Philippians 4:10-13: Exegesis and Syntax


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The writing of a letter in ancient times was a special thing, yet it seems the estimation of what a letter is has escaped the modern person.[1] In an age where communication is as instant as the punch of a button, at text, or a voice-to-text there appears to be as E. Randolph Richards observes:

a struggle to understand how much a handwritten letter, which was already weeks old, meant to the reader. Although usually battered from the journey, such letters did more than just bring news; one could almost feel the warmth of the hand that wrote it and the sound of the voice that spoke it.[2]

Letters are not cold mechanical communiques. Charles B. Cousar mentions how letters “are always sent as surrogates for a visit,”[3] and usually in ancient times the trusted courier (“emissary”) would also “supplement” the written message with an oral greeting from the sender.[4] The arrival of a letter and a message was, therefore, a joyous occasion (Phil 2:19).

Adapting the letter for church use was, therefore, natural and ingenious.[5] The Philippian letter then, being a product of an ancient letter society, is not necessarily unique so far as its general composition is concerned;[6] however, it is inherently valuable because it is inspired instruction (2 Tim 3:16-17).[7] It allowed the apostle Paul to make his presence felt so that he might personally address a few matters (Phil 2:12). It also gave him a platform to reconnect with his beloved Philippians, those who always supported him in his ministry (Phil 1:5, 4:15).

It is this last thought which forms the focus of this study. In Philippians 4:10-13, Paul acknowledges the gift from this Macedonian congregation. Yet, this “thank you” memo quickly turns into an opportunity to stress a spiritual perspective which he himself had to learn, and one which he desperately desires them to learn: the source of strength to do the humanly impossible does not come from within, it comes from above.

This is an important lesson for the church to reflect upon. There is a temptation to derive strength from within. There is also something unnerving to surrender oneself over to the strengthening influence of an invisible God when in the presence of visible and tangible problems. We can only transcend our surroundings through God.

Background and Context

Philippians 4:10-13 follows after the paraenetic section[8] of Philippians (3:1-4:9), where despite some harsh words regarding false teachers, he encourages the Philippian church to forebear through joy and peace.[9] Handley Moule agrees noting, “the directly didactic message of the Epistle is now over and he turns to the personal topic of the alms, for himself and his work, received through Epaphroditus from Philippi.”[10] There is a hint at the beginning of the letter regarding the longevity of their support of Paul (1:3-7), but nothing explicit regarding a recent “gift” until 4:10-20 of which only verses 10-13 will be discussed below.

Letter writing often, revelation notwithstanding, was usually mitigated at the knowledge of an associate traveling.[11] Epaphroditus had arrived from Philippi, but after recovering from an illness Paul sends him with  Timothy to Philippi (2:19-30). It is without doubt that one of Paul’s purposes for the letter is to express thanksgiving for the gift he has received.[12] This created the reason for the letter.

Yet, if grattitude was one of the main reasons for ne of Paul’s reasons for sending the letter being to thank the brethren at Philippi, “it seems strange,” as Donald Guthrie writes:

on a first reading that Paul should conclude by a reference to the Philippians’ revived concern for him. It almost savours [sic] of ingratitude to be so casual about it. And yet he may have had a purpose in postponing until the end the mention of the Philippians’ gifts.[13]

Indeed, placement of some vocabulary within Paul’s section of thanksgiving has made this passage subject of much discussion.

First, it must be noted that the thanksgiving for the gift should not be viewed as the sole reason for the letter, since the letter has other specific areas that it addresses. Archibald T. Robertson suggests that Paul “seemed about to forget it in his eager discussion of other things and so he checked himself before it was too late.”[14] But again, there is no reason to treat Paul as “the absent minded apostle,” for the unity of the letter is sound.

