How many of you have heard someone quote St. Paul: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)?
Everybody knows this verse.
Everybody’s seen it, heard it, and read it.
But to my eyes and ears, it’s applied in only one way. When someone quotes St. Paul—I can do all things through him who strengthens me—what they mean is, “I can overcome whatever challenge is in front of me. I can do it. If I trust God enough.”
Maybe that’s a bit too broad a summary, but that’s how it’s used. And that’s not what St. Paul means.
For St. Paul, “all things” consists of a very specific list of things: He writes, “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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).
That’s not how that verse is commonly used. Commonly, its use is cliché.
A person will invoke Philippians 4:13 to overcome—that most generic of things—adversity.
If you watch any football over the next few days, count how many times “overcoming adversity” is mentioned.
It goes like this—this is what you might hear or see:Jesus healed the leper who believed in Him. We can’t forget that. Jesus says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). We can’t forget Jesus.
St. Paul writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). And I believe in Him. I believe in Jesus.
Therefore, I can overcome whatever “leprosy,” whatever adversity I face. I believe in Jesus and can do all things through Him.
That is—commonly—how Philippians 4:13 is applied.
That may not be every person’s logical progression, but the destination’s the same—whatever “adversity” you face is to be gotten rid of.
American Christianity has reduced St. Paul’s all things into just one thing: the appearance of success.
No one ever talks about “overcoming adversity” such that they mean “remaining faithful and losing.”
“Overcoming adversity,” doing “all things,” as St. Paul writes, is always used to mean “eventually winning,” or, at the very least, “eventually getting my way.”
Face the facts.
Not everyone overcomes adversity.
You don’t always win.
You don’t always get a second chance.
What St. Paul means—what “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” means, is this:
In your life—at your table this Thanksgiving—if there’s an abundance—a 2:1 pie to person ratio, for example—you can live and remain faithful to Christ.
Even with an abundance of pie—or money, stuff, whatever—even then, you can enter the kingdom of God. In Christ, you know how to abound.
Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25).
With great difficulty will a rich man enter heaven; however, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
If your table is full, if every seat is filled, if there’s hardly room to park at your house, don’t let your wealth—your food, your family, your stuff—don’t let that get in the way of your praise and thanks to God.
Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, but we’re not fooled. Many will say that today is about “family.” The next month is about shopping. The next eleven months are about paying off the credit cards. But today—that’s about family.
We’re not fooled.
“This is the day the Lord has made—let us rejoice—and give thanks—and be glad in it” (cf. Psalm 118:24).
All ten lepers were cleansed.
Like the ten virgins, they all looked the part—but only one ex-leper was wise. Only one ex-leper praised God, worshipped Jesus, and gave thanks.
And only that one was saved.
Jesus doesn’t literally say, “Your faith has made you well.” Literally, He says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).
That’s one half of “all [the] things” we can do through God who gives us strength.
That’s plenty and abundance.
But all things includes any and every circumstance.
All things includes being brought low, hunger, and need.
So, in your life—at your table this Thanksgiving—if you lack anything—if a particular chair is empty, perhaps for the first time—if there should be one more car in the driveway that you know won’t be—if this is your first Thanksgiving without—you can live and remain faithful to Christ—thanking Him for all that you do have.
In Christ, you know how to be brought low.
Yea, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, though you lack, though your pastures are far from green, nevertheless, you can enter the kingdom of God.
You can endure all things in patient faith, with love to God and neighbor, waiting for all things to be made new.
Rich or poor.
In plenty or hunger.
With abundance or need.
You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. The kingdom of God is yours.
That’s what the miracles of Jesus give and teach to us.
The cleansing of the ten lepers—the salvation of the one ex-leper—proves that the outward appearance of things is fleeting.
The appearance of success, it passes away.
Though the ten were cleansed, they all still eventually died.
That the one was saved—rich or poor, in plenty or hunger, with an abundance or a great need—the one can do and endure it all faithfully, because he recognized in Jesus the God of his salvation.
Faith in the Lord Jesus—fear, love, and trust in God above all things—the forgiveness of sins—enables you to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.
That’s what St. Paul means in Philippians four.
St. John writes: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:14-17).
We know this.
But in any and every circumstance we need to live it, too.
It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be fun.
But in whatever situation be content (cf. Philippians 4:11).
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think [on] these things” (Philippians 4:8).
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Because “[You] can do all things through him who [gives you strength]” (Philippians 4:13).
You can be brought low. You can abound.
You can face plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
Because you recognize in Jesus, the God of your salvation.
Praise God. Worship Jesus. Give thanks.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Thanksgiving Day Sermon, 2019
Luke 17:11-19; Philippians 4:6-20
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt