Updated: Aug 26
NBA superstar, Stephen Curry, plays with the Golden State Warriors out of Oakland California. Many players and analysts have called him the greatest shooter in the history of the National Basketball Association. In 2014–15, Curry won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award and led the Warriors to their first championship since 1975. In this year’s season, he became the first player in NBA history to be elected MVP by a unanimous vote and to lead the league in scoring while shooting above 50–40–90. (That means he made over 50% of all his baskets; over 40% of all his three-point shots, and over 90% of his free throws.) This year, with Curry’s help, the Warriors broke the record for the most wins in an NBA regular season, with a 73 and 9 record.
Curry is an astounding 3-point shooter. During the 2012–13 season, he set the NBA record for three-pointers made in a regular season with 272. He surpassed that record in 2015 with 286, and again in this season with 402!
And…. drum roll please… Curry’s team, the Golden State Warriors, lost the NBA finals this past week to the Cleveland Cavaliers in game 7. The Warriors had them down three games to one, but the Cavaliers came back and won their first ever NBA title – Cleveland’s first professional sports team championship of any kind since 1964! You can bet they were dancing in the streets! Not so much for Curry.
After the game, and in the days that followed, the sports reporters were eager to hear Curry’s response to the loss. But not everyone needed to wait for an interview. The Babylon Bee, a Christian satirical website, wrote their story without an interview.
“Thoroughly baffled after losing game 7 to the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday night despite his frequent assertion that he “can do all things through Christ who strengthens him”—which he assumed would include winning as many NBA titles as he desired—Stephen Curry reportedly pulled his Bible out of his locker and hastily flipped to Philippians 4:13 to make sure he had been reading his life verse correctly all these years, only to discover, much to his devastation, multiple additional verses before and after the text.
“Wait—what are all these other words?” sources reported Curry as exclaiming after the unbelievable loss which made the Golden State Warriors the first team in NBA history to surrender a 3–1 series lead in the NBA Finals. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” he slowly read aloud. “Seriously? In whatever situation?”
A shocked Curry reportedly then sat on the locker room floor in disbelief. “It doesn’t mean that I can do anything at all because of Jesus? I . . . I can’t believe it,” he reportedly muttered to himself in horror...”
The story the Babylon Bee wrote is not true. They’re a satirical website, poking fun at our gullibility. Now it is true that Stephen Curry is a devout Christian and an NBA superstar. And Philippians 4:13 is one of his favorite bible verses. What isn’t true is how Curry responded to the loss. Curry actually responded to the loss as we would hope our Christian sport’s superstars might – a least what I witnessed. He responded with grace and humility, taking responsibility for his own contribution to the loss and tipping his hat to the winners.
Today in our final sermon through Philippians we will encounter Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I rather like what the Babylon Bee did with their little piece of satire because it pokes fun at how shallowly we often read Scripture. We take a text, like this glorious text, and treat it like it’s a guarantee that if we really have faith, we’ll skip through life bouncing from one glorious NBA championship to the next. What if instead it’s not meant to be a life verse for those who are accustomed to winning but for those who habitually find themselves on the losing team? What if Philippians 4:13 is meant to say something profound to a people who, to all the world, look like losers?
I don’t particularly like losing. When I signed up for this job of being your preacher, I wasn’t dreaming that 9 years in there would be fewer people in attendance than when I started. Now, I wasn’t imagining, as I quit my former career and launched a new one, that it was all going to be sweet and lovely and “nothing but net” but I certainly was dreaming about something I would have called victory. In Christian terms I was imagining being on the winning team, making a profound difference in the community, seeing souls won for Christ. I yearned to utterly empty myself for Him and to fully participating in his glorious work in the world. And I’ll confess that I thought that would mean a fuller church building than what we’ve got J. Folks, I haven’t hesitated to give myself to the task of preaching and teaching; I have tried my level best to get myself out of the way and to give my all to Christ; I have sought to lead you and encourage you and walk with you through life. But we’re not exactly – at least in any way that those who are looking in from the outside would say – winning state championships are we??
And what about you and your life for Christ? Has it all turned out just like you dreamed it would? Does your life look like one long parade of people walking up to you and congratulating you on your successes and wondering how it is that you’ve done so well? That crisis in your marriage. Is that what you dreamed of? The health struggles you’ve endured or are still enduring. The addiction that keeps coming back to haunt you. The loneliness that seems to swallow life whole. The fears that you just can’t seem to shake. These are not the things we dream of when we come to our Lord Jesus and surrender our lives into his hands.
