Passage #13 brings us to the next Seeds Family Worship album: “The Power of Encouragement.” The song for Philippians 4:12-13 is called “The Secret” and is track #1, and it’s a good one. The new NIV version is slightly different from the 1984 version used in the song, and the ESV is quite different. I’m posting the new NIV here simply because I prefer it.
12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
This passage looks like my life! And I’m sure many other followers of Christ would say the same. I don’t mean that I’m perfect at this, just that I have seen God’s sustaining hand work in my life to bring contentment in a variety of situations. Think about it: have you ever been in need? This could apply to financial need, but also need of strength, joy, encouragement or in need of help in some other way. Have you ever had plenty? Maybe you’re not swimming in money (a la Scrooge McDuck), but if you’ve ever known where your next meal is coming from and were able to pay all your bills, you’ve had plenty. If you’ve owned a vehicle or a home, gone out to eat or to a sporting event, been on vacation, etc. you’ve definitely had plenty!
So we’ve all been in need and in plenty- that’s probably obvious, and can apply to most people. What is to be different for the follower of Christ is that we can be content “in any and every situation.” Grammatically and structurally, verse 12 sets up that there is a secret to contentment, and verse 13 shares what that secret is: strength from Christ.
The word “secret” kind of throws me for a loop, as do other passages in the Bible that make reference to a secret or mystery. The best I can come up with after a quick peek at some commentary (which means, yes, I am over my head and pay grade here! Read with a side of salt!) is that Paul, with help from God’s Spirit, is making special knowledge available to all. The phrase “I have learned the secret” carries a meaning of exclusivity, or of being initiated into the ways of mystery. In Paul’s time there must have been many things that Jewish leaders learned or knew and to some extent held over the heads of regular folks. But that is not how God wants it to be anymore. From what I can tell, Paul uses similar wording to describe salvation- a secret made known to all who believe, and not just special people. When we become reconciled to God through Christ, the Spirit guides us in the wisdom and truth of God- things that would otherwise be secrets or mysteries to us. We can also use these gifts to encourage and instruct one another, and generally build up the Body of Christ.
If contentment is the secret that is accessible to all who believe in Christ, then strength from the Strengthener (God) is the vehicle that gets us there. This is what encourages me so greatly when I read this passage.
I tend to see the negative side of situations very easily, and have experienced times of emotional darkness. But because of God’s presence in my life– and specifically his Spirit in my heart and mind– the emotional darkness is nothing more than a film coating the surface of a body of water. I may feel sad or hopeless, or I may temporarily believe a lie, or I may complain, but underneath that, in the depths of my heart, there is still a strong undercurrent of hope, joy, and peace, and that is the direction I “flow” in. Giving up is never an option– because I claim the one who has overcome the world, I wouldn’t even know how to give up or give in. God’s strength, available to us because of Christ and delivered by his Spirit, sustains us and keeps us going. He is peace, hope, joy, light, and love when we know we can’t produce or access those things on our own. How else could I have slept at night when there was no money in the bank account? How else could I have stayed away from greed when I already had everything I needed and more? How else could I have stepped out in love when I felt like withdrawing because of pain?
This is the secret, written by God in heaven and given freely to be written on the heart of every woman, man, and child who believes: I can do all this because of him who gives me strength.
Do you have any insight on this passage? I’d love to hear about it, or about how you are encouraged by these powerful words of truth.