What Christian isn’t familiar with one of the New Testament’s most famous comfort verses?
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
It is good to be reminded that it’s His strength and not our strength which propels us along in sanctification. It is good to be reminded that He is our all, and that all is possible.
However too many people misunderstand and misuse the verse. It does not mean I can attain whatever desire I have through Jesus. And it doesn’t mean Jesus plops all things or all strength down into us fully formed and ripe for use.
Let’s back up a little and take a look at what came before that verse. There is more to it than what many Christians of today take the verse to mean.
Paul said several times that he learned contentment. Learned it. He had to work at contentment, and learn the skill of practicing contentment over his long road of personal tribulation.
The two verses which precede the all things of verse 13 are:
“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.” [emphasis mine].
What Paul was learning is the power of Christ as the daily means of sanctification as he strove to holiness, and ultimately, contentment in all circumstances.
Paul had to consciously strive toward contentment through constant practice of cultivating it through reliance on God’s provision and promise. And he is not talking of self-sufficiency here, but of a diminishment of worldly desires as he strove to do all things God would have Him do in the name of Jesus.
Paul had many trials and difficulties. Paul isn’t saying that Jesus plopped down a supernatural contentment to his heart as he took a deep breath and relied on Him to do all things through Him. Not at all. As a matter of fact, Paul admits to dissatisfaction covetousness brings, in Romans 7:8. Through all his varied circumstances, Paul is saying, he had the opportunity to practice being content in the circumstances he found himself in, because those circumstances are divorced from earthly measures of contentment and joy. He had to learn it. This indicates an active participation on the part of the Christian.
Whenever Paul was low or high, had plenty or hunger, abundance or need, didn’t matter, because Christ was strengthening him in love, growth, joy and the other treasures we hold dear. If we divorce our joy or contentment from worldly things, what remains is Christ! Through Christ, all things are possible! Paul learned that. It took him a while and he had to work at it. But what glory for the Savior when we learn it.
So be careful what you are really saying when you say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Are you working at learning how to do all things, apart from our flesh and distinct from the baggage of worldly wants? No matter your circumstances?
Phil Johnson preached on it recently, and this little note is a summary of what I took away from his sermon. I found his sermon exposition to be tremendously enlightening and inspiring. For a full explanation of what that verse means, I encourage you to take a listen and /or look at the transcript.
“By the way, verse 13 contrasts wonderfully with Jesus’ statement in John 15:5: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” But “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” If the boundaries for “all things” that you seek to accomplish are set by the express commands of God and the righteous example of Christ, then there truly is no limit to what you can do through His power. That is the secret to true contentment. It’s not really a complex mystery. But the reason it is so difficult to learn is that it entails the mortification of our worldly lusts, our carnal ambitions, our selfish pride, and our ungodly attitudes.
*This first appeared on The End Time in January 2013.
I was destined for great things. My mother promised. Women can do anything. My mother said. We should be feminists. My mother urged. All in our family are successful- entrepreneurs, professors, businessmen, doctors. So that was proof.
I was indeed on that trajectory when Christ interrupted my plans, humbled them, humbled me, and plucked me from the secular notion of success and began the long road of transforming my mind into acceptance of Christian success.
It took a long while of shaving, sharpening, and altering before I ceased to yearn for the worldly conception of fame, honor, and prosperity. Perhaps that is why I’m so sensitive to unsuitable female Christian yearning. Perhaps there are still vestiges of the old yearnings in me still. Likely both.
It’s been discouraging to see the speed with which women who claim to be Christian push and clamor for secular notions of worldly success. They set aside the Bible’s promises, commands, and duties for greener grass. They know not that the grass will wither and burn. The biblical framework for female duty and contentment is no longer enough, if it ever was, and swing out sister there they go into the world of fame, honor, and prosperity.
We read recently of so-called Bible teacher Beth Moore’s yearning for opportunities for leadership she lamented would never come her way, so she quit seminary.
After a short time of making the trek across Houston while my kids were in school, of reading the environment and coming to the realization of what my opportunities would and would not be, I took a different route.
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15).
We read of author Sarah Young, author of Jesus Calling, and her yearning ‘for something more’ … because the Bible wasn’t enough.
I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16).
We read of Elizabeth Graham’s letter to the Southern Baptist Convention, and her yearning to be more than just a wife and mother, sent in 2009 and resurfaced this week.