And yet it’s our book that has this verse in it! “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!” Folks, what if this has more to say to those who are accustomed to losing than those who are accustomed to winning? What if these are words that are written primarily to a people who are just hanging on, a people who know authentic hardship, a people who go unnoticed for the most part, or if they are noticed are dismissed as irrelevant? What if these are words for a people who habitually empty themselves for the sake of the world but who don’t receive much back in return? What if these glorious words of Philippians 4:13 are for a people who are not sure if they have any more to give?
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is replete with his urgings to celebrate. “Rejoice!” says Paul. “Let me say it again, rejoice!” We may deceive ourselves at first glance and think that therefore Paul must have been writing to some glorious church who was always hoisting the cup overhead. “Rejoice! One more championship!” This, my brothers and sisters, is not who Paul was writing to. The Philippian church did not see themselves as some unbeatable dream-team. Their present circumstances said the opposite. The great apostle Paul, who had spoken to them so eloquently of the good news of Jesus Christ was now locked up in prison, in danger of having his head removed! He had boasted of the victory that is in Jesus! Now look at him! The huddled Philippian church was surrounded by her enemies. Victory was no where in sight. Despite what Paul said about Lord Jesus, for all the world it looked like Lord Caesar was in charge.
Paul from prison writes this glorious letter to these folks! He’s not writing to a mega church with five services on Sunday! He’s not writing to a people who feel like they’re taking the world by storm! He’s writing to a little beaten up church clinging to hope in the midst of despair! He’s writing to us folks! He’s writing to you, and he’s writing to me! And the only question that matters is this one. Are we listening?
We began this series by rehearsing some slogans the Christian community is fond of from Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain!” “Do not be anxious about anything!” When we started, I invited you to dig deep into this letter with me so that we, in the end, would have not just a handful of slogans to hang onto but something of real substance. These glorious one liners are easy to spout off when you’ve just won the championship but when your dreams aren’t turning out as you imagined, they can ring hollow.
Here’s the kicker folks! None of these sayings were written to a people who had just won the final game in the series. On the contrary, they were written to a people who were having a tough time seeing hope in their present circumstances. These glorious sayings we find in Philippians were written with the express aim to change the perspective of a people who knew darkness and despair – to give them hope!
It's odd on one level but as Christians we often lose sight of the fact that we embrace a crucified Lord. Our story of hope includes suffering and death. It’s the prelude to resurrection! This was the gospel the Philippians had embraced, and Paul urges them to find themselves in the midst of it. He takes them back to the cross of Jesus and, in essence, asks them to stand there in that place of despair and see beyond it to the hope of resurrection. His story didn’t end in death, and neither does ours!
Jesus’ trials and pain, his rejection and agony, his tears in the garden were not indicators that God had abandoned him and that the enemy would have the final say. No! They were the sign of precisely the opposite. Victory was nigh!
Is this not what we believe? This is the very story that gives us hope! When our greatest trials are upon us, Paul is urging us to know that all is not lost. More than that he urges us to celebrate in anticipation of the glory that is coming. Paul’s letter is about altering our perspective so that we can see in our own lives the death defying hope we witness in the life of Christ.
And now, as we get to the end of Paul’s glorious letter and witness him expressing gratitude for the Philippian church and their generous gift, which they have supplied him in prison via Epaphroditus, we encounter our text.
Philippians 4:10–23 (NIV)
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
21 Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
Paul is bragging on these folks. What did they do? They shared in the work of the gospel. They heard the message, they believed it, and they participated in it. Paul said, “You guys were the only ones that sent me support! You didn’t just receive, you gave!” And what did that giving look like? They sent Paul financial support as he went about proclaiming Christ. And now they’ve sent him financial support while he’s in prison. Did you catch the value that Paul places on this gift? Did you see how he describes their generosity?
Philippians 4:18–19 (NIV)
18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
Paul, as he has been doing throughout this letter, is urging the Philippians to recognize their participation in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so Paul, of course, thanks them personally for the gift. But he wants to do more than that. He wants them to recognize that their financial gift to him was actually a fragrant offering to God. “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” This is another of those reality altering concepts that Paul has been pounding on. Is this how you see your gift that you place on the collection plate week by week? “A fragrant offering well pleasing to God?” We need to see things as Paul sees them!
