Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-30-57 7:30 p.m.
Let us turn to the fourth chapter of the Book of Philippians, Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. And your neighbor may not have brought his Bible; share it with him. Let’s all read this last part together. We will start at the eighth verse, "Finally brethren . . . " and read to the end of the chapter. About two-thirds of the way or three-fourths of the way through the New Testament, the Book of Philippians, Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi: the last chapter of it – the fourth chapter – beginning at the eighth verse, and let’s read to the end of the chapter. Are you ready? Philippians 4:8 together:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise–think on these things.
Those things which ye have both learned and received and heard and seen in me, do, and the God of peace shall be with you.
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content:
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Notwithstanding ye have well done that ye did communicate with my affliction.
Now ye Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving but ye only.
For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.
Not because I desire a gift, but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.
But I have all and abound. I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.
But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you.
All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Now this morning, I left off preaching at the twelfth verse:
For I have learned, I have learned, in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content:
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to overflow. Everywhere and in all things I am instructed, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
That’s where we left off this morning. Now tonight, the message is the next verse, Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christwhich strengtheneth me." And I am to speak tonight about Spiritual Omnipotence, Christian omnipotence. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
Now the first part of that text is sheer, unadulterated presumption. It is absolute, unmitigated, egotistical boasting without the interpretation of the last part of the text. How many times have we seen vainglorious, proudful, ambitious men say that, "I can do all things" and their destruction has been swift, and sure, and certain? For example, I read today here in the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel, the great king Nebuchadnezzar spake and said, "Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the honor of my majesty by the might of my power?" [Daniel 4:30] – "I can do all things." Then you look: "And in that hour, while he yet spake, the word of the Lord fell upon him, and he was driven from men. Indeed he crashed like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hairs were drawn like eagle’s feathers and his nails like bird claws" [from Daniel 4:33]. "I can do all things."
It reminds me of Xerxes, King Ahasuerus, who took a million men and when he sought to cross the Hellespont and a storm destroyed his bridges, he commanded that with chains the waters be lashed, then invaded Hellas – ancient Greece. And the great, proud monarch built a high throne to see all western Hellas destroyed – "I can do all things" – but instead, his armies melted away and he returned to his Persia dishonored, disintegrated, destroyed.
In our recent history of the last century, Napoleon [Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769-1821], bid the star of Prussia set, and Napoleon destroyed the son of Austria, and the whole civilized nations of the world were dashed to pieces against that prevailing and conquering monarch. "I can do all things." He came to the place where he defied the very elements themselves – invaded Russia. Across the snows of those burning and terrible plains, he saw the palaces of the Kremlin afire then marched back to his France, destroyed and broken.
And in our time, we have heard the FÃ¼hrer, Hitler himself [Adolf Hitler, 1889-1945], full of pride, full of egomaniacal boasting: "I can do," he says, "all things!" And he talks, and he boasts, and he lifts up himself, and he blasphemes God, then he curses the church: "I can do all things."
I say, how many times in history is that story written large on the page of the book? Could you imagine then one’s surprise to read it here in the Bible? And from the apostle Paul, he says, "I can do all things" [Philippians 4:13] – this apostle.
Well, what a strange thing, Paul, for you to say. Maybe Gamaliel [Acts 22:3] taught you an eloquence by which you can confound all of your opponents, or maybe in rabbinical lore you have learned some secret and clandestine, miraculous incantations. Maybe there’s some kabbalah that you know. Maybe there’s a wizardry by which Merlin has taught you in the dark magic of life. "I can do all things," says the apostle Paul [Philippians 4:13].
Isn’t that what I just said? The first part of that text is sheer, presumptive boasting without the last to interpret it. "I can do all things through Christ" – what a difference. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. "I can do all things in Heaven’s name, in Christ’s name, in God, through Jesus."
It’s a stupendous thing for a man to say, but a Christian has a right to say it: "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. And in the power of that unction and that heavenly visitation, Paul arose to face the most perilous odds, to face the most difficult of tasks [2 Corinthians 11:23-28], withstood Peter to the face [Galatians 2:11-14], and gave himself to missionary journeys [Acts 13:1-15:35, 15:36-18:22, 18:23-21:26] the repercussion of which blesses and leads our lives today. "I can do all things through Christ, in Jesus, who helps me and who strengthens me" [from Philippians 4:13].