In fact, there is an interesting parallel between “the important verbal parallels between thanksgiving (1:3-11) and the closing note of thanks (4:10-20),”[15] demonstrating a planned arrangement consistent with epistolary composition.[16] Epistolary productions were not a haphazard endeavor, there was a process from draft to final copy.[17] Gordon Fee observes that the gratitude section’s “placement at the end of the letter is most likely due to the combined influence of orality and Pauline rhetoric.”[18]

Second, Paul’s appreciation is sometimes regarded as savoring “of ingratitude to be so casual about it”; moreover, Gerald Hawthorne refers to this section as “this so-called ‘thank you’ section, since Paul does not use the verb eucharistein (‘to thank’ someone for something).”[19] But, as Gerald Peterman demonstrates, some scholars approach this issue “without taking cognizance of first century social conventions related to gratitude.”[20]

These conventions demonstrate that the use of eucharistein was inappropriate among intimate friends,[21] that instead of a verbal (i.e. written) thank you a material one of some kind was rendered, and that verbal gratitude “is an expression of debt or of one’s intention to repay.”[22] It is interesting that Paul promises God will repay the Philippians for their troubles (Phil 4:19). Consequently, the Philippian letter is in “keeping with the thankless thanks practiced in the first century Graeco-Roman [sic] world.”[23] Peterman’s observations, however, have not swayed all students of this letter.

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Exegesis of Philippians 4:10-13

10 | I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.[24]

The postpositive de is often omitted in English translations and in general it may be of minor importance since it is one of the weakest of connective conjunctions; however, the fact that it is a conjunction demonstrates that what Paul says here is related to what is previously stated. In other words, de is transitional here,[25] and its importance is Paul rhetorically demonstrating that he had not forgotten to show his thanksgiving of the Philippians.[26]

Alfred Plummer expands the de and translates the particle as “but I must not omit,”[27] and suggests that this “indicates that something has just occurred to him. He has been meaning to say it, but might have forgotten. The de looks back to vv. 4-9, or perhaps earlier. ‘I have been exhorting you to rejoice and to imitate me: so I must thank you for making me rejoice.’”[28] Paul’s “words have to be read in the light of the deep mutual affection existing between him and the Philippian church and in the light of his well-attested financial policy.”[29]

Echaren,[30] I rejoice, is the aorist passive indicative verb (chairo, “I rejoice” and “I am glad”). The word here basically expresses a “state of happiness and wellbeing.”[31] There is a complication regarding how chairo should be taken here, made evident by two renditions of echaren. The ESV renders chairo in the present force “I rejoice” (ASV, TEV, NIV, RSV, JB, NEB, NET); however, other translations render chairo with its aorist tense expressed “I was glad” (KJV, NKJV, ASV fn., NASU, FHV).

On the main, chairo is rendered as an epistolary aorist, which “is most often found in letters where there is a time gap between writing and reading”; furthermore:

As a courtesy to the reader, the writer adopts the time perspective of the reader, which is different from his own. He uses the aorist tense to describe an event which is present or future for him but which will be in the past by the time the reader receives the letter. Since there is no such idiom in English, such aorists are usually translated by using the present or future tense.[32]

While the epistolary aorist[33] makes sense, the aorist aspect of the verb[34] also makes perfect contextual sense.[35] Taking the aorist naturally, the apostle would be referring to the joy he experienced when he received the “care package” sent by the Philippians through Epaphroditus (Phil 1:5, 7; 2:25, 30; 4:18). Nevertheless, despite the plausibility of this latter translation, there is nothing requiring the interpreter to exclude the syntactical for the idiomatic association, and vice versa.[36] With this in mind, either take on the aorist verb makes sense, and this ambiguity only allows us to specifically regard Paul’s great joy as being initiated by the entire Philippian exchange.[37]

The phrase en kurio megalos, in the Lord greatly, appears to be as vivid a conception as it is unique. Albrecht Oepke observes that en kurio is a formula that is “not found prior to Paul” and is “rare outside the Pauline corpus.”[38] In fact, Oepke speculates that not only is this formula “peculiar to Paul,” but that such constructions perhaps find origin with him. The phrase en kurio “characterizes an activity or state as Christian.”[39] The activity, which is particularly a Christian activity, is the joy Paul is experiencing (Phil 4:10). Hans Conzelmann suggests that en kurio has “ecclesiological significance” since it is the sphere of this unique Christian joy.[40] This significance is seen in its eschatological emphasis as well; this latter sense is seen here in Paul’s joy, as he looks forward to the heavenly account from which the Philippians will reap spiritual dividends (Phil 4:17-20). Furthermore, Paul’s unique experience of Christian joy is enhanced by the adverb megalos, greatly, and cannot be contextually understood apart from it. When Paul rejoiced, the location of his joy was nowhere else active, aside from it being in the Lord.

