Our Sufficiency in Christ

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4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Why the "Sufficiency Doctrine" Is Insufficient

There are those within the Christian body who would say that getting psychological help is un‑spiritual. That we should rely totally on the Lord for our emotional healing!

My question is why?

Why is emotional healing any different from physical healing? Why would one seek out professional help for the treatment of T.B., pneumonia, diabetes, or cancer, but be forbidden to seek help for disabling panic episodes, anxiety, depression, anger, fear, phobia’s, PTSD, or co-dependency, to name a few?

A century ago a number of Christians thought it was a sin to wear glasses, or "devil's eyes" as they called them. Their reasoning was "If God wanted you to be able to see, He would have given you good vision."

Even after penicillin was discovered, many Christians died of pneumonia because they wanted to trust God alone and not medications. We know of several Christians who have died in the past few years because they refused to have cancer surgically removed.

Technically, mankind has come a long way; he has even walked on the moon. But when it comes to common sense, whether it be Christians, or non‑Christians, we have‑not advanced a great deal from where we were during the Dark Ages.

Christ Himself said that those who are sick need a physician. Luke, who wrote a large portion of the New Testament (including Acts) was a physician. Just because God used numerous miracles in the early church to prove that Christianity was true (prior to the Scriptures being completed), does that justify the insistence of twentieth‑century Christians that God heal them supernaturally or not at all?

It takes a grandiose person to demand a supernatural healing. God certainly does heal some people supernaturally on rare occasions today, but He heals most Christians through the common‑sense application of medical technology and medications. Why did he give man a brain if He never expected him to use it? Should Christian diabetics who need insulin daily use insulin? Or should they refuse insulin and die in a diabetic coma within two days in order to prove how brave and super‑spiritual they are?

Should antidepressant medications ever be used? Some Christians would say no. Why?

What is the difference between a person suffering with a biochemical imbalance which causes diabetes, and a person suffering from a biochemical imbalance causing severe depression, anxiety, phobias, ect. Answer.....NONE.


There is a book entitled "The Facts On Self Esteem, Psychology, And The Recovery Movement" by John Ankerberg, and John Weldon. This book was written to say we do not need "psychology" to make us well, but to rely on Jesus, and Him only to heal us from our emotional pain.

In this book, the following statement is made:

This booklet offers a forthright debate against modern psychology. This is not because we are against counseling per se; many people in our society need high quality counseling.


Now are we against psychology per se. The study of the human psyche, or minds and personality, is a worthwhile endeavor.

So what's the problem?

The problem the "Sufficiency in Christ" camp has with modern psychology is that they feel they encourage people to look to self, and not to God for their healing. I don't believe Mr. Ankerberg, or Mr. Weldon have not been to a truly professional Christ centered Christian counselor.

In the experience of those interviewed as professional Christian Counselors and of course myself, Jesus Christ is the center focus of our healing. We are being aided by a professional therapist in learning to see ourselves as God sees us. That we are children of the King, and our King, the Lord Jesus Christ is interested in our emotional well being.

Pastor John MacArthur, and David Hunt are two of Gods servants who share in Mr. Ankerbergs' fears that Christian counseling is based on anti‑Christian, Freudian thought, which directly contradicts the scriptural truth. Their belief is when we are saved, we are "a new creation", and "all things are made new." They ignore however, (barring a supernatural healing) the convert with cancer, or diabetes. When the new convert wakes up in the morning, they will normally still need their daily dose of insulin, or go for their radiation treatments as prescribed in order to keep their diseases in check.

Should psychological help be sought when you can't seem to get beyond the cycle of depression, and/or panic...absolutely! Should antidepressants ever be used? Of course, under certain circumstances.


An excerpt from the book "Happiness Is A Choice", by Dr. Frank Minirth, & Dr. Paul Meier:

"When a patient comes to us and is clinically depressed, cannot sleep, and has suicidal ideation, we have three ways in which we could treat him. We could see him in weekly therapy with no medications, and he would be totally over his clinical depression within six to twelve months on the average (that is, if he doesn’t commit suicide during those first two months when he continues to suffer insomnia and be in severe emotional pain)."

"A second option would be for that same patient to come for weekly psychotherapy and take antidepressants, in which case he would probably be totally over His depression in three to six months." "He would be sleeping well and feeling some improvement after his first ten days on antidepressant medications, so suicide would be less of a risk."

"A third option is for that same patient to check himself into the psychiatry ward of a general hospital, get daily psychotherapy and medication, feel better within a week, and be totally over his depression within three to six weeks, requiring only a month or two of follow‑up outpatient psychotherapy."

"Which option is the most spiritual if the patient has four children at home who have been hurting for months because of his depression?"

"Which option is the most spiritual if suicide is a real possibility, a possibility that would leave children fatherless, (or motherless) and with deep emotional scars?"

"Is it simply more spiritual to tell this person to go home and pray harder, and keep a stiff upper lip?"

"People in need of medical care should receive the care necessary to help them become more the person God has created them to be."

"A fully functional, clear minded, Christ centered individual, able to go being about the work of the kingdom."

"It is the sick who need the doctor."

"I believe God made that very clear in His word.

13. can do . Nu 13:30 . Jn * 15:4 , 5 , 7 . 2 Co * 3:4 , 5 . all . ✓ ƒ171A , Ex + 9:6 . through Christ . Is 40:29-31 . * 41:10 . 45:24 . See on 2 Co ✓ 12:9 , 10 . Ep +* 3:16 . 6:10 . Col * 1:11 . 1 Ti + 1:12 . strengtheneth . Dt 31:23 . Jsh = 17:17 . Is 45:24 . Zc 10:12 . 2 Co ✓ 12:9 . Ep * 3:14-17 . [1]

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things ( παντα ἰσχυω [ panta ischuō ]). Old verb to have strength ( ἰσχυς [ ischus ]). In him that strengtheneth me ( ἐν τῳ ἐνδυναμουντι με [ en tōi endunamounti me ]). Late and rare verb (in LXX) from adjective ἐνδυναμος [ endunamos ] ( ἐν, δυναμις [ en, dunamis ]). Causative verb to empower, to pour power into one. See same phrase in I Tim. 1:12 τῳ ἐνδυναμωσαντι με [ tōi endunamōsanti me ] (aorist tense here). Paul has such strength so long as Jesus keeps on putting power ( δυναμις [ dunamis ]) into him.

4:13 I can do all things: It is important to note that the emphasis is not so much on achievement as it is on willingness to allow Christ’s power to sustain in difficulty and scarcity, and to enhance the enjoyment of abundance and prosperity. Such faith is a stimulant to believe for all Christ’s sufficiency in facing all life’s circumstances.

V. Gratitude Expressed for the Philippians’


Generosity (4:10-20)


10 O yes, and I rejoice in the Lord greatly because now at last your thoughtful care of me a has blossomed once again. Indeed, you have always cared about me, but you have not always had the opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because of any need I had, for I have learned to be self-sufficient in every situation in which I find myself. 12 Hence, I know how to be humbled and I know how to abound. In every and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having more than enough and of having too little. 13 I have the power to face all such situations in union with the One who continuously infuses me with strength. b 14 And yet it was good of you to become partners with me in my hardships. 15 Now c you Philippians know as well as I that when the gospel was in its beginning, when I set out from Macedonia, no other church entered into a partnership with me in an accounting of expenditures and receipts except you alone. 16 You know as well as I that when I was in Thessalonica you sent money to meet my needs d more than once. 17 I do not say this meaning that I have my heart set on your giving. But I certainly do have my heart set on interest increasing that may accrue to your account. 18 Here, then, is my receipt for everything you have given me. I have more than enough. I am fully supplied e now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent me. They are a fragrant odor, a sacrifice that God accepts and that pleases him. 19 In return, I pray that God may meet f every need you have in accordance with his marvelous wealth in Christ Jesus. 20 Now surely the glory belongs to God our Father forever and ever. Amen!