“I have aspirations of being a wife and mother, but I also desire to be more than that, and I see very few opportunities within the SBC to do so.”
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Discontent! Feminism, First Wave, Second Wave, Third Wave, wave upon wave of secular assault has taken its toll. It has infected women. Gangrenously killing the healthy flesh even while it races about the body calling for more, ever more yearnings that suck the blood from healthy tissue and turns it dead as it stands.
Discontent is a killer.
Satan whispers to women that being a wife and mother isn’t enough. That unless you are a leader, out there, in front, you’re behind. That staying at home means you are missing all the opportunities, all of them! … for what, he doesn’t say. He just stirs up discontent with where women are, with what they have.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
If there is great gain in contentment, there is great loss in discontentment. It’s safe to say that is a corollary.
From the 1990s television comedy show Seinfeld, we see a conversation between Kramer and George. It takes Kramer less than a minute to infect George, who goes from jaunty and content, to craving, to yearning, to having no reason for getting up in the morning. Discontent works just that fast in the Christian body.
How long has this discontent in women been present on earth? Since the beginning. Eve had a conversation with Kramer, the serpent, and suddenly she was discontent because she wasn’t like God, she didn’t know good and evil. She yearned.
In researching for this essay, I discovered an incredible, hilarious, and bulls-eye essay about the poison of “Discontented Women”. It was written in 1896 in the height of the Suffragette movement of First Wave Feminism. Its author Amelia Barr (1831-1919) was a mother, widow, and novelist. The 10-page essay is found easily online in lots of places, and I am also going to quote liberally from it below. It was published in the North American Review in 1896.
Discontent is a vice six thousand years old, and it will be eternal; because it is in the race. Every human being has a complaining side, but discontent is bound up in the heart of woman; it is her original sin. For if the first woman had been satisfied with her conditions, if she had not aspired to be “as gods,” and hankered after unlawful knowledge, Satan would hardly have thought it worth his while to discuss her rights and wrongs with her. That unhappy controversy has never ceased; and, with or without reason, woman has been perpetually subject to discontent with her conditions and, according to her nature, has been moved by its influence. ~Amelia Barr, 1896
Puritan Thomas Boston argued that discontent is actually a violation of the Tenth Commandment, expressed in his monumental sermon “The Hellish Sin of Discontent.” He wrote:
Question: “What is forbidden in the Tenth Commandment?” Answer: “The Tenth Commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying, or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.” … [Discontent] is the hue of hell all over.
“But, but”, women say, “changing diapers and wiping noses is boring! Tedious! Monotonous! Being out in the world is better!” Mrs Barr replies,
In the van of these malcontents are the women dissatisfied with their home duties. One of the saddest domestic features of the day is the disrepute into which housekeeping has fallen; for that is a woman’s first natural duty and answers to the needs of her best nature.
It must be noted that this revolt of certain women against housekeeping is not a revolt against their husbands; it is simply a revolt against their duties. They consider house- work hard and monotonous and inferior, and confess with a cynical frankness that they prefer to engross paper, or dabble in art, or embroider pillow-shams, or sell goods, or in some way make money to pay servants who will cook their husband’s dinner and nurse their babies for them. And they believe that in this way they show themselves to have superior minds, and ask credit for a deed which ought to cover them with shame. For actions speak louder than words, and what does such action say?
In the first place, it asserts that any stranger — even a young uneducated peasant girl hired for a few dollars a month — is able to perform the duties of the house-mistress and the mother. In the second place, it substitutes a poor ambition for love, and hand service for heart service. In the third place, it is a visible abasement of the loftiest duties of womanhood to the capacity of the lowest paid service. A wife and mother can not thus absolve her own soul; she simply disgraces and traduces her holiest work.
Mrs Barr pulls no punches! Of these women who eye the world as their salvation and a salve for their discontent, I am reminded of one of the women of the She Reads Truth Bible study online organization. Diana Stone loves to write, so much so that at first she employed a nanny in the home part-time to help with her daughter, and then decided to load her daughter to day care, so Diana could return home and write. And so, any stranger could and did substitute a poor ambition for love.
Mrs Barr continues:
Suppose even that housekeeping is hard and monotonous, it is not more so than men’s work in the city. The first lesson a business man has to learn is to do pleasantly what he does not like to do. All regular useful work must be monotonous, but love ought to make it easy; and at any rate, the tedium of housework is not any greater than the tedium of office work. … And as a wife holds the happiness of many in her hands, discontent with her destiny is peculiarly wicked.