The reason for such a joy was that now at length (hoti ede pote) the Philippians had revived concern for (anethalete to huper emou phronein) Paul. The expression hoti ede pote provides great insight into the mind of the Philippians, and into Paul’s knowledge of their activities. The phrase ede pote should be taken to mean, “that after so long a time you again were in a position to show […] to be in a state identical to a previous state.”[41] The “previous state” is the concern (to huper phronein) regarding Paul’s situation. Against Guthrie,[42] this does not appear to be an indictment, for anethalete (second aorist, active indicative, 2nd person, plural) as it means here, “you caused to rekindle,” demonstrates Paul’s awareness that after so long a time the Philippians had a moment to finally act out on their concern (phronein). This is more apparent in connection with imperfect verbs ephroneite and ekaireisthe later addressed.

The Philippian concern for the Apostle is more evident with the following vocabulary – to huper emou phronein– which the ESV translates your concern for me. They had, as Paul understands them, “caused to rekindle your thoughts on behalf of myself.” The expression to huper emou phronein[43] should most definitely be translated as a unit, taking the articular infinitive and the huper emou construction, to express the overarching idea that Paul was a major concern for the Philippians.[44] They were prepared to act on his behalf when the opportunity presented itself again, and the arrival of Epaphroditus demonstrates that such an avenue arose.[45] “I know that had there been a earlier moment for you to continue caring for my well being, you would have done so. Despite how much time had lapsed since you last helped me, you acted instantaneously,” is probably closest in sentiment to Paul here.[46]

The phrase eph’ ho kai, literally “upon which also,” refers back to what the Philippians were already concerned for (ephroneite); thus, the ESV translates eph’ (from epi) ho kai ephroneite as You were indeed concerned for me. The syntactical construction of the text makes a literal rendering into English somewhat awkward, however, a literal rendering of the text would result this alternative, “upon which also you had concern.” The ESV rendering retains the emphasis upon the Philippian concern for Paul, as it inserts for me, and also completes the thought in English by providing a direct object for the verb to act towards.[47] Still, the Imperfect Active Indicative 2nd person plural ephroneite, also from phroneo, rendered here, as you were concerned, fills in the chronological blanks which ede pote creates, because the latter expression implicitly suggests a lapse in time before the Philippians could revive their concern. The imperfect active indicative form of phroneo suggests continued action in the past; consequently, the picture Paul elaborately canvasses is that despite the long duration which had elapsed, the Philippian congregation’s actual concern and meditation remained constant demonstrated by this most recent financial fellowship.[48] The point is: they had never forgotten the Apostle Paul whether in action or in thought, and Paul knew it![49]

Paul again reaffirms his understanding of the situation that circumscribed the Philippians’ gift, and tells them but I know that you had no opportunity (ekaireisthe de). The transitional particle de here moves from the long-standing concern (ephroneite), to the long-standing vacuum of opportunity (ekaireisthe) to send some assistance to Paul. You had no opportunity derives from the imperfect, middle deponent, indicative, 2nd person plural verb form of akaireomai, meaning “to have no time”[50] or “to not have a favorable opportunity to do something […], to have no chance.”[51] Placing the nature of this verb in the imperfect tense, Paul details a parallel picture with ephroneite; whereas, the Philippians always had Paul on their minds, here ekaireisthe shows the Philippians suffered with the dual issue that they had no convenient moment to act out their good will towards the apostle. Robertson suggests possibly that ekaireisthe could mean, “lacked means,”[52] but akaireomai[53] is a “temporal” verb;[54] consequently, the only “means” that was lacking for them was a point in time to assist Paul.[55]

Only speculation can approximate what the hindrance was which limited the Philippians’ gift(s). Bruce suggests Paul requested the lengthy temporal retardation of financial assistance.[56] Hawthorne postulates that “time” refers to unfavorable weather conditions and a lack in traveling funds, setting up a barricade through which the Philippians could not penetrate.[57] Martin also extrapolates that perhaps there was no time available to the Philippians because of their poverty, but also speculates that Paul may have been in an “inaccessible place.”[58] Martin’s appraisal of the situation seems much far more compelling than the rest, but since there is insufficient testimony regarding why the delay, the issue must be left open.

