our relationships; fulfillment or its lack in our careers; good or poor health; anger or acceptance toward our physical health; and so on.

At times, I seem to fluctuate between resentment and smugness toward God, life, and other people. And, in it all, God can be forgotten, blamed, or consigned to spectator status.

But Paul says that he has “learned to be content with whatever I have.” This isn’t resignation or fatalism. In verse 8, he tells the Philippian Christians: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

I love the way that entire verse is phrased! Being content wherever you are at a particular moment does not mean resignation to the circumstance always remaining the same. Instead, Paul says not to worry about it. Don’t stew. Don’t obsess over what you perceive yourself to lack. (In fact, we’re to occupy our minds with other thoughts and occupy our lives with the activities of disciples, he says in verses 8-9.) Instead, take all your requests to God, take your vision of how your life or the lives of those for whom you pray could be better…”let your requests be made known to God.” Do this with “thanksgiving,” with thankfulness for how God has already blessed believers, especially in the forgiveness of our sins and in the promise of our resurrection through our faith in Christ. Paul says that when we do this, even as we still lack the the things for which we pray, God’s peace, a state of being that is insusceptible to scientific analysis, will fill us and keep us close to Christ, through Whom we have life and peace and hope.

There are many things for which I pray. I find that as I pray for them with an attitude of thankfulness and praise, I can live with their lack. Maybe God will one day teach me that some of the things I pray for are things that I don’t need; He’s done that with me in the past. But maybe, as I learn to be content with the incredible blessings God has already given to me, I will be spiritually ready to handle the things for which I pray. I can receive them with thankfulness, knowing Who has given them and that these blessings aren’t mine because I deserve them, or because I’ve earned them, or because I’ve acquired them by the force of my effort or my personality. They are gifts from God alone.

In the meantime, I can be content and thankful for being a child of God, happy to be set free from sin and death through Christ, thankful that in all circumstances, God empowers me to do all things, including loving God, loving and serving my neighbor, and sharing Christ with those who need Him as much as I do.

God, even as I make my requests known to You, help me to be content in the circumstance in which I find myself and to be about the mission You have given all who trust in Christ: loving God, loving others, serving in Christ’s Name, making disciples. In Christ I pray. Amen

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