Philippians 4:12-13:

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. [KJV]

12 I have known both to be abased, and I have known to abound; in everything and in all things I have been initiated, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. 13 For all things I have strength, in Christ's strengthening me; [YLT]

12 I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. [NASB]

How could Christ possibly have given Paul strength, if He had already departed and ascended? Shouldn't Paul have said instead "through the Holy Spirit", since the Holy Spirit is the one who came to assist the church in the absence of Jesus? How can we make sense of Paul's words here?

5 Answers 5


NASB Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

[Christ] who
τῷ (tō)
Article - Dative Masculine Singular
Strong's 3588: The, the definite article. Including the feminine he, and the neuter to in all their inflections; the definite article; the.

The word "Christ" is not found in the best MSS. That's one answer.

How exactly was Paul able to “do all things through Christ who strengthened him”? Philippians 4:12-13

It can be explained spiritually as well as psychologically, Philippians 1:21

For to me [Paul], to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Galatians 2:20 shows the spiritual reality by faith:

I [Paul] have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.


Philippians 4 and 2 Corinthians 11

In Philippians 4, Paul opens a line of reasoning in verses 4-7 that presents us with a formula for psychological soundness. He begins by linking one's potential for psychological soundness to the unseen.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

These character traits are critical elements for the psychological soundness of the believer. The circumstances of one's life are to have no influence upon the state of mind of the Christian.

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always.
  2. Display a gentle spirit.
  3. Be anxious for nothing.
  4. Be thankful

The appeal in these matters is to the unseen world - "Let your requests be made known to God.” The result then is the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. How is this possible? In verse eight Paul provides us with eight non-natural variants that we regard as virtues.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

These eight variants are a set of representational controls that serve as the foundation for psychological soundness. These representational controls allow us to govern our behavior in a way that is completely contrary to our circumstances. I call these non-natural variants because:

  1. These things do not originate from the natural world of human experiences.
  2. They are external to ALL circumstances.
  3. These variants proceed from the character of God.
  4. These are not relevant to time, nor are they controlled by time.
  5. These variants allow us to bear up even under the most difficult of circumstances. I call these circumstances an "experiential index". An experiential index is a catalog of events in a person's life that are limited to time. In 2 Cor. 11:23-28, Paul rehearses for us some of the events in his life that make up his experiential index.

“...In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”

In looking at this list of circumstances it is important we understand that these never represent a closed system. It is in the midst of all of these experiences that Paul says in Phil 4:11, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." Contentment in the mindset of horrific catastrophic or even life-threatening circumstances is a learned behavior. When Paul says he has leaned to be content in the midst of these experiences it is obvious that this knowledge is not obtained on the basis of his experiential index. He did not learn contentment from his sufferings. He learned it through the exercise of these non-natural virtues. All of the difficulties he rehearses are things that were imposed on his body yet, these things are regarded by Paul as non-determinate. In other words, he does not allow them to control his mind. He does not allow them to determine his behavior or his psychology. Of course, these are pragmatic experiences imposed on his flesh that cannot simply be ignored and demand a psychological response. What must govern the Christian's response to his experiences are those non-natural variants that are stronger than the experiences themselves. These are things that strengthen the inner man and enable us to rejoice even in the mist of such difficulties. How does Paul learn contentment in the midst of such experiences? By cultivating a mind that is governed not by the circumstances or their effects on one's life but by the representational controls given in Phil. 4:8 and 2 Cor 4: 4-7 where he adds to this list such virtues as endurance, knowledge, patience, and kindness. Paul regards all these hardships as nothing more than ephemeral concerns. In other words, these are things that are limited to time. They are temporary experiences that exist only briefly. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:17 that these things are but “light momentary afflictions” that are not even worthy to be compared with the eternal weight of glory. This is an extraordinary statement. Such experiences are by design intended to destroy the outer man and unless representational controls are in place that will allow us to properly contextualize these experiences, the inner man will also be overwhelmed and destroyed.

Paul says in Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This is a statement that is very often taken out of its context and much abused. This statement is linked to the things Paul says he has learned. What has he learned? He has learned to:

  1. Rejoice
  2. Not be anxious
  3. Be thankful
  4. Get along with humble means
  5. Live in poverty
  6. Live in abundance
  7. Be filled
  8. Be hungry
  9. Endure need
  10. Be content in all things. Why? Because he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. "Do all things" is contextual to all the things he has learned to endure.

I would translate Phil 4:13 as:

I have strength [for] all things in the One strengthening me.

Let us notice several things about this verse succinct (very Pauline) remark:

  • the name "Christ is absent but implied
  • the grammar demands that the "all things" here are those things that God requires Paul to do. That is, "God's biddings are His enablings" (to use a modern aphorism).
  • Whether "the one" here is Christ or Christ's Spirit (= the Holy Spirit) is a moot point precisely because the two operate so closely that it is not humanly possible to distinguish them. Rom 8:9 where the difference is blurred.

The same idea is often encountered in other places as well:

  • 2 Cor 13:4 - For He was indeed crucified in weakness, yet He lives by God’s power. And though we are weak in Him, yet by God’s power we will live with Him to serve you.
  • 2 Peter 1:3 - His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
  • 2 Tim 1:4 - Guard the treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
  • Heb 9:14 - how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, purify our consciences from works of death, so that we may serve the living God!
  • 2 Thess 1:11 - To this end, we always pray for you, that our God will count you worthy of His calling, and that He will powerfully fulfill your every good desire and work of faith,
  • Rom 8:13 - For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
  • Gal 5:25 - Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit.
  • Gal 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

... and so forth. The above is what makes us Christian (Rom 8:9).


First, what does it mean I can do all things? Usually, when this verse is quoted (often in an athletic context) the idea is that we can do whatever we set our minds to through this magical strength that Christ provides. This isn't what Paul is about here. Instead in the context of Philipians 4:11-13, his strength is his ability to face and be content in all circumstances he might find himself in regardless of how comfy or tortuous they may be.

Now with that out of the way, how does Christ strengthen him? Well, there are two possible answers:

  1. Let's assume you are right and that the primary mode of strength he is referring to is the Holy Spirit. There is a Biblical principle that the one who is sent is equal to the one who sends. For example:

Luke 10:16 16 “The one who listens to you listens to me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

And let us also remember that Jesus is the one who distributes the Holy Spirit having received it himself from the Father (Acts 2:33). So if we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus, then, by Bible math, we are strengthened by Jesus.

  1. The other option is that Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit primarily, but that he is referring to his faith in Jesus in general. Indeed through Jesus, in addition to the Holy Spirit, we have an example of a man who suffered and conquered the world (Heb 12:1-2, Rev 3:21), and a hope of glory far surpassing any suffering we have to endure(Rom 8:18), so that Paul considered all that he valued before to be trash (Phil 3:8). So by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul has the confidence and cosmic perspective to face and be content in all that may come his way because Jesus showed it was possible and that it will all be worth it.

The Spirit of God, or the Holy Spirit (Hebrew: Ruach Hakodesh), is the same as the spirit of Jesus. Jesus empowered and blessed the disciples with the Holy Spirit. One Spirit and mind of one God. Christ lives with us in the form or way of Spirit. He strengthens us. We don't make quite a differentiation among the three.

(John 20:22-23 NET2) And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”

(Acts 16:7 NET2) When they came to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do this,

(John 14:16-20 Smith's Literal Translation) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Intercessor, that should remain with you forever; The Spirit of truth; which the world cannot receive, for it sees it not, neither knows: and ye know it; for it shall remain with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I come to you. Yet a little, and the world sees me no more; and ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.

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