11 | Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Paul moves from expressing his understanding of the historical background behind the Philippian gift, where he assures them that he understands their plight, to describing his own situation. Not that I am speaking of being in need (oux hoti kath’ husteresin lego),[59] demonstrates that Paul is making a clarification of some kind. In light of the Philippians’ concern for Paul, perhaps they had let their imagination get the better of them. Thus, when Epaphroditus met with Paul, this hyper-concern was revealed to Paul as a major impetus for the gift (1:12-14), so he clarifies that he is not in such dyer straights as they perhaps had thought. From grammatical considerations, it appears that Paul is explaining that (hoti) his joy, which he is speaking about (cf. lego),[60] is not the result from being in need (kath’ husteresin) when he received the gift. Instead, kath’, from kata, with the accusative singular husteresin, demonstrates that Paul affirms that the void which the gift was to fill was neither (oux) consistent, nor the reason,[61] for his joy. This seems odd since Paul uses the word husteresin, rendered as need in the ESV, which means, “the condition of lacking that which is essential” and “want in general, or poverty.”[62] It is taken here that Paul is not denying that he is in “an impoverished situation” (husteresin),[63] but instead he is elevating his joy in the Lord and denying that it was only inaugurated by receiving the a physical gift.

As noted above, Paul’s joy is the result of spiritual reflection as he looked upon the Christian fortitude demonstrated by the Philippian congregation.[64] His joy is in the Lord, not in the gift, which alleviated his “impoverished situation.” This is later demonstrated in 4:17, when he affirms, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit,” which is later expressed as being credited in the form of God’s care (cf. 4:19).[65] U. Wilckens notes that Paul’s joy “is not the joy of a poor person whose needs has been met”;[66] instead, as Gromacki observes Paul was “more grateful for the givers than for the gifts,” and as Vine concludes, “What they had sent he regarded not as so much relief, though that is was, but as a token of their spiritual prosperity.”[67] Paul’s joy is Christian in scope, and breaks away from being an “intrinsically […] secular term” as it is colored by the inspired Apostle to connote a joy that results from spiritual insight.[68]

Martin suggests that 4:11b to 4:13 is a parenthetical section, amplifying Paul’s meaning of his joy, labeling it as an “impressive statement of his ‘contentment.’”[69] The connections between 4.10-13 appear to go against Martin’s suggestion, since Paul moves from his “joy” (v. 10) towards an explanation on how he has arrived at this unique joy (vv. 11-13). Paul eventually reveals how, naming his empowering source for this joy as God (4:13); consequently, Martin’s parenthetical break appears to be unnecessary and possibly inconsistent with Paul’s thought processes. Since Paul denies that his joy stems from the gift within itself, for (gar) serves to prepare his readers’ mind for the true source of his joy. The apostle frankly admits I have learned (ego emathon). The verbal construction is emphatic, meaning “I myself found out (learned the secret).” Emathon, 2nd aorist active indicative, 1st person singular form of manthano,[70] which is a somewhat complex word, carrying three basic meanings, but contextually denotes coming “to a realization, with implications of taking place less through instruction than through experience or practice” and “reflection.”[71] Martin suggests that the aorist tense implies that “the lesson he learnt came to him in a moment of time”;[72] but, against this ambiguous evaluation of the aorist in this context, is Plummer, Robertson, Gromacki, and Hawthorne. Plummer suggests that this is a Greek idiom where the aorist, is better understood in the English perfect,[73] which corroborates with Robertson’s claim that it is a “timeless aorist” to be taken as a “constative aorist and sums up all the life of Paul as one experience.”[74] More likely, emathon “views all of his learning experiences as a whole.”[75]

The seasoned imprisoned apostle (1:7; 2 Cor 11:16-29) is sharing a spiritual pearl of wisdom, to which all ears must listen should they desire the joy he experiences; but, what he is sharing took time for even him to understand.[76] He explains that what he has learned allows him, in whatever situation (en hois) to be content (autarkes einai). The phrase, I am to be content (eimi autarkes einai) is emphatic, demonstrated by the two present active “be” verbs (eimi, “I am”; einai, “I am to be”) working together to underscore Paul’s own personal interaction with whatever situation may come his way. There is a tremendous personal emphasis made on the part of the apostle, that “he himself” learned that “he himself” must be content. No one else can do this for Paul, and no one can do it for the concerned mature Christian.

