“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
It is still wonderful encouraging scripture. But Paul isn’t talking about suddenly being strong. He is talking about how to grow through every situation with contentment, whether the circumstances are bad, good, scarcity, or bounty. That is the strength Paul refers to, and it is a process that is constantly happening through the situations. It is through Him who strengthens, not through Him who strengthened and then left Paul to it.
Christ strengthens us. But consider how it is we become stronger. If one wants to become physically stronger, he must do something like lift weights, but not just any weights. If he lifts weights that are easy for him to lift he will not get stronger. Lifting light dumbbells doesn’t increase vitality it is a worthless show and a wasted effort. He has to choose weights that are difficult, something he feels is moderately heavy. When he lifts those, he will gain strength and eventually will have to move to heavier weights if he wants to continue gaining strength.
Christ strengthens us in a similar manner. He allows us to go through trials, fires, and struggles in which we have to use traits such as faith, patience, or self-control. With the help of the Spirit, we manifest and exercise those traits, those characteristics are fortified. We become more like Christ. We are able to endure the tough situations we once couldn’t, because Christ has strengthened us. Romans 5:1-5 says,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
We don’t magically become super strong when the Holy Spirit enters us. We aren’t like the Hulk. We aren’t scrawny until some situation comes along and then hulk out, smash the problem, and return to weakness. We walk with Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit and we face each situation with Him. We lean on God. We utilize the fruit of the Spirit and with each difficult step Christ makes us stronger. He never leaves our side and before we know it, He has made us strong. It is suffering that strengthens us. It is suffering that the Holy Spirit uses to transform us to Christ’s image.
Another very popular and absolutely encouraging verse people often quote is Romans 8:28.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
But I find the verse much more encouraging when put in context. Romans 8:26-30 reads,
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
We are weak, but depending on the Lord allows Him to strengthen us. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. He intercedes for us according to the Father’s will. That intercession is for our good. God will work everything out for the good of those called according to His purpose. What is the good that He will work from all things? Is it our very own DeLorean, a big bank account, or fame and laud? No, it is that we are justified, glorified, and conformed to the image of Christ.
Yes, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. God, does and will strengthen us, not by injecting us with gamma rays and making us super heroes in an instant. He strengthens us by saving us, giving us faith, and being with us through all our suffering and joy, by allowing us to exercise the fruits of the Spirit and be conformed to the image of Christ.
And by the way, what is it you are supposed to do with all that strength? Love the Lord! Remember what Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31
“Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”