Lest one think that Mrs Barr was writing from a catbird seat, she emigrated to New York from England with her husband, leaving her home country behind forever. Her husband’s business prospect failed, so they moved from New York to Texas, where her husband and four sons promptly died of yellow fever, she lost many other of her 12 children, she managed on her own, eventually moving back to NY and began teaching and writing novels and poetry. She never remarried.
Mrs Amelia E. Barr wrote, like Sarah Young, Beth Moore, Diana Stone wrote. Mrs Barr did it out of necessity, working away so as to put food on the table for her children. Not, as Diana Stone says, because she made writing a priority over her children and returned to a comfy home after unloading her kids at a daycare. Not like Beth Moore, who wanted ‘opportunities’ but quit seminary because those opportunities (read, teaching men) were denied her because she is a woman. Not like Sarah Young, who yearned for more besides the only truth given to us (the Bible). Writers all. Whiny discontents, all.
Mrs Barr wrote in her autobiography,
“In my life I have been sensible of the injustice constantly done to women. Since I have had to fight the world single-handed, there has not been one day I have not smarted under the wrongs I have had to bear, because I was not only a woman, but a woman doing a man’s work, without any man, husband, son, brother or friend, to stand at my side, and to see some semblance of justice done me.”
She did it, and she did it cheerfully and wholeheartedly. In 1850, without air conditioning, without kitchen appliances, without word processors, without a smart phone, and with 12…9…6…3 kids under her feet. She wrote:
Don’t fail through defects of temper and over-sensitiveness at moments of trial. One of the great helps to success is to be cheerful; to go to work with a full sense of life; to be determined to put hindrances out of the way; to prevail over them and to get the mastery. Above all things else, be cheerful; there is no beatitude for the despairing. ~Words of Counsel: 9 Tips for Success, Amelia E. Barr
Mrs Barr concludes her essay Discontented Women,
In conclusion, it must be conceded that some of the modern discontent of women must be laid to unconscious influence. In every age there is a kind of atmosphere which we call “the spirit of the times,” and which, while it lasts, deceives as to the importance and truth of its dominant opinions.
Many women have doubtless thus caught the fever of discontent by mere contact, but such have only to reflect a little, and discover that, on the whole, they have done quite as well in life as they have any right to expect. Then those who are married will find marriage and the care of it, and the love of it, quite able to satisfy all their desires; and such as really need to work will perceive that the great secret of Content abides in the unconscious acceptance of life and the fulfillment of its duties — a happiness serious and universal, but full of comfort and help. Thus, they will cease to vary from the kindly race of women, and through the doors of Love, Hope and Labor, join that happy multitude who have never discovered that Life is a thing to be discontented with.
Happy is the woman who unashamedly says “I am a wife.” “I am a mother.” If we are not ashamed of the Gospel, we are not ashamed of any element within it, including the role He has given us to reflect His glory and image. ‘Just a mom’? Might as well say ‘Just a Christian’ when in fact being a woman, a wife, or a mother is all, because we have all, in Christ.
I heartily recommend the full Amelia Barr essay Discontented Women. And these other items as well
Author and blogger Doug Wills wrote an essay last week about “Miserable Wives.” Many wives might see themselves in the essay. I know I did.
The article centers on wives who are in a good enough marriage, with husbands who are loving enough, in churches that are solid enough, living on means that are, well, enough. But for some reason, these wives are still discontented.
Her discontent grows and it threads through her entire outlook, until her current mood is king (or queen, actually) of the house. The husband then begins a cycle of indulging her temper and her mercurial moods. Eventually, if it becomes an entrenched pattern, it is usurpation by the wife, who is effectively leading the house through her emotions/tempers/disconsolate outlook. This is sin.
Here is one excerpt from the essay Miserable Wives that I thought was especially perceptive:
You said that Jon isn’t meeting your needs, and that you don’t feel nourished and cherished. You said that he isn’t “feeding” you. But Jon is not failing to feed you in the midst of a famine. He is trying to figure out what to do about the fact that you have gone on a hunger strike. When Jon reads Scripture to the kids, what do you do? Are you off in the kitchen doing the dishes? Perhaps making a little extra noise?
I used to do that. Make a little extra noise. And feel perversely satisfied in doing it, too.