What then does Paul mean when he uses the word contentment? Contentment comes from autarkes, meaning, “pertaining to being happy or content with what one has – ‘[…] content with the circumstances in which one exists.’”[77] Moulton and Milligan have several examples of autarkes, “but” as they caution they are “only in the simple sense of ‘enough’”;[78] however, the non-literary papyri demonstrate that autarkes was employed to express “sufficiency” as in the example ton autarke keramon, translated “a sufficient number of jars.”[79] Furthermore, agreeing with Kennedy’s discussion of the philosophical usage of autarkes,[80] Moulton and Milligan express that “the [nonliterary papyri] record lends some emphasis to the Pauline use of the word in the philosophic sense of ‘self-sufficient, contented’ […] Paul could use the technical words of thinkers in their own way.”[81] Philosophically, G. Kittel observes, it carries the idea of a person who became “independent […] sufficient to himself and in need of none else”; distinctly Christian however, the word takes on the meaning of “capacity for external contentment and privation.”[82]

When Paul says, “I myself found out (learned the secret) that under whatever circumstances I myself am to be content (self-sufficient),” he is explaining why he is not rejoicing principally because of the gift. The gift within itself added nothing, from a spiritual vantage point, to Paul’s existence because he already had the mind set that he had everything necessary to exist –God (4:13, 19). Whereas “the pagan virtue is self-made, the Christian [virtue] rests upon God, [and] on his provident love and care.”[83] W. Barclay writes that the philosophical background of autarkes, promoted self-sufficiency, but Paul was God-sufficient.[84] The point in this passage is similar to that found in 2 Corinthians 1:9, where Paul says, “we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (ESV cf. 2 Cor 3:5).[85] In light of Paul’s imprisonment, his words are astounding:

Though deprived of every comfort, and cast as a lonely man on the shores of the great strange metropolis, with every movement of his clanking a fetter, and nothing before him but the lion’s mouth or the sword, he speaks serenely of contentment.[86]

“Paul could face anything, because in every situation he had Christ; the man who walks Christ can cope with anything.”[87] Mature Christians need to learn from this to “change what ought to be changed for the better. What cannot be cured has to be endured.”[88]

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.

What comes next in the text are extremes which Paul lists to demonstrate what he has experienced, and there is a hint of implication that these are the lands of existence Paul pilgrimage through to learn his lesson of how to obtain Christian joy through Christian contentment. Paul employs oida twice in this passage, being a perfect active tense verb that has a present active tense meaning,[89] 1st person singular form related to ginosko, “I know.” The word means, “to have the knowledge as to how to perform a particular activity or to accomplish some goal,”[90] and in this context is employed to demonstrate Paul’s first had knowledge as to “how” to perform “not only”[91] (kai) when he is brought low (tapeinousthai) “but also” (kai) when he abounds (perisseuein). This is a sample of Paul’s defining experiences that helped him see the joy and contentment that God had been revealing to him.

Paul declares I know how to be brought low (oida kai tapeinousthai), which is the same as saying that Paul had expertise gained through experience (cf. manthano 4.11) on how to focus on the essentials when he was “subject to strict discipline” where constrainment and mortification was his reality (tapeinousthai).[92] Guthrie is right when he writes, “‘Abased or abounding’ fairly sums up the natural alternatives.”[93] Tapeinousthai is the present passive infinitive of tapeinoo, coupling the perfect-present tense of oida, Paul composes the idea that he had from the past learning, experience, and coping with being brought low, and after a history with this he could now say that I can perform if he was left to undergo such difficult circumstances. Moreover, he adds and I know how to abound (oida kai tapeinousthai), where perisseuein is the present active infinitive, of perisseuo, meaning to “have an abundance.”[94] Consequently, Paul is addressing his history of circumstance where he considered himself rich and states that he knows what it takes to be “an abundance” maker. However, should he go that route in life, Paul learned in whatever situation he was in to be content (4:11), which is Paul point here as he uses tapeinoo and perisseuo as his conflicting motifs.