Now may I say some of those things that Paul included in that word: "I can do all things through Christ"? Here’s one: "I can bear the trials, and the perplexities, and the burdens and tasks of life. I can do it in Christ." We’re not going to escape, not one of us.
You remember that thing in Job when the children of God, when the sons of the morning, came to present themselves to the Almighty? Satan came along with them [Job 1:6]. Isn’t that what the Bible says? "And Satan came also" [Job 1:6]. He’s always there, and he’s by your side. When we gather, he’s with us. When we work, he watches. He is always by: our adversary [1 Peter 5:8], our great opponent and our great enemy [Matthew 13:39] – Satan standing at the right hand of God to accuse us [Job 2:3-5; Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10], and standing in front of us, and by the side of us, and around us, and back of it; always Satan, and you’ll not escape.
In the story of the temptation of our Lord Jesus [Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13], it says after those forty days of trial, Satan left him [Matthew 4:11; Luke 4:13]. But the sentence isn’t done. After the forty days of trial, Satan left him "for a season" [Luke 4:13] – "for a season": to come back in the night, and back in the day, and back at the cross, and back at the Mount of Galilee, and back by the sea – back everywhere and all the time.
We have a trial in this life, and not one of us shall escape it. Now how shall a man bear it and how shall a man face it? He can do it in the name of Christ and in the strength of the Lord. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
Every one of us has a burden. Every one of us has a hurt, a disappointment. All of us have it; all of us. What’s the matter with us so many times that lends itself in our hearts to an opening for discouragement and despair is that we look at somebody else and we think, "Oh, you know, if I could just be like him, how happy I would be. If I could be done with this burden and just have the burden that one has, wouldn’t that be glorious?" And we look around and we think that our burden and our trial is so much heavier than another’s burden and another’s trial. "And if I could just be with them or in their stead, then I wouldn’t have this great trial in my life and this great burden on my soul." Reminds me of a fable told by Aesop [620-564 BCE].
Aesop said that the children of men came to Jupiter, and all of them were very unhappy about the burden that he had – about the trial on his life, about the hurt in his soul. And so Jupiter said, "Why, then, we’ll just rearrange that. You bring your burden and your trial and dump it here at my feet and then pick up any other burden that you want." So they all agreed. So upon a day the children of men came and there at the feet of Jupiter they dumped all their burdens, and they poured out all of their trials. And then each one picked up somebody else’s burden – anything to change.
There was a lame man, and he thought if he could have that blind eye, he’d be a lot more happy, felicitous, in his life. So he traded his lame leg for a blind eye. And then there was a man who came with that blind eye, and he thought that if he had poverty instead of that blind eye he’d be happier. So he cast out his blind eye, and he picked up poverty. And then there was the man who was afflicted with poverty, and he thought that if he could have the sicknesses of the rich man and also his riches that he’d be happier. So he traded his poverty for the sicknesses of the rich man and also his riches. And the fable says it was not an hour until the children of men were all back at Jupiter’s feet, clamoring, each man, for his old burden. And when Jupiter allowed it, each man went away happy in his heart.
Well that’s just the way we are. I look at you and I think, "Oh brother, if I could just be you, wouldn’t I be happy!" Why, if I could be you, I’d be the most miserable critter in the world. And some of these people look at me and they think, "Oh, if could just be like that pastor, how happy I’d be." And you’d be the most miserable wretch in the world. Yes, sir; yes, sir. You’re just not to think in those terms.
"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. What God has assigned to you, bear it gloriously and triumphantly. I got a blind eye or maybe two blind eyes. I have a lame foot, or two lame feet, or no feet at all; or I’m poor, or I’m sick, or I’m wretched, or I’m unhappy. However it is, God give you strength to bear it nobly and wonderfully and triumphantly [Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10]; and you can because you must.
Now are providences inscrutable over and beyond our lives into which you cannot enter. You can’t go back to those days and live them over again. You can’t go back to those years and change them again. You can’t go back of the providences of God; they are inscrutable. If I could be Christian and say it, they are inexorable. Our lives are in the hands of an omnipotent God, and these choices are made for us beyond our knowing and beyond our understanding [Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16; Daniel 2:21; Acts 17:26]. And our task, and our commitment, and our duty is this: to bear them bravely and nobly. "I can do," I can, "all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13], and that means I can bear this burden victoriously. I can in Christ.
