Philippians 4:13 is possibly the most popular verse in the Bible. It’s quoted all the time, especially in professional sports. Check out Evander Holyfield, Tim Tebow & Stephen Curry.
It is a great verse. The problem is, we don’t really understand it. We quote it but we misquote it. This is probably the most misquoted verse in the Bible. We take it out of context and make it mean whatever we want it to mean instead of what Paul actually meant when he wrote it. Here’s the verse in context:
 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.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  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.
Now, we love verse 13. We like to pull it out at test time when we didn’t study because we want some supernatural ability from God to make an A. Or right before the game as we go out to conquer our enemy on the scoreboard. Any time we have some kind of challenge or competition or have to perform, we pull out this verse like some sort of magical spell that gets God’s attention, puts God on our side and gives us his supernatural power to succeed.
Short rabbit trail… A lot of false churches teach what they call the prosperity gospel (aka the health, wealth and prosperity gospel) which teaches that God wants to bless you with good health, a lot of money, and basically He is there to prosper you in all your pursuits. (Problem: none of that happened to Jesus - he never prospered financially and he was hung on a tree. And we follow Jesus… so what is our expectation for life in this world?) End of rabbit trail.
In Philippians 4:13, Paul is not asking God to give him personal success. He’s talking about personal contentment. If you remember, he’s in jail. He has nothing. The Philippian church had stepped up to help him out and provide for his needs. But, he’s telling them, “I was content without stuff and with stuff. I’m content when I’m low and when I abound. When I have plenty to eat or am starving. In any and every situation, I’m content because my contentment isn’t dependent on my circumstances or what I have.” He’s learned this secret, he says. So what’s the secret?
It’s this: Knowing Jesus, having Him, being in a close relationship with Him. Remember in Philippians 3:7-8 he said:
 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
And before he said that, he had listed everything in his life that he thought was personal successes. So, he’s saying everything is nothing without Christ. Without Him, everything is meaningless, but with Him everything has meaning. If you have everything, but you don’t have Jesus, really you have nothing. But if you have nothing but Jesus, you really have everything.
People use Philippians 4:13 as if God is a means to their glory, their fame, their success, their gaining something in this world. Paul says that God isn’t a means to me becoming great, I’m a means to His name being great. I exist for His glory, His fame, His being known as amazing. And a big way that we make Jesus seem amazing is the way we handle bad situations. If we can be content in bad situations because we have Jesus, that will catch people’s eye. That will make them curious. That will make them want what you have. Because deep down, everyone’s soul is crying out for something that will bring them this deep fulfilment that lasts even when you feel devastated.
And that’s what this verse is about.
Being at peace, being content, even being able to rejoice in times of devastation because of what you have in Jesus. Does God grant you success? Sometimes. Not always. Sometimes he puts you through hard times so that you have to press into Him and grow closer to Him like you never have. This verse is about how you handle all situations. It’s about being able to say: I’m content with Jesus alone. I look to Him to know that I’m going to be OK. Everything is OK and it will be OK as long as I have Him, as long as I’m with Jesus - I know Him so well and I know what He’s done for me on the cross and so I’m OK.
Jesus wants to be our everything. So that we’re content in Him when we feel like a success, and when we feel like a failure.
It’s not just the highs. It’s the lows. It’s blessing and devastation. Philippians 4:13 is about being able to say:
• I can handle my parents divorce.
• I can handle the cancer.
• I can handle the death in the family.
• I can handle making 100 on the test. I can handle failing the test.
• I can handle being an all star and sitting the bench.
• I can handle a good performance or bad performance.
• I can handle being bullied or complimented.
• I can handle the abandonment.
• I can handle being popular or lonely.
Have you learned the secret of being content? Are you crushed when you fail, when you’re abandoned, when you lose - or is your identity so wrapped up in who you are in Christ and his death and resurrection for you and His love for you that you’re OK in that moment. Do you have Jesus? And if you do have Him, do you realize what you have in Him? He’ll never leave you or forsake you. He’s with you always. He gives you your worth, your significance, your very identity. He has given you everything you need in Him. He is the secret of contentment through it all.