This part of the letter is Paul’s response to the gift sent to him by the Philippian church through the good offices of their own emissary, Epaphroditus (v  18 ). In a sense it is the apostle’s formal receipt (note the use of the technical term, ἀπέχω , v  18 ) acknowledging that the things had arrived intact and had been duly received by him. He alluded to their kindness earlier in the letter ( 1:5 ) and at that point had thanked God for them and for their generosity ( cf.  1:3 ,  5 ). But not until now does he discuss the gift of the Philippians in any detail. The reason for this delay has been variously interpreted: (1) These verses constitute a separate letter of thanks sent to the Philippian Christians months earlier than the letter in which it now appears. Only at a much later time, when some unidentified scribe wished to collect all of Paul’s correspondence to the church at Philippi and weave it all into a single epistle, was it by chance placed in this unexpected spot. (This suggestion has been noted and rejected in the Introduction.) (2) Paul, in the custom of his day, dictated the early part of his letter, but picked up the pen to sign it in his own hand, and in doing so wrote his own personal “thank you” quite naturally at the end (cf. Bahr,  JBL 87 [1968] 27-41). This explanation accounts for the particle, δέ (“but”) with which this section begins. For it appears to arrest “a subject which is in danger of escaping.” Its presence here “is as if the apostle said ‘I must not forget to thank you for your gift’” (Lightfoot). (3) A more likely reason is that which suggests that the whole matter of giving and receiving was a touchy subject with Paul. And reading between the lines here, and listening to what was said and for what was not said, one might easily infer that there was something about the Philippians’ gift that was troubling to the apostle. He, therefore, delays discussion of it until the end of his letter, as one naturally tends to put off bringing up sensitive issues by leaving them to the very last moment possible.

It is known from elsewhere that, although Paul championed the right of an apostle to be supported financially by those to whom he preached the gospel, and although he never renounced that right, he preferred to support himself and his mission by manual labor, and jealously insisted on doing so: (1) in order that he might offer the gospel of God’s free grace without charge, (2) in order that no opponent of his could ever accuse him of using his mission as a pretext for greed, and (3) in order that he might set the proper example for others to follow (see  1 Cor 4:8–13 , especially v  12 ;  8:1–18 ;  2 Cor 11:7–10 ;  1 Thess 2:5–12 , especially v  9 ;  2 Thess 3:7–12 , especially vv  8–9 ;  cf. Pratscher,  NTS 25 [1979] 284-98). Paul had no hesitation about asking money from his churches to aid others, e.g. the needy Christians in Jerusalem ( 1 Cor 16:1–3 ;  2 Cor 8–9 ), but he refused to do so for himself. And yet the Macedonian Christians, which surely would have included the Christians at Philippi, not only made a generous contribution out of their own deep poverty to the needy saints’ fund ( 2 Cor 8:1–5 ), but they also more than once ( Phil 4:16 ) made generous contributions to Paul’s own personal fund ( 2 Cor 11:8–9 ). It may be suggested, therefore, that this violation of one of Paul’s strict principles, entailing giving of a personal gift to him which was not only unsolicited, but which the Macedonian churches knew from personal experience he opposed ( 1 Thess 2:9 ;  2 Thess 3:8–9 ), was the very thing which prompted him to leave this matter of the gift until the last, and caused him to write a careful reply that combined cautious gratitude with a gentle but firm demand that they not henceforth infringe on his own self-reliance. Nowhere else in all of Paul’s letters nor in all of the letters of antiquity that have survived until the present is there any other acknowledgment of a gift that can compare with this one in terms of such a tactful treatment of so sensitive a matter (von Soden; see Plummer, Michael).

The very structure of this section makes clear what has just been said. It exhibits a nervous alternation back and forth between Paul’s appreciation on the one hand (vv  10 ,  14–16 ,  18–20 ), and his insistence on his own independence and self-sufficiency on the other (vv  11–13 ,  17 ). It is of utmost importance to him that this matter of personal independence not be compromised in any way. Thus he cannot write as one who is wholly free to express his thanks without reservations or qualifications (Michael). It fact, it is remarkable that in this so-called “thank you” section, Paul does not use the verb εὐχαρι στει̂ν (“to thank” someone for something;  cf.  Rom 16:4 ). Thus, in a sense Paul pens to his friends in Philippi a “thankless thanks” (Dibelius, Gnilka), masterfully written, constructed in such a way as neither to offend those who gave their gift out of love, nor to encourage their continued violation of his strict instructions not to send him assistance ( cf. Buchanan,  EvQ 36 [1964] 161-63). He admits that he is very glad in the Lord that they once again were able to show their concern for him, but he never praises them directly for the tangible form this concern took. He readily acknowledges that these Philippians alone of all the churches he founded became partners with him in the matter of giving, but he tempers this potentially laudatory remark by reminding them that he never asked for their gift. He feels free to boast about the generosity of the Philippians to other churches ( 2 Cor 11:8–9 ), but he is restrained when he addresses the Philippians directly about this matter. He informs them that what they did for him is accepted by God as a beautiful sacrifice, but he weakens this praise by the businesslike tone in which he personally responds to this very same act: “Here is my receipt for what you gave me. I have more than enough as a result, too much! I am full up!”—words which imply that he wants no more of their assistance (but see Glombitza,  NovT [1964–65] 135–41 ).


 10 . Paul begins this section with ἐχάρην δὲ ἐν κυρίῳ (“I rejoice in the Lord” ἐχάρην is an epistolary aorist). And once again he strikes the keynote of the epistle, “joy.” The particle, δέ , often ignored and passed over by the translators, is really an important word here. As we saw, it “arrests a subject which is in danger of escaping” (Lightfoot). It indicates that something has just occurred to the writer which, if let go any longer, might be forgotten altogether. Yet, very likely Paul used it for rhetorical effect. He could never really forget what the Philippians had done for him, nor could he even come close to sending his letter off without these important remarks. But he approaches the whole matter of thanking them for their gift as if it were possible for him to do so. The assistance provided him by the Philippians and the problems it created for him were subjects very much in his mind, even matters he could not possibly forget, but he waits until the last moment to broach them, and then he does so in what appears to be an off-hand way. The δέ might be paraphrased: “O yes, and I must not forget…” ( cf.  1 Cor 16:1 ;  Gal 4:20 ).

There are now several things worth noting: (1) Paul says that his joy is immense. Although the idea of “great joy” is consonant with the Christian gospel and often associated with it ( Matt 2:10 ;  Luke 2:10 ;  24:52 ;  Acts 8:8 ;  15:3 ), this is the only place where the apostle quantifies his own experience of joy. The adverb he uses, μεγάλως (“greatly, immensely”), is found nowhere else in the  NT , and its very uniqueness intensifies what he is saying about the depth of his feelings at this point.

(2) Furthermore, Paul says that his joy is in the Lord . If one expected him to say instead that his joy was in the generosity of the Philippians, he is going to be surprised. Paul never says this. He never thanks them directly for anything they gave him. Yet, by saying that his joy was “in the Lord” he was saying that it was thoroughly Christian, flowing out of his union with Christ and therefore totally free from ingratitude or resentment ( cf. Michael).

(3) Even though for Paul the final, the ultimate, cause of his joy was “the Lord,” there was also a more immediate cause as well. This is stated now by the apostle in a clause introduced by ὅτι (“because”). But again it is remarkable that Paul does not say that this immediate cause of his joy was the Philippians’ gift . It was rather what that gift pointed to, namely, the care and concern ( φρονει̂ν ) of the Philippians for him and their determination to see to his welfare. What gave him joy was not things, but people and how they behaved. If a gift of money troubled him because it was against his principle to take such a gift for himself from any of his churches, yet the loving thoughfulness that prompted his friends to override his wishes and give sacrificially ( cf.  2 Cor 8:1–3 ) pleased him greatly.

The verb Paul uses to express this “thoughtful love” is φρονει̂ν , the key verb of this letter ( 1:7 ;  2:2 ,  5 ;  3:15 ,  19 ;  4:2 ,  10 ). Fundamental to its meaning is the idea of “thinking.” Paul, therefore, was never out of the thoughts of the Philippians. But φρονρει̂ν means more than merely “thinking” about someone. It also describes an active interest in that person’s affairs. Thus, because φρονει̂ν characterized the relationship of the Philippian Christians to Paul, it meant that they of necessity would be personally involved in promoting the welfare of the apostle by whatever means they had at their disposal.

For some unknown reason the Philippians for an extended period of time were cut off from Paul and he from them. As a consequence doubts may have arisen, as would only be natural, about the genuineness of their concern for him. Hence, it was with a great sense of relief that this silence of uncertainty was broken with the arrival of Epaphroditus from Philippi (v  18 ). “At long last” ( ἤδη ποτέ ;  cf.  BGD ), Paul writes his friends, “you have renewed your concern for me” ( ἀνεθάλετε τὸ ὑπέρ ἐμου̂ φρονει̂ν ). The verb translated “renewed” ( ἀναθάλλειν ) is a highly metaphorical word, filled with poetic boldness, beautiful in its idea, chosen no doubt to convey affectionate understanding. This is its only occurrence in the  NT , but it is used elsewhere to describe trees and flowers “bursting into bloom again” in the springtime, or plants “sprouting afresh” from the ground (cf,  BGD ). To translate it as “renew,” or “revive,” or “show” ( gnb ,  jb ,  niv ,  rsv , Phillips) is almost to mistranslate it. Paul is not here complaining but marvelling. Like a person rejoicing over the signs of spring after a hard winter, so Paul rejoiced to see again the signs of personal concern from Philippi after a long interval of silence. His carefully chosen word expresses his delight: “Your care for me has now blossomed afresh!” ( neb ). (Whether this verb is considered intransitive [Gnilka, Haupt; Baumert,  BZ 13 (1969) 256-62;  LXX  Ps 27:7 ; Wisd  Sol 4:4 ] or transitive [Beare, Bonnard, Dibelius, Scott,  gnb ,  jb ,  niv ,  rsv  Ecclus 1:18 ;  11:22 ;  50:10 ] makes little difference: Paul is most happy because of this “blossoming.”)

That the words, “Now at last your care for me has blossomed once again,” were not in the least intended as a criticism Paul makes clear by giving powerful expression to a fresh reason for joy. He introduces it with the phrase ἐφʼ ᾠ̂ (“because, for”;  cf.  BDF 235,2;  Rom 5:12 ;  2 Cor 5:4 ;  Phil 3:12 ; but see Baumert,  BZ 13 [1969] 256-62), and follows it with a studiedly balanced chiastic (crisscross) sentence that ends in an unusual fashion, with the conjunction δέ: καὶ ἐφρονει̂τε , ἠκαιρει̂σθε δέ (“surely you were all the while thinking how you might aid me; you were all the while lacking opportunity to do so, however”). The conjunctions at the beginning and end bracketing these words, the short, abrupt, precise clauses, the imperfect tenses highlighting the continuous uninterrupted flow of the thought and action described here, the chiastic structure of the sentence—all combine to state afresh and with force this new reason for joy. It was this: Paul had come to realize that the Philippians were not to blame for the slow arrival of help, but rather the circumstances were beyond their control. The verb, ἀκαιρει̂σθαι , a late and rare word, found only here in the  NT , means that the Philippians were “without opportunity” ( καιρός ) to exhibit their willingness and readiness to send aid. It alludes to those unfavorable circumstances, namely the lack of the right person to send on the long and difficult journey to Caesarea, a lack of funds ( cf.  2 Cor 8:2 ), a lack of suitable weather for travel, whatever it may have been, that robbed the Philippians of doing for Paul what they wished to do.

 11 . But having praised the Philippians to this extent Paul immediately begins a disclaimer: “my gratitude is not a beggar’s thanks for charity” (Beet’s translation of οὐχ ὅτι καθ ̓ ὑστέρησιν λέγω , quoted by Jones).

Οὐχ ὅτι , “I do not say that,” with which this sentence begins, is a distinctively  NT expression. It usually appears without a verb of “saying” which must be supplied by the reader ( cf.  John 6:46 ;  7:22 ;  2 Cor 1:24 ;  3:5 ;  2 Thess 3:9 ), but Paul chooses to include it here ( λέγω ;  cf.  BDF 480,5). The prepositional phrase καθʼ ὑστέρησιν ( lit. “in accordance with need”) merges the idea of norm or standard with that of reason ( cf.  Rom 2:7 ;  8:28 ;  11:5 ;  16:26 ;  Eph 1:11 ;  3:3 ;  1 Tim 1:1 ;  Titus 1:3 ), and thus is more properly to be translated, “because I need anything” ( BGD , κατά , II, 5 ς ). The noun, ὑστέρησις , is another of those rare words that show up regularly in this carefully phrased section. Used only here and in  Mark 12:44 , it denotes “need, lack or poverty.” Thus, Paul is making very clear that his joy at the gift from the Philippians was not because he was in dire straits at the time it arrived with himself in poverty—apparently he either did not need or did not want their money—but because he saw in this act of generosity a truly Christian deed of sacrificial self-giving love ( cf.  2 Cor 8:5 ). He says in effect, “I am glad that you assisted me, yes, but I do not say this because I lacked anything or needed your help.”

How is it that Paul was able to say this? Was it because he had fallen heir to family property which enabled him to pay all his expenses, including those involved in a costly appeal to Caesar, and thus had no need for outside assistance ( cf. W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1905] 310-13)? Possibly, but that is not the answer that he himself gives. He claims to be able to say this because of what he had learned: ἐγὼ γὰρ ἔμαθον . The pronoun, ἐγώ (“I”), is used emphatically: “whether or not others have learned, I have.” The aorist tense ( ἔμαθον ) is a constative aorist used here for linear actions which having been completed are regarded as a whole ( BDF 332,1). It implies that Paul’s whole experience, especially as a Christian, up to the present has been a sort of schooling from which he has not failed to master its lessons.

The primary lesson he learned from the school of experience ( cf.  2 Cor 11:23–29 ) was to be self-sufficient ( αὐτάρκης ) in all the circumstances of the moment ( ἐν οἱ̂ς εἰμί ). The adjective αὐτάρκης , usually translated “content” or “satisfied” ( gnb ,  kjv ,  niv ,  rsv , Goodspeed, Knox, Moffatt, Phillips), along with its corresponding noun, αὐτάρκεια , was used to describe the person who through discipline had become independent of external circumstances, and who discovered within himself resources that were more than adequate for any situation that might arise. It was a favorite word in the vocabularies of the Stoic and Cynic philosophers to refer to that independent spirit and that free outlook on life that characterized the wise man ( cf. Malherbe, Cynic Epistles , 124.25; 176.12; 244.4). It expressed the doctrine “that man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able, by the power of his own will, to resist the force of circumstances” (Vincent;  cf. Plato,  Tim. 33D). Paul, familiar with the vocabulary of the Stoics, and himself in harmony with many of their ideals (see  comments on v  8 ), appears also to have borrowed αὐτάρκης from them—this is the only place it appears in the  NT —to declare that he too has acquired the virtue of a spirit free from worry, untroubled by the vicissitudes of external events, independent of people and things. And Paul cherishes this self-sufficiency.