Now it means another thing. I can overcome the conflicting furors in my own soul and in my own heart, and we all have them. You don’t have a heart like a placid lake. If you do, you don’t know yourself. If you are a normal human being, you are a civil war at times on the inside [Romans 7:14-25]. There are raging storms that burst upon you like out of the blue of the sky on the little Sea of Galilee [Matthew 8:24], and the winds blow and the waves are high and there’s furor. Your heart is subject to the conflicting vicissitudes of every fortune that blows [1 Peter 1:6-7]. You can’t help it.
Well, what do you do with the inside of you, and what do you do with the soul of you and the heart of you and the life of you? What do you do? This is it. You can bravely, and courageously, and victoriously meet and overcome those conflicts in Christ. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
Now this is a typical story from my country pastorates. I tell you, those people they just can say things and see things and illustrate things better than anybody in the world. One of those fellows told me, he said, "You know, there’s a member in this church, and he had the most violent temper! He just flame at anything." He said, "When his stock didn’t do just right, he’d curse them and beat them. It’s just awful."
You can imagine that. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen men take sticks, and bull whips, and tanks, and boards, and two-by-fours, and nearly beat mules and beat horses and beat cows half to death. I’ve seen them. And just curse as they did it. Oh, make your blood run cold.
Well, this is one of those fellows with a violent temper and curse and beat his stock. Well, he got religion. He got converted, and everybody was a wondering how it was going to be the next time he got mad.
All right, this is the story. He was out milking the cow. Had that bucket down there, you know – he had that bucket down there and his head stuck in her flank. Did you – anybody here ever be on the farm? Head stuck in the flank, you know, of that old cow, just a milking that old cow; and low and behold when he had her about half-milked and that bucket about half full, she stuck her foot in the bucket and kicked, and the milk went all over him and all over everything. Well, brother, they were looking for an explosion.
You know what he did instead? He got out his handkerchief. I never heard of a farmer having one, but they said he got out his handkerchief. They said he got out his handkerchief, and he said he had to wipe the milk out of his hair, began to wipe it out of his eyes, began to wipe it out of his ears, brush it off of his clothes; and as he did so, he was singing a song:
‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, "Thus saith the Lord!"
["’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus," by Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882]
Singing like that make that old cow do better, wouldn’t it? Well, the Lord can do that. He can do that. There are a lot of us here tonight that could stand up and say, "Were it not for the grace of God, I don’t know what I’d do when I get mad – curse and be foul and blasphemous – but by the grace of God, I’ve overcome that." How many of you could stand up here tonight and say, "Pastor, back there in those years and in those years, I fell a prey into this and into that and in the other thing, but by His grace I have overcome"? "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
There’s another thing he meant by that: "I can do – I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13], present. I can do God’s assigned work that He’s placed on my hands. I can do it. It may be a tremendous task, but if God has called me for it, I can do it. Or it may be a very humble, menial task, but in God’s grace, I can do that too. If it is something God has given for me, I can do it. Doesn’t matter what it is: if God says it, and if the Lord assigns it, it can be done. God helps us to do it [Philippians 2:12-13].
That’s the reason we have a never-ending campaign in this world: a battle that never stops and never ceases [Ephesians 6:10-12; 1 Peter 5:8-9]. It sways back and forth, but we’re never destroyed from it – never [2 Corinthians 4:8-11]. In that wonderful story of the Lord about the pounds [Luke 19:11-27], this man had a gain of ten pounds [Luke 19:15-16], and the Lord said, "Well done, now you can retire." No, sir! "Now," He says, "I’ll make you ruler over ten cities" [Luke 19:17]. You don’t ever get discharged from the service! This work of God goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on. We’re in it till we die. But whatever our task is and whatever our assignment is, along with it comes strength from heaven to do it – whatever God says for us to do.
I was reading over here this week in the life of David; and that ruddy-faced young fellow, he was a teenager [1 Samuel 17:42]. That fellow, that boy, came out from the sheepcotes – came down there to bring his brothers who were in the war, to bring them some food [1 Samuel 17:17-20]. And while he was there, down on the other side of that mountain, just beyond the Vale of Elah [1 Samuel 17:2, 19], there stood Goliath: great big fellow, nine feet tall [1 Samuel 17:4, 8-10]. And he came down there with a staff as big as a weaver’s beam and a shield so large it took a man to carry it [1 Samuel 17:7].
