COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“13I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.14Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.” (Philippians 4:13-14)
There is a certain manner to the Kingdom of God. Divine life, when possessed by an individual, exhibits itself in consistent and God-glorifying ways. As we might expect, these ways are not the ways of the world. Those possessing the spirit of this world are self-centered, with little or no concern for the affairs of others. But this is not the manner of the Kingdom. Those possessing the Divine nature conduct themselves in harmony with the Lord. Just as salvation itself is a display of Divine concern for humanity, so those who receive that salvation also display a concern for others. Our text is a classic example of that type of interest. Because it is evidence of the life of God, those exhibiting it are commended as doing “a good thing.” Such concern is not to be taken for granted, as those in distress know very well. There is a tenderness in this text that will, when perceived, awaken good thoughts and intentions in the hearts of the elect.
I CAN DO ALL THINGS
“I can do all things . . . ” KJV. Here is an expression that reveals the greatness of salvation. It unveils to our hearts the extent of our involvement with the Living God through Jesus Christ. It speaks of the effectiveness of our fellowship with Christ, and its impact upon us in the extremities of human experience. Here is where the practicality of justification is brought into a sharp focus. This is where real application becomes apparent to us.
The “I” to which Paul refers is not the totality of his being, but his “new man,” or spiritual self. It is the supervising “I” to which he refers in the seventh chapter of Romans. “I allow not . . . I hate . . . I would not . . . it is no more I. . . I know . . . I would . . . it is no more I . . . I find a law . . . I would do good . . . I delight in the law of God I see another law in my members . . . I thank God . . . I myself serve the law of God.” There is another “I”mentioned in this passage that is to be rejected. “What I hate, that do not I . . . the good that I would, I do not . . . ” (Rom 7:15-25) It represents the old man or nature, and is separate from the new creature.
This is a critical distinction that must be seen. The ability to which he refers is not that of controlling the circumstances. His personal condition and the former condition of Ephroditus confirm that. He is speaking of his ability to adapt to circumstances, not manage them. He has already mentioned four of the “all things” to which he refers: abasement, abounding, being full, and being hungry (v 12). Each of these circumstances is capable of overthrowing the faith and hope of a person. Yet, Paul mastered them. He did “all things.”
But let us look more deeply into this expression. What does Paul mean by“DO”? Actually, he is speaking of indirect activity. He means is can cling to and trust the Lord under favorable and unfavorable conditions. His peace and hope are not interrupted by the changing episodes of life. He could continue function as an Apostle in prison or in the synagogue, on a barbaric island, or in the city of Athens. He could continue running the race in the storms of life, and fighting the good fight of faith when it seemed he was down. He could do“all things.” He knew his role in the work of the Lord would not come to a grinding halt because of personal difficulty, or sudden prosperity.
Paul could labor with a thorn (2 Cor 2:12) and preach to the Galatians when he was infirm (Gal 4:13), experiencing Divine strength in personal weakness (2 Cor 12:10). Living by faith (Gal 2:20), there was no hardship of life that could thrust him out of the race. He could do “all things!”
This remarkable ability is not restricted to Apostles and Prophets. It is a characteristic of the “common salvation” enjoyed by all who are in Christ Jesus. When it comes to even the weakest and most spiritually unlearned believer, “God is able to make him stand” (Rom 14:4). Jesus once said,“without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). There are times when circumstances push us beyond natural ability. These are occasions when the world’s wisdom withers and dies, and human strength dries up. It is then that faith takes hold of the promise, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). Survival becomes possible! Drawing near to God becomes possible! Continuing faithful and persevering become possible. It is true for you, as it was with Paul, “I can do all things.”
THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME
“ . . . through Christ Who strengthens me” NKJV. Because of his faith and spiritual understanding, Paul is careful to leave a proper impression of the case. His ability to “do all things” was not owing to personal discipline, or a secret method of survival learned from men. While discipline is unquestionably involved in the life of faith, it is more a result than it is a cause. Now the Spirit enables Paul to state a profound truth in a few words.
First, there is a transmittal of strength from Christ to the person. That in itself is remarkable. We already know there is nothing that can exhaust the power of God. As it is written, “For nothing is impossible with God” NIV(Lk 1:37). There is nothing “too hard” for Him (Gen 18:14; Jer 32:17). However, perceiving that this omnipotence can be brought to bear upon the individual believer is quite another thing. Faith can clarify this to our hearts, showing us that Christ Himself will cause us to be equal to any occasion.