But the difference between Paul, the self-sufficient Christian and the selfsufficient Stoic, is vast: “The self-sufficiency of the Christian is relative: an independence of the world through dependence upon God. The Stoic selfsufficiency pretends to be absolute. One is the contentment of faith, the other of pride. Cato and Paul both stand erect and fearless before a persecuting world: one with a look of rigid, defiant scorn, the other with a face now lighted up with unutterable joy in God.… The Christian martyr and the Stoic suicide are the final examples of these two memorable and contemporaneous protests against the evils of the world” (G. G. Findlay, Christian Doctrine and Morals [London: Chas H. Kelly, 1894], quoted by Jones;  cf.  2 Cor 9:8 ;  1 Tim 6:6 ; see also A. Bonhoeffer, Epiktet und das Neue Testament [Giessen: Töpelmann, 1911] 109-110, 291, 335-36; Glombitza,  NovT 7 [1964-65] 135-41; Kittel,  TDNT 1,466-67; Sevenster, Paul and Seneca , 113-14).

 12–13 . Paul now begins to explain in detail what he means when he says, “I have learned to be self-sufficient in every situation.” This explanation, some interpreters claim, is stated in a poetic fashion that makes use of two three-lined strophes (Friedrich, Gnilka, Lohmeyer, followed by Martin, Philipplans , 1976). Although the passage is indeed rhythmical in form, a poetic verse-structure is not obvious (Collange). Hence, the passage can best be interpreted by taking the first three finite verbs, οἰ̂δαοἰ̂δαμεμύημαι (“I know … I know … I know the secret”), as exactly parallel to each other, developing the idea already expressed by ἔμαθον (“I have learned,” v  11 ), and the last verb, ἰσχύω (“I am able”), as a summary statement qualifying what Paul means by his idea of self-sufficiency.

With rhetorical repetitiveness Paul twice over uses the verb οἰ̂δα giving it here the meaning of “I know how,” or “I am able” ( BGD ), and showing by its use what it was he had learned: “I have learned; therefore I know: I know how to cope.” The things he learned to cope with are now expressed by infinitives, one, either middle or passive in voice, the other, active: ταπεινου̂ σθαι / περισσεύειν .

The verb ταπεινου̂ν literally means “to lower,” as one would lower the level of water behind a dam, or the height of a mountain or hill ( cf.  Luke 3:5 ; see  BGD ). Figuratively it means “to humble,” both in a good sense and in a bad sense ( cf.  Matt 18:4 ;  2 Cor 12:21 ). Here Paul uses the infinitive, ταπεινου̂σθαι , with σἰ̂δα to mean either that he knows how “to discipline himself,” “to humble himself,” e.g. by fasting ( cf.  Isa 58:5 ; see Deissmann, Light , 419), or that he knows how “to be humbled, to be brought low” by want or poverty. In any case it denotes a going down into deprivation whether self-imposed or imposed by external forces, and Paul is saying, “I know how to cope with this, I am able for this.” There is also in this choice of ταπεινου̂σθαι an echo of the self-humbling of Christ ( ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτόν , “he humbled himself”) already so poignantly described by the apostle ( 2:8 ) and with which he proudly associates himself ( cf. Rolland,  AsSeign 59 [1974] 10-15; on the meaning of the whole word see Grundmann,  TDNT 9,16-18; Schweizer, Erniedrigung und Erhöhung ).

The very antithesis of this deprivation is expressed now by περισσεύειν , although one might have expected ὑψου̂ν (“to exalt”). By contrast to ταπεινου̂ σθαι it means “to abound, to overflow, to have more than enough, to be extremely rich.” And by linking this infinitive with οἰ̂δα Paul says, “I also know how to cope with abundance.” Not all of Paul’s life was marked by a cramping and oppressive want of resources. He also experienced great prosperity But in the same way that privations could do him no harm, so “he was equally immune from harm when fortune smiled” (Michael). He knew that grace was needed to handle prosperity properly as well as penury. But there is no indication that he favored the one state over the other. One should also note in passing that there is in the use of περισσεύειν an echo of the overflowing abundance that Paul envisions as characteristic of the new age inaugurated by Christ’s coming ( 1:9 ,  26 ). It is a distinctively Pauline word, used by the apostle twenty-six of the thirty-nine times it appears in the  NT

Still a third thing that Paul knew as a result of his learning experience is expressed now by a verb found nowhere else in the  NT : μεμύηνμαι . It is formed from μυει̂ν (“to initiate”), a technical term referring to those initiatory rites required of any person who wished to enter into the secrets and privileges of the ancient mystery religions ( BGD ). Once again Paul appears to borrow from the vocabulary of his pagan environment just the right word that would be readily understood by his readers to express the precise idea he wished to impart. He does not mean to say that he automatically knew the secret of a contented life. but that he came to know this secret ( μεμύημαι : note the perfect tense) through a difficult process that could be described as an initiation: “I have been very thoroughly initiated into the human lot with all of its ups and downs” ( neb ). Thus, the ἐν παντὶ καὶ ἐν πα̂σιν (“in every and all circumstances”) with which this new sentence begins should be connected adverbially with μεμύημαι .

Now these inclusive and varied circumstances are described in part by two sets of paired infinitives: καὶ χορτάζεσθαι καὶ πεινα̂ν / καὶ περισσεύειν καὶ ὑστερει̂σθαι. Χορτάζεσθαι (“to be full”) was used of force-feeding animals for the purpose of fattening them, of birds gorging themselves on their prey ( Rev 19:21 ), of satisfying the needs of a hungry crowd ( Matt 14:20 ). Above all it denotes amplitude, and Paul uses it to refer to his having plenty to eat without any overtones of brutishness ( cf. Plummer). Πεινα̂ν is the direct opposite of this first verb. Instead of portraying plenty of food it pictures the absence of food and the hunger that results ( cf.  Matt 4:2 ;  12:1 ). More than once Paul experienced the grim literal reality of this word as he engaged himself in the work of carrying out the Christian mission ( 1 Cor 4:11 ;  2 Cor 11:27 ).

To drive home further his point on the alternating nature of human life Paul repeats himself in the next pair of infinitives. He had earlier written ὑστέρησις (v  11 ) and περισσεύειν (v  12 ); now he writes περισσεύειν (“to have more than enough”) and ὑστερει̂σθαι (“to have too little, to be in need”).

It is as if Paul were saying, “I have been initiated into all the mysteries of life. I know the secrets of everyday reality. God has taught me through good times and bad how to cope not only with hunger and privation, but with plenty to eat and an abundance of wealth.” It is as if he were saying that “the vicissitudes of his life were the rites of admission to a secret society” (Beare).

 13 . Paul now both reaffirms his self-sufficiency and qualifies it in these his most famous words: πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῳ̂ ἐνδυναμου̂ντί με . Those translations which give the impression that Paul meant he could do anything and that nothing was beyond his powers ( asv ,  kjv ,  nasb ,  neb ,  niv ,  rsv , Goodspeed, Knox, Moffatt) are misleading to the point of being false. Πάντα does literally mean “all things.” But the real meaning of this or any word is determined by its context. Thus, irrespective of whether Paul wrote πάντα or τά πάντα the context does not permit one to say that he has moved without warning from the particular to the general, from “all these things,” to “all things” (but  cf. Alford, Vincent). Πάντα as used here can only refer to “all those situations,” both good and bad, that have just been described—“all the prosperous and adverse circumstances” which one must encounter in the course of everyday living.