He came down there and lifted up his voice and defied the armies of God on the other side of the little field and cursed Jehovah – said, "If there’s a man here that’s got enough intestinal fortitude to face me, let him step out, and I’ll feed his body to the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Let him come if he dares! I dare him" [from 1 Samuel 17:8-10, 16]. And he cursed God. Well, that boy heard it, and he said, "Is there anybody that’ll accept the challenge in the name of the Lord?" Not a one [1 Samuel 17:24]. That boy said, "Then I will" [1 Samuel 17:32].
They took him to Saul the king [1 Samuel 17:31], and Saul looked at him and he said, "You? You meet that man of war who from the days of his youth has been a fighter? You?" [from 1 Samuel 17:33]
Do you remember what David said? That boy answered and said, "O King, when I was out there on the other side of the pasture, on the back end of that wilderness keeping my father’s flock, there came a lion to take a lamb out of the flock and there came a bear to take a lamb out of the flock, and I pursued him and seized him, and I slew him [from 1 Samuel 17:34-35]. The same Lord God that delivered the lion and the bear in my hands will deliver that uncircumcised, blaspheming Goliath of a Philistine!" [from 1 Samuel 17:36-37]
That little fellow went out there, just a small boy compared to the stature of that giant, and he said to him, "You come to me with a staff. You come to me with a spear, and a shield, and defying God, but I come to you in the name of the Lord God whom thou hast blasphemed" [1 Samuel 17:45]. And you know the story. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. And the sling shot from that boy sank into the forehead of Goliath, and he fell down dead, dead! [1 Samuel 17:-50] That’s God. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. If it’s a task God has assigned, there is grace and strength and unction from heaven to do it [Philippians 2:13]; whatever it is, whatever it is.
I think Paul meant there in that text, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13], I think Paul meant there in that text also that I can face the future with whatever they hold, and certainly it held for him martyrdom and death. I can face it triumphantly. I can do it, in Christ, whatever the unfolding years may bring. That is the universal testimony of the children of God: whatever, however, in Christ there’s boldness and fearlessness and courage and victory and triumph. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
Ignatius [Ignatius of Antioch, d. 107 CE] was called to be pastor of the church at Antioch in about 70 AD – I’d say about, maybe, twenty-three years after this epistle [Philippians] was written. And he was so mighty a preacher and so blessed of God in his ministry that he emptied the temples and was taking the whole city of Antioch to the feet of Jesus. Because of the effectiveness of that man of God, he was condemned by the emperor Trajan [53-117 CE] to be exposed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. First martyr, they say, who was ever exposed in the Coliseum. In Paul’s day, it was not completed. The first Christian martyr, they say, is this great preacher of Antioch, Ignatius. And they say that when Ignatius stood in the Roman amphitheater and those wild beasts were turned out of their cages that a ferocious lion made his way toward Ignatius. And unafraid and undisturbed, absolutely fearless, Ignatius stood until the lion approached and reached forth his hand and his arm and thrust it into the mouth of the panting and hungry beast. And when the lion crunched the bones in his hand and in his arm, Ignatius said, "Now – now – I begin to be a Christian."
"I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. Unafraid: "I begin" – think of it – "to be a Christian."
Now, in just a moment – and I’m done – I want to take from the apostle Paul, and I’ll do it in just a moment. Listen to it. I want to take from the apostle Paul, out of his own life, how the strength of Christ is mediated to a child of God. First, how we can be strong in the Lord – first. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, all of this is found. First, the strength of Christ is mediated to us through our submission to the Lord. "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:6] That’s first. "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" That’s the sixth verse to the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts.
That’s first: "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? Do You want me to come down that aisle and confess my faith in Jesus? Then here I am right down that aisle. Do You want me to be baptized in that baptistery, buried with the Lord and raised with the Lord? [Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12] Right there, I’ll be baptized. Do You want me to be in this church? Then Lord, in this church I am and here I come. Do You want me to preach the gospel? Do You want me to be a layman? Do You want me to go, or to come, or to stay, or to be quiet, or to teach, or to sing? Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? What?" That’s first: "Lord, here I am. You say the word, give the command, and here I am to obey." That’s first: "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
All right, second: look in that eleventh verse. Second, it comes through prayer. "Arise, go in to the street which is called Straight, inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he prayeth" [Acts 9:11]. "He prayeth."
