"I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me."—Philippians iv. 13.
There was a specially affectionate and close bond between Paul and the Church at Philippi. Possibly the occasion of it was the circumstances of the foundation of that Church, which was the first to be founded in Europe. But be that as it may, the Philippian Christians evidently were very near Paul's heart, and his letter to them is the sunniest and the brightest of all his epistles. The closeness and the affection of their relation made it easy for them to give, and for him to receive, pecuniary help.
These triumphant words are the end of his exquisitely graceful acknowledgments of that gift of money. We see in these two feelings struggling with each other—Paul's wish to let his Philippian friends know how grateful he was, and his wish not to have them suspect that he was sponging on them. So his words oscillate between acknowledgments of their kindness and declarations of his independence. It is interesting and beautiful to see how the two feelings alternate—" I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound : everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." And then, as if he thought that this might sound a trifle too independent, he adds: "Notwithstanding ye have well done that ye did communicate with my affliction."
The words, then, have a special bearing, as an expression of the apostle's ability to accept the extremes of worldly circumstances, but the triumphant consciousness of power that sounds its paean of victory in them should pervade all the Christianlife. It will do so in proportion as that life is genuine and deep.
"I can do all things." That rendering of Paul's words does not exactly represent what he really meant. In one aspect they say more than Paul says, and in another they say less. For he is not only speaking about what he can do, but also of what he can endure. Action is but half—and the lesser half—of life. It is well to be able to say truly, "I can do all things," but it is sometimes harder to do nothing but stand still and endure the pelting of the pitiless storm. Paul has just said that he has learned to be content in every state. His meaning is "self-sufficing" rather than "content," and if we clear that word from its lower signification and understand it as expressing a disposition which is not at the mercy of externals, we apprehend the apostle rightly. It is but the prolongation of the same thought when he says that he can do all things. He sets the example which we should all try to follow. We should be self-sufficing in so far that we are lords of circumstances, not they of us. In some great cathedral the temperature will vary little all the year round. When the midsummer sun is blazing on the open space in front, and when the icicles are hanging from the eaves, the thick walls keep the thermometer within at the same height. The normal temperature of the blood in the healthy body is identical at the pole and the equator. Christians should carry their own atmosphere with them.
"I have strength for everything" may be said in many keys, and express many moods. It may be the language of hopeless self-conceit, or of levity which underestimates the gravity of life. Many a young man has thrown himself into the struggle with a light heart, saying, I can do all things, who lias had to say, before grey hairs have begun to show on his head, I can do nothing. But if we lean on almighty strength, what on other lips sounds arrogant and insane presumption, that is sure to be beaten down, comes to be an utterance fitted for the most self-distrustful and weakest.
Paul's self-sufficingness was based on his assurance that he had a better self than his natural self. Therefore he goes on to lay bare the foundation of it when he says, "through Christ." His " I " might be very weak, and by no means self-sufficing, but he could say, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," and that indwelling Christ makes reasonable the most triumphant confidence. "Through Christ" does not fully express the apostle's mind here, for what he says is "in Christ," and that great expression, so continually recurring in so many connections in his writings, must not be emptied of its deep meaning, as it so often is. One of the weaknesses of modern Christianity is that the fact of the reciprocal indwelling of Christ in the Christian and of the Christian in Christ has so smsJl a place in it. We cannot speak too much, but we may speak and think too exclusively, of Christ for us, and we may, and many do, allow that great truth to obscure its sister truth of Christ in us and we in Him.
As the branch is in the vine, so are we in Christ; as the soul is in the body, so is Christ in us. And it is by union with Jesus, and by dwelling in Him as the atmosphere in which we "live and move and have our being," that this utterance of the apostle may on our lips cease to be the language of presumption, and become humble trust. How is that indwelling to be realised? It is far away from ordinary experience. But there is no reason why it should be so. For, however profound the thought, the way of making it a fact in our lives is as plain as the thought is profound. We are in Him when we trust Him. We are not in Him if our confidence is in self or in creatures. We are not in Him if all the day long our mind is busy with other thoughts, and our heart with other affections. . But we are in Him if we are occupied heart and mind with Him and with His truth. We are in Him if, trusting Him, and having Him present by the direction of mind and heart towards Him as the motive and power of our lives, we serve Him with lowly obedience. And we are not in Him if we assert our own independence and perk ourself up in His face and say, "Not as Thou wilt, but as I will." Trust, meditation, practical obedience—these are the three angels that guide us into the very presence-chamber of the Most High.
The apostle uses a remarkable word which is but partially represented by "strengthened," for it is a compound, and means "strengthened within." Other sources of power act from without; Jesus glides into a heart and, established there, opens His stores and infuses strength. An empty jar plunged into the ocean comes up full. If we immerse ourselves in Jesus He will minister strength. Take an empty vessel into the atmosphere and the air rushes into it, because it is all round the vessel and there is nothing to prevent its entrance. If I am thus dwelling in Christ, then the surrounding atmosphere will pour into my open heart, for Grace abhors a vacuum even more than Nature does. If I am in Christ I shall be strong within. The sap from the trunk percolates to every branchlet and tendril, and brings thither one life and manifold fruitfulness.
The apostle here speaks of present experience. It is not "Christ that used to strengthen," or " that will strengthen "; but the strengthening is going on at the moment of Paul's writing. That impartation of Himself—for that is what this gift comes to—is Christ's continual work all through the ages. How much of Christ is wasted! If He is pouring out His riches thus, and there is so little of them in our hearts, what has become of the rest? It is as "water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up." Of all the wastes in the world there is none so criminal, there is none so sad, as the waste which the average Christian makes of the strength that Christ gives.
If we keep ourselves in union with Him, these great words will become a reality in us. They are countersigned by Christ's own words, and the confidence of the servant when he says, I can do all things, ceases to seem too exuberant when we hear the Master promising, "All things are possible to him that believcth."