One of the great motivational verses of the Scriptures is, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” To some Christians, it is their “life verse.” Others recite it as a cure-all for adversity, or as a propellant for new goals.
This phrase is often used in the context of striving for higher achievement and the hope of attaining it with God’s help. I have been to MLM meetings, filled with Christians, where this verse is affirmed over and over. On the other hand, when Christians talk of trials and adversity, or beginning new and difficult ventures, this verse is the common response given by other Christians hoping to be helpful and plant seeds of positive attitudes.
Last week, my wife and I were attending a business network meeting – it turned out to be a class on setting goals. The instructor asked us to draw a pyramid and at the top section of the pyramid we were to segregate a section and call that our vision. Our vision is where we want to be in the next three years; lifestyle, vacations, money and the works. How do we arrive at this vision? We arrive there from our discontent; we refuse to accept the state we find ourselves and decide to set new goals for a better life.
Have you ever been to a MLM meeting? The strategy Multi-Level Marketers use to recruit down line sales teams is to instill a desire to excel financially. How do they do this? By creating discontent with the financial state we find ourselves and the promise that hard work, and only four hours per week, will lift us up into a life of wealth, ease and residual income.
Even the well meaning Christian, when reminding a brother or sister they can do all things through Christ, use this verse as an encouragement they can rise above their present state or circumstances. In a sense, they affirm the right to use discontent as a catalyst to set new goals and improve their lives.
But what did Paul mean, when he said he could do all things through Christ, who gives him strength? To find out, we need to read the context of the verse and beginning just two verses up we find he is talking about being content in every situation – whether poor and hungry or rich and well fed. And it is because of this contentment he is able to do everything, or suffer through, every situation he finds himself.
[F]or I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. [Php 4:11-13 NIV]
Twice Paul tells us he has learned contentment – it did not come naturally because he was an apostle. It is easy to be content in wealth and ease, so circumstances would imply Paul had to go through testing, times of want and hunger, to learn contentment. How do you handle testing? In my own life, I fail most times of testing – I become discontent and want to raise myself above the circumstances. But it is this testing Paul is talking about – not the high goals of accomplishment or of a better life – when he says he can do all things and that Christ gives him strength.
Does this mean we are not to have dreams, or to excel in this life? That depends: First, we know from Christ’s prayer (John 17), we live in the world but are not of this world. This means our goals should not be to establish our lives down here but to be working toward our life in the kingdom. Second, the Scriptures tell us whatever we do to do as unto the Lord (Col 3:17), meaning the purpose of our life is to please God and accomplish what He has determined he wants us to do (Eph 2:10).
If our goal is to increase in wealth, we are staking our claim down here. This does not mean it is wrong to establish businesses, nor is it wrong to gain wealth. Our motivation, intent and attitude make for right or wrong. Proverbs tells us man makes his plans but God directs his steps [Pro 16:9]. Before we were born, God appointed our steps – He had a plan for our lives (Isa 49:1 ; Jer 1:5) and He numbered our days (Psa 139:16). Most of us have plans for our lives – do we seek to conform our plans to His, or is it the other way around?
The writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us in chapter twelve, God sends discipline to the sons He loves. Our discipline, or testing, is to teach us and train us to live the life God wants us to live.
Before Paul was saved, Christ spoke to him and told Paul he was kicking against the goads (Act 26:14). A goad keeps an animal in check, to get them to do what the owner wants – to accomplish the owner’s goals. Kicking against the goads is futile – Paul’s life, to that point, was futile and most our lives are spent in similar futility. God was steering Paul, but like all people, he was resistant to God’s plan and His ways (Rom 3:11-12).
Although Paul thought he was living his life for God, nothing could have been further from the truth. How often do we rush headlong into life thinking, seeking, or even determined, we are doing God’s will, only to discover we have made a mess of ourselves and our witness?
After Paul received Christ, he left everything behind – every accomplishment and every goal he counted as loss (Php 3:7). Paul’s strength was in Christ – knowing in poverty or wealth, Christ was going to help him walk in God’s plan.
We are saved by grace (Eph 2:8-9) and justified by faith (Rom 5:1) – we can add nothing to it; there is nothing we can do (Tit 3:5). This is who we are in Christ – this is what it means to be a Christian. We rest in what Christ has done for us – not in what we do for Him. Contentment comes from knowing who we are in Christ and leaving our goals behind.
We know God has a plan for our life; we know God directs our steps; we know He disciplines us to lead us in the right direction; and we know He is everything we need – He is our strength – we do not need the strength of this world. Therefore, we set goals for the kingdom and fit our life around that, knowing whatever state we find ourselves in, whether rich and well fed, whether poor and hungry, whether in favor or in adversity, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.