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When Bonita’s dad, Ernie, was alive, he used to take us out on his boat: he called it Opa’s Toy. He was amazing at sharing his stuff. Sometimes it would be using it with friends for a ride. Other times he would gather a gaggle of fishermen from the park and they’d go for a day casting their lines into the water hoping to bring home something for supper. And oftentimes he would take his kids, and later his grandkids, for a ride and maybe some waterskiing or tubing.

Bonita is more the water sports person. I am quite content to sit by the pool with a book and a highlighter but I would also join her on the boat. I learned to ski and tube on Opa’s Toy.  If the water happened to be rough, that particular day, it would take all your might to hang on. And if Ernie thought you had been on for too long, he would make sure that he dumped you. I remember being on one time and holding on for dear life and quoting ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ and that particular time I lasted longer than I ever had. I was pretty proud of my tubing glory that day and told Ernie about the verse that pulled me through. He tried to tell me, very gently, that he didn’t think that that’s what the verse meant and I got downright mad and kept thinking ‘but that’s what the Bible says.’

It is what the Bible says but there are a few principles that prevent us from taking wrong turns in our understanding of the Word. One of them is this: context is key.

I once heard John MacArthur speak at a conference in Chicago. And I don’t remember his text but I remember he took about twenty minutes to set up his passage from 1 Corinthians. It was a beauty to behold. He talked about the theme of the book, he hit on almost every chapter of the book, he honed in on the very chapter he was speaking from, and then and only then, did he explain the few verses that were his text for that night. He reminded us, that context is key, without saying a word.

So let’s look at context of the ‘I can do all things’ passage:

[10] I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. [11] Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. [12] I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. [13] I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  (Philippians 4:10-13)

We can quickly spin through this text. :10 says that they had a great concern for the Apostle. :11 says that Paul had learned to be content. :12 zeros in on that in extreme circumstances, for good or for bad, that he had learned how to survive…in fact not just survive but to be content…in whatever circumstance. Wow!

The secret of living when difficulties hit, when the cupboard is stocked or when the cupboard is bare, is to trust in the God who will give us strength. This isn’t a magic wand that says God will bless whatever we do…but the overall thrust of the letter is on obeying God and serving Him and others. Paul was strengthened by the One who he had his identity in.

So you may have a job that is mundane and every Monday morning when you go in you feel like you’d rather gouge your eyes out with a wooden spoon…remember that being content comes from your identity in Christ. Maybe you’ve been out of work for a while or maybe you have a really hard relationship…like a really, really hard one. Maybe, your bank account is nearing zero and you’ve started digging into your meagre savings. Maybe you are hated on your street or in your family or in your workplace because Jesus is your treasure. Maybe you thought you had some close friends but when the heat got cranked you were left alone in the kitchen by yourself!

We can let the world shape us into it’s mold by thinking that the newest gizmo will give us contentment…or that being liked will make us satisfied…or that a six figure income will drive the blues away…that a holiday in the sun will give you what you’re looking for…those things aren’t bad in and of themselves…but the shine will wear off. As you get to experience the knick knacks of this life, you come to realize that the dazzle will dull.

That is so not true with Jesus. The longer you walk with Him…the farther you dive in with Him…the more you trust Him….you come to see a little more clearly how spectacular, how dazzling, how magnificent He really is. And when we see Him for who He and see ourselves better for who we are, in Him, we can be content…in all circumstances.

 

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