A Contented Person Is Strengthened by Divine Power
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (4:13)
No matter how difficult his struggles may have been, Paul had a spiritual undergirding, an invisible means of support. His adequacy and sufficiency came from his union with the adequate and sufficient Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
When Paul wrote I can do all things he had in mind physical, not spiritual things. Ischuō (I can do) means “to be strong,” “to have power,” or “to have resources.” It is variously translated “overpowered” (Acts 19:16), “prevailing” (Acts 19:20), and “effective” (James 5:16). The Greek text emphasizes the word translated all things (a reference to physical needs; cf. vv. 11–12) by placing it first in the sentence. Paul was strong enough to endure anything through Him who strengthen[ed] him (cf. 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:17). The apostle does not, of course, mean that he could physically survive indefinitely without food, water, sleep, or shelter. What he is saying is that when he reached the limit of his resources and strength, even to the point of death, he was infused with the strength of Christ. He could overcome the most dire physical difficulties because of the inner, spiritual strength God had given him. In the words of Isaiah,
He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (Isa. 40:29–31)
Perhaps the clearest illustration of this truth in Paul’s life comes from 2 Corinthians 12:7–10:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul was tormented by a “thorn in the flesh,” most likely a demon who was behind the false teachers tearing up his beloved church in Corinth. This was the worst of all trials for him, because of his “concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). He repeatedly begged the Lord to deliver him from the torment of that demonic attack on the church. But instead of delivering him, the Lord pointed Paul to the sufficiency of His grace. Contentment comes to believers who rely on the sustaining grace of Christ infused into believers when they have no strength of their own. In that sense, contentment is a by-product of distress.
Lest any doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s strengthening power, it is the same power Paul described in his prayer in Ephesians 3:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.… Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us. (Eph. 3:14–16, 20)
God’s power that indwells believers is far more than sufficient to strengthen and sustain them in any trial. Contentment belongs to those who confidently trust in that power rather than in their own resources. Jeremiah Burroughs observes,
A Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstance by getting strength from another, by going out of himself to Jesus Christ, by his faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of Jesus Christ into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever God lays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ.… There is strength in Christ not only to sanctify and save us, but strength to support us under all our burdens and afflictions, and Christ expects that when we are under any burden, we should act our faith upon him to draw virtue and strength from him. (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 63)
It is important to note that only those who live lives of obedience to God’s will can count on His power to sustain them. Those whose continued sin has led them into the pit of despair cannot expect God to bring them contentment from their circumstances. In fact, He may even add to their difficulties to chasten them and bring them to repentance.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones compares the flow of God’s power into the believer’s life to the issue of physical health:
Now I suggest that that is analogous to this whole subject of power in one’s life as a Christian. Health is something that results from right living. Health cannot be obtained directly or immediately or in and of itself. There is a sense in which I am prepared to say that a man should not think of his health as such at all. Health is the result of right living, and I say exactly the same thing about this question of power in our Christian lives.
Or let me use another illustration. Take this question of preaching. No subject is discussed more often than power in preaching. “Oh, that I might have power in preaching,” says the preacher and he goes on his knees and prays for power. I think that that may be quite wrong. It certainly is if it is the only thing that the preacher does. The way to have power is to prepare your message carefully. Study the Word of God, think it out, analyse it, put it in order, do your utmost. That is that message God is most likely to bless—the indirect approach rather than the direct. It is exactly the same in this matter of power and ability to live the Christian life. In addition to our prayer for power and ability we must obey certain primary rules and laws.
I can therefore summarise the teaching like this. The secret of power is to discover and to learn from the New Testament what is possible for us in Christ. What I have to do is to go to Christ. I must spend my time with Him. I must meditate upon Him, I must get to know Him. That was Paul’s ambition—“that I might know Him.” I must maintain my contact and communion with Christ and I must concentrate on knowing Him.
What else? I must do exactly what He tells me. I must avoid things that would hamper. If in the midst of persecution we want to feel as Paul felt, we must live as Paul lived. I must do what He tells me, both to do and not to do. I must read the Bible, I must exercise, I must practise the Christian life, I must live the Christian life in all its fullness. (Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965], 298–99)
God’s power will bring contentment to those who have no strength of their own, but only if they have been living righteously. There is no quick fix, no shortcut to contentment. It comes only to those strengthened by divine power, and that divine power does not come from counselors, therapy, or self-help formulas, but only from consistent godly living.
13 Paul says that he is “able” (“strong,” ischyō, GK 2710; NIV, “can do”) to do all things through the one who continually empowers (tō endynamounti [GK 1904], present tense; NIV, “gives strength”) him. The name “Christ,” which is familiar to most from the KJV, is absent from the oldest and most reliable manuscripts, but Christ is clearly in mind (1 Ti 1:12). This statement may sound like a wild-eyed pipe dream and can be easily misinterpreted. Paul does not mean to imply that Christ is like some magical genie in a lamp who renders us able to do anything we want. Translating the preposition en as “through” may cause one to miss Paul’s point that it is by being in Christ that one is empowered (cf. 1:1; 2:1; 3:9, 14; 4:7, 19, 21). In this case, “everything” refers to his ministry as an apostle, not to anything he might set out to do.
4:13 / He takes no credit to himself for having learned this lesson of contentment: it is thanks to his “enabler” that he can do everything through him who gives him strength. It was, indeed, when he was most conscious of personal weakness that he was most conscious of the power of Christ resting on him. “For Christ’s sake, I delight,” he says, “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9, 10).
13. Paul, then, is saying that in every particular circumstance as well as in all circumstances generally he has learned the secret of contentment. The cause that accounts for this soul-sufficiency, that is, the Person who taught and is constantly teaching him this secret, is indicated in the words, I can do all things in him who infuses strength into me. Surely, a wonderful testimony! Whatever needs to be done Paul can do, for he is in Christ (Phil. 3:9), being by the indwelling presence of Christ’s Spirit and by Spirit-wrought faith in vital union and intimate fellowship with his Lord and Savior. Christ’s grace is sufficient for him and his power rests on him (2 Cor. 12:9). This wonderful Helper is standing by him (2 Tim. 4:17) as the great Enabler (1 Tim. 1:12). The Lord is for Paul the Fountain of Wisdom, encouragement, and energy, actually infusing strength into him for every need. It is for that reason that the apostle is even able to say. “Wherefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions and frustrations, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 302–305). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 258). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (2011). Philippians (pp. 150–151). Peabody, MA: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, p. 206). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.