All these things, Paul says, he has the power to cope with or is competent and able to handle ( ἰσχύω ). This verb, ἰσχύειν (“to have power”) is not a favorite of the apostle, used by him only two of the twenty-eight times it occurs in the  NT ,  i.e. here and in  Gal 5:6 . Nevertheless, by using this word Paul reaffirms his own sufficiency: “ I have the power to face all conditions of life ( cf.  gnb ), humiliation or exaltation, plenty to eat or not enough, wealth or poverty, as well as all other external circumstances like these. I can endure all these things ( cf. Gnilka). I have the resources in myself to master them. I am strong to face them down. I can prevail over and be absolute master of all the vicissitudes of life.” This indeed is the force of the active voice of the verb, ἰσχύω .

But then Paul adds a most important qualifying phrase: ἐν τῳ̂ ἐνδυναμου̂ντί με (“in union with the one who infuses me with strength”). And thus is established the grand paradox. The secret of Paul’s independence was his dependence upon Another. His self-sufficiency in reality came from being in vital union with One who is all-sufficient. Who is this Other, this all-sufficient One? Paul does not say. He simply identifies him by means of a present active participle used as a noun: “the One who continually infuses power.” The verb, ἐνδυναμου̂ν , however, is used elsewhere to denote the powerful activity of the Lord Jesus Christ ( cf.  Eph 6:10 ;  1 Tim 1:12 ;  2 Tim 2:1 ;  4:17 ). Thus those later scribes who added Χριοτῳ̂ (“Christ”) to the text properly understood Paul’s intent. He whose life was seized by Christ; he who gladly gave up all for Christ; he who paradoxically gained all by losing all for Christ; he who longed to know Christ and the power of his resurrection ( 3:7–10 ), and so on, could only envision Christ as his true source of inner strength. So, although he had carefully disciplined himself and had discovered within himself untapped resources of power that, when drawn upon, made him independent of outward circumstances, he could never bring himself to deny his need of Christ and of his reliance upon the strength which Christ supplies. The truth of the matter is that in himself Paul did not perceive a strong, totally independent soul. But united with Christ, the source of ultimate power, he was able to face life forcefully. Note  2 Cor 12:9–10 in this connection where he speaks of his weaknesses as advantages because they made him all the more receptive of Christ’s strength, which is made perfect in weakness. “Most gladly, then,” writes Paul, “will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses … and hardships for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then am I strong” ( cf. Beare). Paul, thus, never allowed his weaknesses or perceived weaknesses to be an excuse for inactivity, or for a failure to attempt the impossible task. They in a sense became his greatest assets, and surrendering them to Christ he discovered that they were transformed for his own enrichment and for the enrichment of others.

Paul Is Grateful for the Church’s Relationship with Him

Philippians 4:10–20

That 4:10–20 is a distinct literary unit and can be treated as such in the teaching and preaching of the church is beyond question. Some lectionaries offer this passage as a Pentecost reading but begin it at verse 12, a decision based on the practical concern for financing the church’s mission rather than on the literary signals in the text itself. The joy formula, not uncommon in Hellenistic correspondence as an introduction to the body of a letter, opens the unit (v. 10) and a doxology closes it (v. 20). So clearly do verses 10 and 20 open and close the passage that some have argued for this as a separate letter of thanksgiving. Added to that evidence is the observation that one would hardly expect Paul to treat a matter as important as the gift from Philippi after he had twice said “And finally” (Verses 3:1 & 4:8)  However, it has been pointed out that Paul used the introductory joy formula to begin new discussions within the body of letters, Philippians 4:10 and Philemon 7 “ Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints” being two examples. Neither has it been persuasively shown that the present location in the letter makes Paul’s response to the gift seem of minimal importance to him. In fact, even though the case for 4:10–20 as a separate letter has been strongly argued (F. W. Beare especially), there are other considerations within the passage itself which point to its present location as Paul’s own decision.

Treating as a postscript his response to the gift brought by Epaphroditus from Philippi (v.18) seems quite appropriate to the content of the response itself. As literature 4:10–20 is a gem; as a note of thanks to close friends who have sent a gift, the passage is full of surprises. This is true not only when we read it against the background of our own experience of sending and receiving such notes but also when read against the background of the remainder of the letter. Paul and the Philippians do not represent what one would regard as a standard apostle-church relationship. The Philippians were his partners: In the gospel (1:5), in prison and court defense (1:7), in conflict and suffering (1:30), and unlike all the other churches, they shared repeatedly in financial support of his ministry (4:15–16). Paul held them in his heart (1:7), he yearned for them with the affection of Christ (1:8), he loved and longed for these friends who were his joy and crown 4:1). Expressive of their mutual love, the church sends one of their members to Paul with a gift. In his response Paul never uses the word thanks. He chides them a bit with “now at length” (“after so long,” NEB) and his immediate modifier, “you had no opportunity” (v. 10), does not fully dull the edge of the reproach. He feels it necessary to say that he did not really need the gift (v. 11) nor did he seek it (v. 17). Paul gives a brief testimony to the effect that he has contentment in either abundance or want and being in Christ is adequate for all situations (vv. 11–13). After commending their kindness in the act which more than once had occurred (vv. 14–16 ), Paul makes sure they understand that his desire was not for the gift but for the fruit or profit from it (apparently referring to his ministry, 1:22 ) which would be credited to their account (v. 17 ). As far as he himself is concerned, he says, “I have received full payment, and more; I am filled …” (v. 18). The language here is that which was common to the world of commerce: “I give you my receipt … I am paid in full” (NEB). Paul then shifts from commercial terms to the language of liturgy, designating their gift to him as in reality a sacrifice to God who would in return supply all their needs (vv. 18–19). “God be praised forever. Amen.” This is his “Thank you” note, and apparently offered as a kind of postscript!

One has to wonder how the church reacted to this response to their gift. Needless to say, commentators have been somewhat puzzled by it. Descriptions of 4:10–20 have included terms such as tense, detached, awkward, distant, and discourteous. The most generous comment spoke of the passage as evidence of Paul’s being human. Efforts to explain Paul’s writing in this vein have been many and varied. Some have accounted for Paul’s detached air by speculating that the Philippians had resented something Paul had said in an earlier note of thanks, a note now lost to us. This, they say, would explain Paul’s businesslike, “Here’s your receipt—paid in full.” Others have remarked upon Paul’s stoicism, never allowing his spirit to rise and fall with circumstance. Certainly Paul comes closer to stoicism here than elsewhere in his letters, even using a favorite expression of the Stoics, to be content (v.11). Still others find here a residue of legalism in Paul and portray the apostle, for all his preaching of grace, still unable to receive a gift. This awkwardness, it is reasoned, accounts for Paul’s unusual language in this passage, five of his words appearing nowhere else in his letters or in the entire New Testament. In addition, quite a few writers have tried to justify Paul’s lack of intimacy by reminding us of the power of isolation in a prison cell to rob a person of zest, of appetite, of interest in anything. Under such conditions one cannot remain sensitive and vulnerable and still survive. Some hardened indifference cushions against pain, humiliation, and disappointment.

In these comments, discomforting as they may be, lie fragments of truth and partial explanations for these unusual lines from Paul. Perhaps we would be further helped by recalling the overall tenor of the letter. More than once we have been struck by both the intimacy and the distance expressed by Paul, captured in his phrase, “whether or not.” Our life of partnership in the gospel, Paul said to them, depends neither upon my being present or absent. The advance of the gospel does not depend upon my being executed or being set free. My relationship to Christ, he said, does not depend upon living or dying because to live is Christ and to die is to be with Christ. His relationship to the Philippians, his return to them, his execution, his witness, their witness: everything has to be set in the context of the gospel and the meaning of life in Christ Jesus.