Notice, he does not say “it is Christ who strengthens the church . . . or us . . . or the leaders,” but “ME.” One of the many things that distinguishes the salvation of God is its personal application. Few men can benefit from institutional objectives. That is because they are impersonal. Yet, in redemption, the individual members of the body are made strong in the salvation that is common to all. Do not take this benefit for granted!
The extent of this strength is most challenging. Elsewhere it is stated this way: “Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Col 1:11). We are even challenged to appropriate this “all might” in order to stand against Satan’s wiles. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Eph 6:10). Thus, when our souls are agitated by the disruptions of this world and the attacks of the wicked one, we can rely upon the Invincible One. The devil NEVER overcame Him! Jesus was triumphant in His youth. He overcame the devil in the wilderness after He has been reduced to hunger. He conquered the adversary in the synagogue, Gethsemane, and finally in death itself. He did, indeed, “destroy him who had the power of death” (Heb 2:14), and “spoiled principalities and powers” (Col 2:15).
Conscious of our weakness, we place our reliance upon Christ. Just as surely as He was able to do “all things,” so He makes His brethren competent to “do all things.” Whether it is facing a giant, a furnace of fire, or a lion’s den, He will enable them to “do all things.” If it is something that must, in God’s assessment, be done, He will empower the believer to do it. If it is a stoning, imprisonment, shipwreck, or a beating, it will not disqualify them from the prize! Christ will “strengthen” them for the occasion. If it is isolation in a prison, speaking to a king, or contending with Grecian philosophers, He will strengthen them to “do all things.”
There are some burdens that must be borne alone, while others may be shared. In both cases, Christ “strengthens” believers to “do all things.” There is a personal aspect to salvation that is most precious. Christ not only “loved ME and gave Himself for ME” (Gal 2:20), He also “strengthens ME.” God be praised for such a “so great a salvation” (Heb 2:3).
YOU HELPED ME ANYWAY
“ Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress.” (NKJV)There is a profound truth to be seen here–a further unveiling of the nature of the Kingdom. It was said of Samuel, he “told the people the manner of the kingdom” (1 Sam 10:25). Paul is doing that in this text. He is showing us the nature of life in Christ Jesus–something common to all believers in all times.
The gifts brought to Paul by Epaphroditus were not requested because of Paul’s “need.” He has already said, “Not that I speak in regard to need” (v 11). Even though his circumstances were something less than desirable, yet he was “content” in them, having learned HOW to be “abased” and suffer“hunger.” Now we see the tenderness of the Apostle. Faith does cause the heart to be sensitive to Christ’s brethren. Paul does not want his own sufficiency in all things to diminish the greatness of the gifts sent to him.
The sustaining power of Christ did not mean the Philippians could close their eyes to Paul’s condition, viewing him as he viewed himself. Faith does not move us to thus reason, Our brother is equal to the occasion, so we will focus our attention on others who are not so blessed. When the woman anointed Jesus’ head and feet, it was not because He required such an anointing (Lk 7:37-48). Yet, what she did was “a good work” (Matt 26:10). So it was with the Philippians. They had “done well” in getting under the burden with Paul, communicating with his affliction.
The phrase “communicate with my afflictions” is a weighty one, again describing the manner of the kingdom. As used here, the word“communicate” means to “take part in,” share, or fellowship in. It is used three other times in Scripture, in each instance carrying this meaning. “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things . . . That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate . . . But to do good and to communicateforget not” (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 6:18; Heb 13:16). Other versions use the word“share.” In a sense, “communicate” is an archaic word, although it still is used in the sense of our text. In modern usage, it still means “to cause to pass from one to another,” as in a disease that is easily communicated.
Communicating, in the sense of our text, is taking what has been given to us, and giving it to another. It is actually another view of stewardship. Even though the Philippians were themselves enduring trial, yet they took what God had placed in their hands, and gave it to God’s servant. In so doing, they “did well.” Note, they did not do this in a time when all was going unusually well for the Apostle, but in his “affliction,” or distress. Those who only support flourishing and seemingly successful ministries and people, do not come up to the measure of the Philippians!
Sharing successes is certainly good, but sharing burdens is better. It is more a test of ones faith than the former. It brings more glory to God also. If it is true that trials are designed to perfect our faith (1 Pet 1:7), then those who support the believers in trial are supporting their faith also, causing thanksgiving in them, and showing themselves to be kindred spirits. I myself have tasted of this grace, and know the effect it has upon the soul. God be praised for those with Philippian-like faith, who share in the time of distress.