In this closing section Paul is celebrating their gift. But he’s also redefining their gift. Paul does a strange thing here. He says that he didn’t need their gift. Have a look at verse 11. He’s rejoicing that they sent him a gift but then he qualifies his celebration. He says that he’s not celebrating because he got the gift – he could have survived without the gift. He’s not being ungrateful; he just sees something larger going on here. He’s celebrating because of the blessing that would accumulate to the Philippians because they had given the gift. This is what caused Paul to rejoice greatly when he was in prison. He was rejoicing because of the Philippians’ full participation in the gospel. And he was rejoicing in hope, assured that their participation was being taken note of by God – that it was in fact a gift to God more than it was to him. Because of their generosity their account with God would be credited (vs 17).
Paul is seeing, once again, what they are having difficulty seeing. Their participation in the gospel is very real! And it really matters! Heaven is celebrating their participation in the gospel! This, my friends, is hard to see when life looks bleak, when our journey doesn’t appear to be victorious, when in fact it looks more like death than life. “No! Heaven is standing at attention!” says Paul. Your gift, meager at it might appear to you in the midst of the chaos, is a fragrant offering to God and he is well pleased with it. Once again Paul is urging the Philippians to persevere in their faith!
And it’s in the middle of this closing dialogue that Paul writes Philippians 4:13. We must hear it in that context! Paul says these words in the midst of a little aside. It’s not the main point. Paul gives us 4:13 as he seeks to explain the reason for his celebration in the reception of their gift.
Philippians 4:11–13 (NIV)
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
The reason Paul is not primarily celebrating the alleviation of his physical need is because he has learned how to be content in all the circumstances of life. He says this three times in these three verses.
11b “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
12b “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…”
and 13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
All what?! Paul has learned how to be content despite his circumstances. He knows what it is to have plenty, and he knows what it is to have nothing, but his barometer for contentment is not tied to his circumstances. It is tied to his relationship with Christ, his identity with Christ. The very definition of contentment is to find yourself in a place where you are satisfied, where you are pleased. What satisfies Paul, what gives him the ultimate sense that “all is well” is his conviction that Christ is with him in the midst of his trials and that even if death itself comes knocking he can rest comfortably in the assurance that Jesus has blazed this trail before him. This is the “secret” Paul has learned.
How do you learn such a secret? How did Paul learn this secret? Those questions drive us, once again, to do business with the glorious Christ hymn we find beating at the heart of this letter. The picture of Christ Paul paints for us there is designed to alter the way we see the whole of life and our role within it. It’s designed to change how we think, how we define success and failure, how we assess the circumstances life throws at us. It’s a plea for us to embrace the cruciform life as the path to victory! And this is how Paul can be content, satisfied, well pleased, even joyful… come what may.
Paul views his life as a full participation in the life of Christ. He has hitched his wagon to Jesus’ train and therefore whether he is celebrating and feasting with the five thousand on the mountainside or weeping in the garden alone he has learned to be content, trusting in Jesus. Paul takes very seriously the meaning of his baptism. He actually believes that he is united with Christ, both in death and resurrection.
And once you adopt that posture, tell me, what is it that can derail your hope? When Christ is your life what’s a little taste of death going to do but leave you singing for what’s on the other side. If this is your posture can a Roman jail subvert it? Our Lord Jesus faced the cross and emerged victorious! “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!”
Listen, this doesn’t mean that the agony isn’t real. It was real for Christ. It doesn’t mean that you can sing while they’re driving the spikes. But it does mean that in and through the worst of it there is a hope that transcends it all and leaves you content in the knowledge that as you bear up under your sufferings that you are identifying with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 4:13 is not a verse for a people who skip through life bouncing from one glorious NBA championship to the next. No, it’s a verse for a people who to all the world look like losers. It’s a verse for you and I to cling to in our darkest trials. It’s a verse that points us to the coming day, to the victory that we are assured of because we have chosen, like Paul, to die with Christ. It’s a strange paradox this Christian walk. We who choose death as the pathway to life.
Now go, my brothers and sisters, and in the spirit of Philippians lay it all down for our Lord Jesus Christ. We can trust him. Of course we can! Our efforts to please him matter – they are cosmic in scope! They are an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
Stand firm in the storms of life. Learn the contentment our brother Paul learned. For we can do all things through Him who supplies us with strength!