In the same way their gift must be understood. Perhaps Paul does feel some inner conflict between the need to express pleasure over the gift and at the same time witness to his freedom from the victimizing power of material things. He knew long before Gustave Flaubert said it that “Of all the winds that blow on love, the demand for money is the coldest and most destructive.” Perhaps Paul had grown suspicious of the entanglements of gifts; after all, his freedom to preach unhindered was priceless to him. Repeatedly he had refused to accept money from churches even though he had the right to live by the gospel ( I Cor. 9:3–18 ). Now he finds himself in the situation of having received once and again (v. 16 ) gifts from Philippi. It is therefore important, perhaps even necessary, for Paul to state again his freedom, to relate the gift to ministry (the fruit which increases from it, v. 17 ) and to God (a fragrant offering to God, v. 18 ) and not to himself personally. In other words, the intimacy of giving and receiving must be balanced with distance, discourteous as it may sound. So Paul reminds his friends that he is free. He is able to live with abundance, but it is not necessary that he have it. He is able to live in hunger and want, but it is not necessary that he be poor. He is defined neither by wealth nor poverty but by a contentment that transcends both and by a power in Christ which enables him to live in any circumstance. It is important for his friends to see their gift in this context. The man to whom they sent it was not pacing his cell, inquiring of the guard every five minutes whether the mail had come. Their relationship to that man was not based on gifts and it would not be broken by the lack of them. As long as that is understood, said Paul, “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me”: “It was kind of you to share my trouble.”

We should not leave this passage without commenting upon the unusual number and variety of images and analogies used by Paul. Drawn from many sources, these words and phrases are put in the service of the gospel to inform, clarify, and enrich Paul’s communication. We have already noted his use of a key term drawn from the Stoics (v. 11 ), but Paul also pulls from mystery cults the word translated “I have learned the secret” (v. 12 ). In the cults the term referred to the rite of initiation into the mysteries. In the New English Bible, it is translated, “I have been thoroughly initiated.” Paul’s drawing upon two entirely different religious sources in that culture in order to express himself should give caution to efforts to identify his pre-Christian background on the basis of his vocabulary. As to the frequent use of commercial and business terms in verses 15–18 (records, receipts, interest, credit, paid in full, accounts of giving and receiving) to which we have already alluded, one further comment needs to be made. Paul certainly did not suffer from an inability to relate matters spiritual and material. He did not, as is the case with some Christian leaders, talk apologetically about money and the meeting of basic creature needs as though these were necessary evils. On the contrary, he found it most appropriate to urge the Corinthians to give to the poor by reminding them that Christ was rich in glory but became poor for our sake ( II Cor. 8:1–9 ). Notice the mixing of material and spiritual categories of rich and poor. He does the same here in verse 19 : God will meet your needs “according to his riches in glory.” Or again, Paul told the Christians in Rome that he hoped his trip to Jerusalem with money for the poor, given by the gentile Christians to Jewish Christians, would bring healing to divisions in the body of Christ ( Rom. 15:25–31 ). Money was not only money. Certainly Paul would never say, “We now interrupt our worship to take the collection.” Rather the giving and receiving from Philippi prompted Paul to move the whole transaction to the altar. The gifts were “a fragrant offering ( Lev. 1:9 ), a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Upon reflection, however, readers of Paul realize that not only gifts move him to praise and doxology but every act, every service; in fact, the entire mission of the church and the life of each believer is finally to be understood liturgically. All reconstructions of Pauline theology that omit his prayers, eulogies, benedictions, and doxologies are incomplete and misrepresent the apostle whose talk to God was integral to his talk about God.

Finally, if less profound certainly no less beautiful, is the metaphor drawn from nature with which Paul opens his response to the gift from Philippi. In verse 10, “you have revived your concern for me” translates an image of spring and the appearance of new growth with blossoms. Paul speaks of the blossoming again of their concern for him. Apparently their partnership with Paul in giving and receiving had experienced a long winter which, Paul hastens to add, was not their fault; it simply was not the proper season. Now it is spring again, their concern has blossomed, and Paul is filled with joy.


Reading About the Letter of Paul to the Church at Philippi

1. Further reading on introductory matters (authorship, date, literary form)

DUNCAN, G. S. “Letter to the Philippians,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible , Vol. 3, pp. 787–91. Brief discussions of the major issues of date, place, purpose, and message.

KOESTER, HELMUT . “Letter to the Philippians,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible , Supplement, pp. 665–66. Most of the article is devoted to the argument for the composite nature of Philippians.

Most of the commentaries listed below discuss the historical and literary questions, especially Beare, Michael, Martin.

2. Further reading on the Christ hymn in Philippians 2:5–11 In addition to the appropriate sections of commentaries:

MARTIN, R. P. An Early Christian Confession (London: Tyndale Press, 1960). A published lecture on the form, authorship, and theology of the hymn.

SANDERS, JACK T. The New Testament Christological Hymns (Cambridge: The University Press, 1971). Discusses the major scholarly opinions on form, sources, and meaning of this as well as other hymns in the New Testament.

TALBERT, CHARLES H. , “The Problem of Pre-existence in Phil. 2:6–11.” Journal of Biblical Literature 86 (1967), pp. 141–53. Talbert takes the minority view that the hymn does not deal with pre-existence.

3. Further reading on the meaning of the text

LIGHTFOOT, J. B. Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (London: The Macmillan Company, 1913 [reprinted: Zondervan, 1953]). This classic is old, has gone through many editions, and remains valuable for word studies in the Greek text.

MARTIN, R. P. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1959). Introduction and commentary along traditional lines, but open, honest, and clear.

MICHAEL, J. H. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (New York: Harper and Row, 1927). Solid exegesis combined with interesting theories on historical and literary issues.

4. Further reading on Paul’s thought as context for Philippians

KECK, LEANDER E. Paul and His Letters (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979). Carefully combs through Paul’s letters to offer the reader Paul the man, Paul the theologian, and Paul the preacher.

SCROGGS, ROBIN. Paul for a New Day (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977). Challenges the reader to appropriate in the present Paul’s understanding of Christian existence.

5. Literature cited

BARTH, KARL . The Epistle to the Philippians . Translated by J. W. Leitch (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1962).

BEARE, F. W. The Epistle to the Philippians (New York: Harper and Bros., 1959).

DEISSMANN, ADOLF . Paul . Translated by W. E. Wilson (New York: Harper and Bros., 1927).

DOTY, WILLIAM G. Letters in Primitive Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973).

FUNK, ROBERT W. Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God (New York: Harper and Row, 1966).

——. “The Apostolic Parousia,” in W. R. Farmer, C.F.D. Moule, R. R. Niebuhr, eds., Christian History and Interpretation (Cambridge: The University Press, 1967), pp. 248–68.

LOHMEYER, ERNST . Der Brief an die Philipper (Meyer Series, 1956 11 ).

PALMER, D. W. “To Die Is Gain,” Novum Testamentum 17 (1975), pp. 203–08.

PLUMMER, ALFRED . A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (London: Robert Scott, 1919).

POLYCARP , “Epistle to the Philippians,” The Apostolic Fathers , Vol. I. Translated by K. Lake. Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952).

SCHMITHALS, WALTER . Paul and the Gnostics . Translated by John Steely (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972).

WHITE, JOHN . “Introductory Formulae in the Body of the Pauline Letter,” Journal of Biblical Literature 90 (1971), pp. 91–97.