Here’s another excerpt from Doug Wills’ article:
The hidden assumption in this (for both you and Jon) is that you take these emotional states as reliable and authoritative, instead of rejecting them as being the most manifest and bald-faced liars. You say that you know Jon loves you, but then you say in the next breath that you feel unloved. And in every battle between your knowledge and your feelings, which one wins? You take the word of your lying feelings over the word of your accurate assessment, over against your knowledge. Your feelings are your authority, even when you know they are being deceitful.
Today I’d like to launch my main point from Doug Wills’ essay about the wifely discontent. Women today are fairly bombarded with claptrap from Women’s Ministries, female Bible Studies, and lady Bible leaders who often teach to the lie that it is OK to indulge our emotions even if they are opposed to the knowledge of what Christ has done for us and our life in Him. There are lessons which are mainly based on the destructive notion that our self-esteem, or some kind of inherent female “value” has more import than it actually does. But that is a blog essay for another day.
The main cause is discontentment with Jesus. There’s another I’ll explore below. Many female Bible teachers are explicitly and overtly teaching women to be discontent with Him. The quotes below are from women who are alleged Bible leaders. These are popular female ‘Christian’ teachers busy publicly expressing the highest and most corrupt kind of discontent there can be: discontent in Jesus.
Example #1: Priscilla Shirer explains that she became sad at the daily ‘chore’ of the spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study because,
My spiritual disciplines became more of a chore, a duty, an effort. … He just wasn’t knocking my socks off anymore, and I wasn’t sure why. (source – NYT)
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (Psalm 86, Psalm 16:5-11, 1 Peter 4:11). The Catechism doesn’t say, “Jesus’ chief end is to knock our socks off and enjoy us forever.” The NY Times author noted that Shirer’s description of her relationship with her Creator-Savior sounded more like a marriage on the rocks. Even secular people get it. Shirer was discontent with the quantity or the quality of what Jesus wasn’t doing for her. Piled on top of the Genesis 3 affliction is discontent with the affliction-giver Himself.
Example #2: Author of the perennial devotional bestseller Jesus Calling, Sarah Young, who said,
“I began to wonder if I … could receive messages during my times of communing with God. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day.” (underline mine. Source – Challies).
It wasn’t enough for Sarah to enjoy Jesus as creator, priest, intercessor, savior, friend, groom, provider, etc. It wasn’t enough for her to enjoy Him through His word, delivered by His own blood, the Spirit, and kept alive by the blood of the saints. No, she yearned for more. Her declaration means that she believes the sufficiency of the Bible is not enough. She is discontented with Jesus. The entire cottage industry of her Jesus Calling books is based squarely on female discontent.
“We are settling for woefully less than what Jesus promised us,” said Moore. “I read my New Testament over and over. I’m not seeing what He promised. I’m unsettled and unsatisfied.“
Beth Moore. Please stop speaking. Just please stop.
Lysa TerKeurst wrote a book called Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl. In one of the chapters the question is posed, Is Something Missing in Your Life? The synopsis states:
Lysa TerKeurst knows what it’s like to consider God just another thing on her to-do list. For years she went through the motions of a Christian life: Go to church. Pray. Be nice.
Longing for a deeper connection between what she knew in her head and her everyday reality, she wanted to personally experience God’s presence. Source: Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, Amazon book blurb.
Why is there a disconnect between what TerKeurst knew in her head and what she experienced every day? Why is she seeking an experience over that which she knows to be true? Isn’t what we know from the Bible, enough? Not for these women. And these women teach.
The issue of discontent is also rooted in a forgetfulness of who we are in Christ. Who are we? What is our purpose? As women, are we forgotten? Do we matter? Key questions, all!
“In Christ” is a key phrase. Our identity is “in Christ”. Paul wrote the phrase ‘in Christ’ about 83 times! Here is a great example from Ephesians.
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19).
Women, sisters, wives, moms, grandmoms, we are IN Christ. He is the pinnacle of all the universe. He is the apex, the majestic mountaintop, the perfect image of God. Jesus is pre-eminent. And we are IN Him.
As Wills concluded his article, he wrote, “Self-identity comes through surrender. This way of contentment really is plausible.”
Yes it is. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, including living a contented life for His glory as a wife, mother, woman, in Christ. It’s who we are. I pray you are satisfied in the knowledge of our identity in Christ, and that it fills your heart as well as fill your head. Don’t let the fake Bible teachers inspire discontent in you. Don’t let your own flesh spark discontent in you, either. 🙂 Our identity is In Christ, and He is sufficient.