Bigger, Better, More: Contentment

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Philippians 4:13

I love this scripture, especially how it was translated in the Berean Literal Bible:

“I have strength for all things in the One strengthening me.”

Many decades ago, I saw this verse for the first time while watching a heavyweight boxing match. The contender was considered an underdog against a then vicious boxer named Mike Tyson. His name was Evander Holyfield.

Holyfield strode his massive frame into the ring with a stylish purple robe inscribed “Philippians 4:13.”

I was new to my faith and not exactly a fan of boxing— but I can easily recall how thrilling it was to see the securlar world of boxing put God on display.

In an intriguing morality play that evolved into one of the most dramatic moments in sports history, Holyfield crushed Tyson’s aura of invincibility. His stunning, 11th-round technical knockout allowed Holyfield to join Muhammad Ali as the only fighters to win at least a piece of the heavyweight title three times.

In the weeks leading up to the fight, Tyson was on record making fun of Holyfield for his faith.

“What should I do when I knock him down? Sprinkle him with holy water?” Tyson heckled.

Evander Holyfield refused to engage in the insulting banter and kindly responded with the Biblical verse inscribed on his robe and trunks: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me.”

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most popular verses in any of the 66 books of the Christian Bible, having been printed on millions of bumper stickers and t-shirts, cellphone cases and coffee mugs.

But it also one of the misunderstood, misused, and misinterpreted.

Philippians 4:13 functions as a kind of mystical mantra for many Christians. They recite the passage when they need to draw power from another place to defeat an enemy, conquer a task or accomplish their agenda.

Here is a good example: Joel Osteen, pastor of an evangelical mega-church, provided the following commentary on Philippians 4:13:

Most people tend to magnify their limitations. They focus on their shortcomings. But scripture makes it plain: all things are possible to those who believe. That’s right! It is possible to see your dreams fulfilled. It is possible to overcome that obstacle. It is possible to climb to new heights. It is possible to embrace your destiny. You may not know how it will all take place. You may not have a plan, but all you have to know is that if God said you can…you can!

Joel Osteen

I’m not trying to belittle Joel Osteen or use him as a scapegoat—surely others have done enough of that—but rather, I’m using him as an example of the way many Christians understand and interpret this verse.

For some, the “all things” that Christ empowers them to accomplish includes fulfilling their dreams, overcoming every obstacle and embracing their manifested destinies.

Want that new car? Looking for the ideal mate? Waiting on that promotion? No problem. You can accomplish “all things through Christ.” The emphasis weighing heavily on one key element.


To understand what Paul actually meant, we can’t just isolate this one verse and make it all about us and a little bit about Jesus—we have to read the verse in context.

Philippians is one of the “prison epistles,” which is to say, it was written during one of the many times Paul was in prison.

If you can imagine Paul penning this letter in a dank first-century prison cell, then you might already feel uncomfortable about popular interpretations of Philippians 4:13.

But more than just the setting, we begin to see what Paul meant when we read the passage that comes just before verse 13.

The key to understanding this verse is not the idea that God is somehow obligated to empower our plans by simply attaching the the name of Jesus with our desires. That’s twisting the verse grotesquely.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

The key to Philippians 4:13 can be summorized with this word:


One dictionary defines contentment as “the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.”


Today it is rare that we find anyone who is truly satisfied with things as they are— myself included.

We live in a culture that begs for us to have bigger, better, and more.

Bigger cars, bigger bank accounts and bigger houses.

Better things—better clothing, better cars and better vacations.

More stuff, even more people, including more than just one husband or wife, sometimes at the same time.

Paul is not teaching us through this verse that we can do anything we set our heart and mind to just because we say so.

We can’t will things into existence.

We don’t have the power to manifest our destiny.

No, Paul was saying quite simply that he had learned to be content no matter what happens. In this case, he was in prison, and he was content. Wrap your mind around that, would you?

Paul was satisfied with what he had even when it was little.

He was satisfied with who he was, even though he had a past.

He was content with where he was in life, even in a dark, dingy prison.

It wasn’t bigger, better, more of the world that satisfied Paul in prison.

It was bigger, better, and more of Jesus. And to have Jesus was to know contentment.

Here’s the secret to contentment: “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.” Philippians 4:12-13

When we read this passage with a new and accurate Biblical lense, the Word comes alive.

My own personal testimony is that my life was full of disappointments. Many of them were a result of my own doing because I was never content. My relationships weren’t fulfilling, my house was too small, my clothes were too cheap, my size was to big, my hair was too short, long, dark, or curly … I was constantly looking for bigger, better and more and I was never satisfied, even when I got there.

I don’t need a God who motivates me to pursue my fleshly desires or chase opportunities for personal advancement. I can do that on my own.

Instead, I need a God who gets involed in every situation I face.

A God who isn’t absent when I’m in the pit, regardless of how I got there.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” never meant Paul could do anything because Jesus would give him the power to do it. It meant Paul could endure any difficult circumstance or physical need through the strengthening power of Christ.

Because of Jesus, I have access to strength for all things, because my strength is in the One strengthening me. That’s why I love the Berean’s translation of Philippians 4:13.

I now love the life I have. Not because it’s perfect, but because it is real.

Like Paul, knowing Jesus gives me a sense of freedom even in life’s most challenging places. He brings a kind of contentment that can never be found in bigger, better and more.

2 Replies to “Bigger, Better, More: Contentment”

  1. Agreeing with Marlene! Thank you for the reminder of the joy and blessing in contentment.

  2. Your contentment has made you more approachable, compassionate and wise. I have loved watching God transform your life!

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