  ALWAYS WANTING MOREAre you content in any circumstances you face? Paul knew how to be content whether he had plenty or whether he was in need. The secret meant drawing on Christ’s power for strength. Do you have great needs? Are you discontented because you don’t have what you want? Learn to rely on God’s promises and Christ’s power to help you be content. If you always want more, ask God to remove that desire and teach you contentment in every circumstance. He will supply all your needs, but in a way that he knows is best for you.

The Greek words for learned the secret are used only here in the New Testament. It was an expression used in the pagan mystery cults to describe initiations of new members. Initiations were rarely easy, and Paul used the word to describe his initiation by his experiences into living a victorious Christian life. Paul’s initiation was filled with joys as well as difficulties, being well-fed and … going hungry —having plenty sometimes and being needy at other times (see discussion on 1:1 ). (For a more complete testimony of Paul’s life as an apostle of Jesus Christ, read 2 Corinthians 11:21–33 .)

  ALWAYS WANTING MOREAre you content in any circumstances you face? Paul knew how to be content whether he had plenty or whether he was in need. The secret meant drawing on Christ’s power for strength. Do you have great needs? Are you discontented because you don’t have what you want? Learn to rely on God’s promises and Christ’s power to help you be content. If you always want more, ask God to remove that desire and teach you contentment in every circumstance. He will supply all your needs, but in a way that he knows is best for you.

4:13      I can do all things through him who strengthens me. NRSV Paul’s contentment was not gained through stoic self-discipline. Instead, it was through Christ alone, literally “the one empowering me” (see 1 Timothy 1:12 ). In the most reliable manuscripts, Christ’s name is not in this verse, but he was surely who Paul had in mind. Paul had already given up all his accomplishments and credentials as he followed Christ ( 3:7–8 ); he also realized that he could not live the Christian life on his own. Paul, like every believer, had to depend on Jesus Christ. In context, the all things refers to the list in 4:11–12 . In every possible circumstance, Paul could truly be content because he did not let outward circumstances determine his attitude. Christ was giving him the strength to continue with his ministry and the work of spreading the gospel whether he had plenty or was in need. Paul had complete confidence that, no matter what the circumstance, Christ would give him the strength to meet it. Thanks to his enabler, Paul had a “can do” attitude.

This verse can be divided into two halves. The first half is, “I can do all things” (“everything”). To stop there and pull the words out of context would imply the idea of self-reliance, cocky self-assuredness. That’s the kind of message we often hear from motivational speakers: “You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.” But that’s not what the verse says. The last half reveals the source of our strength: Christ. God wants us to accomplish much for him in this world, but only through Christ. Instead of trusting our own strength and abilities, we must rely on Christ and his power.

Paul’s confident words can be spoken by every Christian. The power we receive in union with Christ is sufficient to do his will and to face the challenges that arise from our commitment to doing it. God does not grant us superhuman ability nor every resource to accomplish anything we can imagine without regard to his interests. As we contend for the faith, we will face troubles, pressures, and trials. But we do not need to worry about being given more than we can handle; Christ will supply resources sufficient to complete what he asks us to do.

This word “I have learned the Secret” was used by the pagan religions with reference to their “inner secrets.” Through trial and testing, Paul was “initiated” into the wonderful secret of contentment in spite of poverty or prosperity. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” ( Phil. 4:13 ). It was the power of Christ within him that gave him spiritual contentment. [3]

All of nature depends on hidden resources. The great trees send their roots down into the earth to draw up water and minerals. Rivers have their sources in the snow-capped mountains. The most important part of a tree is the part you cannot see, the root system, and the most important part of the Christian’s life is the part that only God sees. Unless we draw on the deep resources of God by faith, we fail against the pressures of life. Paul depended on the power of Christ at work in his life (see Phil. 1:6 , 21 ; 2:12–13 ; 3:10 ). “I can—through Christ!” was Paul’s motto, and it can be our motto too.

“I am ready for anything through the strength of the One who lives within me,” is the way J.B. Phillips translates Philippians 4:13 . The Living Bible puts it this way: “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.” No matter which translation you prefer, they all say the same thing: the Christian has all the power within that he needs to be adequate for the demands of life. We need only release this power by faith.

Every Christian ought to read Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, because it illustrates this principle of inner power in the life of a great missionary to China. For many years, Hudson Taylor worked hard and felt that he was trusting Christ to meet his needs, but somehow he had no joy or liberty in his ministry. Then a letter from a friend opened his eyes to the adequacy of Christ. “It is not by trusting my own faithfulness, but by looking away to the Faithful One!” he said. This was a turning point in his life. Moment by moment, he drew on the power of Christ for every responsibility of the day, and Christ’s power carried him through.

Jesus teaches this same lesson in the sermon on the vine and branches in John 15 . He is the Vine; we are the branches. A branch is good only for bearing fruit; otherwise you may as well burn it. The branch does not bear fruit through its own self-effort, but by drawing on the life of the Vine. “Without Me, ye can do nothing” ( John 15:5 ). As the believer maintains his communion with Christ, the power of God is there to see him through. “I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency” ( Phil. 4:13 , amp ).

The overruling providence of God and the unfailing power of God are two spiritual resources on which we can draw that we might be adequate for the tasks of life. But there is a third resource.

The Unchanging Promise of God ( Phil. 4:14–20 )

Paul thanks the church at Philippi for their generous gift. He compares their giving to three very familiar things.

A budding tree (v. 10 ). The word “flourished” carries the idea of a flower or tree budding or blossoming. Often we go through “winter seasons” spiritually, but then the spring arrives and there is new life and blessing. The tree itself is not picked up and moved; the circumstances are not changed. The difference is the new life within.

An investment (vv. 14–17 ). Paul looked on their missionary gift as an investment that would pay them rich spiritual dividends. The word “communicate” is our familiar word “fellowship.” The church entered into an arrangement of “giving and receiving”; the church gave materially to Paul, and received spiritually from the Lord. The Lord keeps the books and will never fail to pay one spiritual dividend! That church is poor that fails to share materially with others.

A sacrifice (v. 18 ). Paul looked on their gift as a spiritual sacrifice, laid on the altar to the glory of God. There are such things as “spiritual sacrifices” in the Christian life (see 1 Peter 2:5 ). We are to yield our bodies as spiritual sacrifices ( Rom. 12:1–2 ), as well as the praise of our lips ( Heb. 13:15 ). Good works are a sacrifice to the Lord ( Heb. 13:16 ), and so are the lost souls that we are privileged to win to Christ ( Rom. 15:16 ). Here, Paul sees the Philippian believers as priests, giving their offering as a sacrifice to the Lord. In the light of Malachi 1:6–14 , we need to present the very finest that we have to the Lord.

But Paul does not see this gift as simply coming from Philippi. He sees it as the supply of his need from heaven. Paul’s trust was in the Lord. There is an interesting contrast between Philippians 4:18 and 19 . We might state it this way if we were to paraphrase Paul: “You met my need, and God is going to meet your need. You met one need that I have, but my God will meet all of your needs. You gave out of your poverty, but God will supply your needs out of His riches in glory!”

God has not promised to supply all our “greeds.” When the child of God is in the will of God, serving for the glory of God, then he will have every need met. Hudson Taylor often said, “When God’s work is done in God’s way for God’s glory, it will not lack for God’s supply.”

A young pastor came to a church that had been accustomed to raising its annual budget by means of suppers, bazaars, and the like. He told his officers he could not agree with their program. “Let’s pray and ask God to meet every need,” he suggested. “At the end of the month, pay all the bills and leave my salary till the last. If there isn’t enough money for my salary, then I’m the one who suffers, and not the church. But I don’t think anybody is going to suffer!” The officers were sure that both the pastor and the church would die, but such was not the case. Each month every bill was paid, and at the end of the year there was a surplus in the treasury for the first time in many years.

Contentment comes from adequate resources. Our resources are the providence of God, the power of God, and the promises of God. These resources made Paul sufficient for every demand of life, and they can make us sufficient too.

11–13 Their gifts had been a joy and encouragement to him, but he was not relying on them, nor, by writing like this, was he soliciting further gifts. He could honestly say that he had learnt the secret of contentment with outward circumstances, whether he had little or much. He knew that his Lord would not fail to give him what was necessary and to strengthen him to face every situation. In writing these things Paul uses two words that had significant religious and philosophical use in those days. The word translated content ( Gk. autarkēs ) means ‘self-sufficient’. It was regarded by the Stoics as high virtue to be detached from outward circumstances and to have resources in oneself to meet every situation. Paul uses the word in the sense of his being independent of circumstances, but his all-sufficient resources were, he said, through him who gives me strength , the living Lord Jesus. The other word, translated I have learned the secret , was used in the mystery cults for initiation into a secret. Paul’s secret of living was an open secret, available for all who would walk the way of Christ. It was the secret of contentment, since to know Christ and to be called to serve him was ‘unsearchable riches’ ( Eph. 3:8 ). How far we know the secret of contentment and to what degree we are proving the sufficiency of Christ for all the demands of our lives are always challenging questions for us as Christians.


Clara Tear Williams, 1858–1937

For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. ( Psalm 107:9 )

The lie of the secularist is the notion that contentment in life is dependent upon material possessions. The going expression is “if I only had just a little more.” One of the important lessons that we should learn early in life is this: “If I am not satisfied with what I have, I will never be satisfied with what I want.” But contentment is an attitude that must be learned and developed. It is foreign to our human behavior. The apostle Paul was shut up in Nero’s dungeon in Rome when he penned these words: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation … ” ( Philippians 4:12 ). Paul’s contentment was a personal relationship with his Lord. Money can buy many wonderful things, but it never provides this kind of permanent satisfaction. Only an intimate daily relationship with our Creator can truly satisfy the human heart.



Now that you have completed your study of this exciting and practical letter, don’t lose what you have learned! The best thing about Bible study isn’t the learning but the living. So, here are a few suggestions for keeping the joy in your life.

1. Surrender your mind to the Lord at the beginning of each day. This is a part of dedication: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.... And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” ( Rom. 12:1–2 ). Give God your body, mind, and will—by faith—as you start each day.

2. Let the Holy Spirit renew your mind through the Word. Daily systematic reading of the Bible is a must if you are going to have victory and joy.

3. As you pray, ask God to give you that day a single mind, a submissive mind, a spiritual mind, a secure mind. As you contemplate the day’s schedule, be sure that nothing you have planned robs you of the joy God wants you to have. Perhaps you must meet a person you don’t especially like. Ask God to give you the submissive mind that you will need. Or, maybe you must go through a difficult experience. Then be sure you have the single mind, concerned with Christ and the Gospel, and not only with your own personal likes and dislikes.

4. During the day, “mind your mind!” If you find yourself losing your inner peace and joy, stop and take inventory. Do I have the single mind? Did I just miss an opportunity to glorify Christ? Or was I a bit pushy, so that I lost the submissive mind? If you discover you have sinned, then immediately confess it to the Lord ( 1 John 1:9 ). If possible, go back and remedy your mistake. If this cannot be done, ask God to give you another opportunity for witness.

5. Guard the gates of your mind. Remember Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4:8 : “Whatsoever things are true... honest... just... pure... lovely... of good report... think on these things.” When an unkind or impure thought enters your mind, deal with it instantly. If you cultivate it, it will take root and grow—and rob you of your joy. Sometimes Satan will throw his “fiery darts” at you, and sometimes he will use other people to do it for him. One of the best ways to defeat the wrong kinds of thoughts is to fill your mind with Scripture; so take time to memorize the Word of God.

6. Remember that your joy is not meant to be a selfish thing; it is God’s way of glorifying Christ and helping others through you. Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last; and the result is JOY.

  WHAT DOES HE WANT?Does this verse promise that Christians can do anything they want? No. What God promises is that we can do everything he wants us to do. At times we may wonder if God is expecting too much. How can we possibly heal that relationship, break that sinful habit, tell that neighbor about Christ, or give our tithes to the church? But God promises to give us the strength to do what he asks. What does God want you to do? Step out in faith and do it, trusting him for the strength.


* *      Clear cross reference

✓ ✓      Critical, significant cross reference

+ +      More references at verse indicated

= =      Type or antitype

[1]Smith, J. H. (1992; Published in electronic form, 1996). The new treasury of scripture knowledge : The most complete listing of cross references available anywhere- every verse, every theme, every important word (electronic edition of the Rev. ed. of: The Treasury of scripture knowledge.) (Php 4:13). Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson.

a a. F G use the genitive definite article του̂ for τότου̂ ὑπὲρ ἐμου̂ φρονει̂ν for τὸ ὑπὲρ ἐμου̂ φρονει̂ν .

b b. א 2 D 2 and the majority text add Χριστῳ̂ (“Christ”) to make clear who it is who strengthens Paul. If “Christ” had been part of the original text there would have been no reason to omit it except by accident.

c c.  P 46 D* and a few other witnesses omit δέ (“but,” “and”), perhaps seeing it as superfluous along with καί (“and,” “indeed”).

d d. א B F G Ψ and the majority of witnesses read εἰς τὴν χρείαν μοι (“to me for my need”),  P 46 A 81 read τὴν χρείαν μοι (“what I needed”) omitting the preposition εἰς by accident after δίς ( ΔΙΣΕΙΣ ), or on purpose so as to provide a direct object for the verb. D has τὴν χρείαν μου (“my need”) and D 2 L P have εἰς τὴν χρείαν μου (“for my need”), both replacing the less usual, but better attested μοι with the genitive μου .

e e.  P 46 adds δέ (“but”) after the verb πεπλήρωμαι (“I am fully supplied”).

f f.  P 46 א A B D 2 and the majority text read πληρώσει future indicative (“will take care of”), whereas D* F G 6 33 81 104 326 365 and other witnesses read πληρώσαι , aorist optative (“may [God] take care of”). Although less well attested than πληρώσει , there are nevertheless good witnesses in support of πληρώσαι , a reading which better reflects the apostle’s own reverent attitude. He does not say categorically what God will do for his friends, but he prayerfully asks God to come to their aid (see  comments ).

cf. confer, compare

JBL Journal of Biblical Literature

cf. confer, compare

NT New Testament

BGD W. Bauer, F. W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT

gnb Good News Bible = Today’s English Version

jb A. Jones (ed.), Jerusalem Bible

niv The New International Version (1978)

rsv Revised Standard Version (NT 1946, OT 1952, Apoc 1957)

neb The New English Bible

BZ Biblische Zeitschrift

LXX The Septuagint, Greek translation of the OT

BDF F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and R. W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament (University of Chicago/University of Cambridge, 1961)

lit. literally

kjv King James Version (1611) = AV

Tim. Plato, Timaeus

NovT Novum Testamentum

TDNT G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds., tr. G. W. Bromiley Theological Dictionary of the New Testament , 10 vols., ET (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–76)

AsSeign Assemblées du Seigneur

asv American Standard Version, American Revised Version (1901)

nasb New American Standard Bible

i.e. id est , that is

[2]Craddock, F. B. (1985). Philippians. Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching (Php 4:8-20). Atlanta, Ga.: J. Knox Press.

NRSV Scripture quotations marked NRSV are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Php 4:11). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

Gk. Greek

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