According to the popular proverb, “You should never meet your hero.” The idea is that this person has become so idolized in your mind and your imagination that you are bound to be disappointed if you actually get to know them. They are human, after all. They will probably end up ruining your dreams and fantasies. You will never be able to watch their movies, read their books, or buy into their hype ever again.
With the strength of Jesus I can score the game winning touchdown.
With the strength of Jesus I can overcome this disease.
With the strength of Jesus I can repel down this glacier…?
We take the phrase translated “everything” or “all things” a bit too generally. We act as if Paul had been talking about fighting wild beasts, standing up to kings, surviving ship wrecks, driving out demons, all sorts of heroic and manly stuff (which he did, by the way). But that verse is taken HORRIBLY out of context.
Here’s how the NIV 2011 reads: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”
That reading is a bit harder to take out of context and apply to just about anything. “All this” forces you to look back at what “this” really is. Look at the whole thought in context:
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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 all this through him who gives me strength.
What Paul is claiming to be able to do in any and every situation through the strength of Jesus is to be content. I can be CONTENT through Him who gives me strength. Well that certainly changes things. He’s not talking about overcoming anything. He’s not talking about getting out of a jam. He’s not talking about doing heroic things for God. He’s talking about being content.
You see, this broader context does not mesh well with our Western worldview. Not at all. If you want something, go get it. If you need something, you have a right for it to be provided. No one should have to be poor. Everyone should be given an equal chance to become millionaires. Your life is not complete unless you have X, Y, and Z.
But we don’t even hear this sermon preached much in the church. When was the last time you heard a preacher talk about being content with what you have? Okay, but when was the last time you saw the church actually doing that?
You see, I think the true spirit of this passage speaks volumes to our society. We don’t need Scripture to tell us that we can accomplish anything, that we can be and do whatever we set our minds to. The world tells us that already! We need Scripture to tell us that no matter where we find ourselves, God is there to take care of us. We don’t have to have it all together. We don’t have to have the biggest house, the nicest cars, the trendiest clothes. It doesn’t matter what’s in our bank account. It doesn’t matter what’s in our wallets. God will take care of you!
This is what Paul says just after that:
Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
I think it’s time for Christians, myself included, to take a look around and realize that we are amply supplied. If anyone has ever had more than enough, it’s us! But it’s time to stop relying on anyone but God to meet our needs.
Now that’ll preach.