"I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been 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 everything through him who gives me strength." Phil. 4:10-13
It's amazing how many times you can read a biblical text and miss really key truth; or, perhaps God is simply keeping a savory element of the text for you at a later date when it may have greater meaning.
I had such an experience with the text quoted above while sitting in the St. Croix Vineyard in St. Stephens, New Brunswick. I have certainly heard verse 13 as a text for many sermons as well as quoted by many believers, often when they were faced with a task or assignment that was beyond their ability or intellect to accomplish. It means... I can't do this myself, but I can do it through your help. That is true enough in itself, but it is the context of this verse that I had somehow missed. The context is in regards to the search for contentment.
The preceding verses contain Paul's own testimony regarding his arriving at a place of contentment in his life no matter what the circumstances. He lists some of those circumstances: to be in need and to have plenty, well fed or hungry, want or plenty. He says he has learned to be content in "any and every situation". We could look elsewhere in his writings and discover more about his actual "any and every situation". From 1 Cor. 11 we could add to the list: thirsty, cold, not enough clothing to keep warm, beaten, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, etc... The list goes on and on. It is these any and every situations that he has in mind.
We might also want to remember that he is writing these words to the Philippians from a Roman jail. Philippians is part of his prison epistles, those written while he was incarcerated awaiting trial before the Roman judicial system.
How did Paul come to this posture of contentment? He did it through Christ who strengthened him. "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." I fear this passage has been used, or mis-used, in many ways. It has been a popular passage in the so called "faith" movement that was popularized in the past century. However, I don't believe they used it to find contentment in their lack, but rather seeking to find the plenty.
"I can do all things through Christ who strenghtens me." Wonderful. Does that include finding contentment in our present situation? If not, perhaps we need to reevaluate our use of this text.