"I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. There is power in the name of Jesus [Acts 4:10, 12], and we’re to pray in the name of Jesus [Hebrews 4:14-16]. First, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:6] And then, praying in the name of Jesus [Acts 9:11]. As Paul wrote in the last chapter of his first Thessalonian letter, "Brethren, pray for us, pray" [1 Thessalonians 5:25]. And it comes through prayer, "Lord, Lord," and God answers prayer [1 John 5:14-15].
All right, third, in the seventeenth verse: "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit" [Acts 9:17]. It comes in the enabling, enduing power of the Spirit of God upon us, and I have a persuasion in this.
I have a belief, a conviction, and it goes like this: anything that God has given us to do, He gives us the Spirit by which to do it. And the thing turns around: and when God gives us the Spirit, He doesn’t give it just for the fun of it, or for the show of it, or for the circus of it, but God gives us the Spirit for a task [1 Corinthians 12:7]. God’s got something for us to do.
Some people feel they’ve got the Spirit in order to – well, I don’t know what all they do: cavort and talk in tongues, and act. I don’t know what – just show. No sir, not in the Book, not in the Bible. When the Holy Spirit of God is given to a people, it is given for a great enabling purpose. God’s got a work for us to do and, "Brother Saul, I have come. Jesus has sent me that you might receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost" [from Acts 9:17]. That was an enabling power to do the work God had called him to do.
All right, look here at the nineteenth verse: "And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus" [Acts 9:19]. And that’s the next thing about how God mediates His strength to us: He does it in our coming together [Matthew 18:20; Acts 2:1-4]. I don’t know why God does it that way. All I know is that He does it that way.
Any man that says to me, "Did you know I can be just as good a Christian and never go to church? Did you know I can serve my God way out there on the knoll of the hill just as well as I can there in the Lord’s house?" All I can say is this: God never said that! No, sir. God never arranged it that way. There is something about the community of people. There’s something about the sharing together of the experience of the Lord, the preaching of the Word, the singing of the hymn, the bowing of the head in prayer – there’s something about that that gives power and unction to a man’s life. It does. Like the Book of Hebrews says, "Exhort one another, exhort one another, encourage one another" [Hebrews 10:24], and gathering our people together is an exhortation and an encouragement for us to be strong in the Lord.
Now this last. This is the same kind of a story that you’ll find in the [ninth] chapter of the Book of Acts: "Then the disciples took him by night and let him down the wall in a basket," and he went away into Jerusalem from the terrible persecution [Acts 9:25-26]. And in the eighteenth chapter when a like persecution came upon him [Acts 18:1-18], it says, "And there stood by me this night, [the Lord], who spake and said . . . " [Acts 18:9-10] And then again, in that terrible storm at sea: "For there stood by me this night the angel of the Lord who said . . . " [Acts 27:23]. "I can do all things through Christ whichstrengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
When you’re in the pilgrim way and doing the work of the Lord, there’s an angel who stands by your side [Psalm 91:11; Hebrews 1:14, 13:2]. He’s a guardian [Matthew 18:10]. He’s a keeper. He’s for strength and direction; and the child of God has that angel, a ministering spirit, to give strength and direction in the way.
"I can do all things." What blasphemous presumption! No. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
Now, while we sing this song, somebody into that aisle and down here to the front and by the side of this pastor: "Here I come to give my heart in faith and trust to the Lord. Here I am." A family of you to put your life in the church, just one somebody you, answering the call of the Lord: while we make this appeal, while we sing this song, anywhere, you come into this aisle and down here to the front. Would you so? Would you so? I can’t do this work. It’s of God, or it’s nothing at all. The appeal that you answer is God’s appeal to your heart. It’s Christ; it’s the Spirit of Jesus. Will you answer? "Here I am, and here I come." Will you make it now? In this great throng of people in the balcony, down these stairwells and here to the front. And this host on this lower floor, somebody you in that back row, anywhere, as God shall speak to your heart, "Here I come, and here I am." Will you do it? Will you? Will you make it now while we stand and while we sing?