With in any and every circumstance (en panti kai en pasin), Paul further develops how significant the extent of his joy making contentment. There is no circumstance, from Paul’s mind, that can shake his Christian deportment. No matter what, Paul has the disposition that he can smile in the face of adversity.[95] Besides disclosing that he had learned (ego emathon), or had an experiential knowledge regarding contentment, he now states I have learned the secret of facing plenty (memuemai, kai chortazesthai). Memuemai is the perfect passive indicative form of mueo, meaning, “to learn the secret of something through personal experience or as the result of initiation.”[96] This is somewhat a synonymous phrase, but there appears to be difference as Bruce suggests a more esoteric concept, “I have been initiated” by God.[97] Due to the perfect tense, the verb embraces two time periods at the exact same time – the past and the present. Here, the ESV rendering is a precisely vivid, and the message is this: Paul has had this secret with him for quite some time, and it because of its proven worth, it is still a faithful principle upon Paul builds his life.

Paul recounts his experience with plenty and hunger (kai chortazesthai kai peinan), and with abundance and need (perisseuein kai hustepeisthai), and affirms that he lived through them with Christian joy as his compass. These are four interesting present infinitive verbs, placed in two contrasting formulas, and connected by four consecutive kai’s:

kai chortazesthai (present passive infinitive): and to be filled with food

kai peinan (present active infinitive): and to hunger

kai perisseuein (present active infinitive): and to have abundance

kai hustepeisthai  (present passive infinitive): and to be made deficient

Another aspect of these contrasts is that one verb from each contrasting set is a passive verb; meanwhile, the other verb is an active verb. Aside from the any revelatory intentionality regarding the text, it hardly seems accidental that these are placed in this quadra-kai construction, or that a shift voice shift exists in each set. Perhaps Paul is touching on items the Philippians were concerned about, but what is definite is the case Paul is building regarding Christian joy stemming from spiritual contentment. This is the knowledge which he has been initiated into and which he wishes to share with his beloved brethren.[98]

Before considering these two sets as individual paradigms of what Paul can face, because of the experience he has with such matters, one line of thought needs to be evaluated. This is the nature of the quadrakai construction. Lenski observes this quadrakai construction, and takes them to mean “both – as well as” in each case.[99] This seems reasonable, and makes perfect sense; thus, it is suggested that the quadrakai construction must not be ignored in the interpretation of this section. First, Paul says that he has the secret to face both plenty as well as hunger (kai). Chortazesthai is the present passive infinitive of chortazo, I “fill with food,”[100] meaning here, “to be filled with food”; thus, what Paul is referring to is be satiated with food.[101] The verb peinan, the present active infinitive form of peinao, means “hunger” and serves as the exact opposite of chortazo, meaning here “to feel the pangs of lack of food.”[102]

Second, Paul says that he has the secret to face both abundance as well as need (kai perisseuein kai hustepeisthai). Perisseuein is the present active infinitive verb form of perisseuo, meaning as noted above to “have an abundance.”[103] Opposing perisseuo, the verb hustepeisthai is employed by Paul to accentuate these two antithetical words. Hustepeisthai, the present passive infinitive of hustepreo, denotes here “to experience deficiency in something advantageous or desirable.”[104] These contrasts are interesting, because they are usually things that one would not necessarily view as dangerous, particularly the positive ideas of “satiation” (chortazesthai) and abundance (perisseuein); however, each group Paul mentions can be dangerous.[105] Paul then uses these contrasts that can be used to describe the majority of life, and moves into what he really wants to tell the Philippians – the one that empowers me through these difficult times is God; consequently, I cannot but feel joy and contentment.

13 | I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul has finally prepared his readers in Philippi for better absorption of this next point, I can do all things (panta iskuo). G. Kittel makes the observation that “panta iskuo (v.13) seems to be fully identical with the philosophical autarkes en panti […] Yet the root is en to endunamounti.[106] Kittel suggests that while the philosophers depended upon their own empowering volition, the Christian has God as their empowering presence. The word iskuo, is the present active indicative, 1st person singular verb which means, “I am strong,” or having the “requisite personal resources to accomplish” a task.[107] Self-sufficiency only makes sense to the Christian if God is the empowering agent that the Christian has to make them self-sufficient. Paul in the Colossian letter explains it in this fashion, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col 1:12).

That is why Paul affirms strongly that he can do all things through him who strengthens me (en to endunamounti me). The phrase endunamounti me, having the dative masculine singular, present active participle, of endunamao, means, “to cause one to be able to function or do something” (i.e., strengthen).[108] Here, the participle in association with me should be understood as “the one who strengthens me.”

Some would argue that Paul is vague and makes no explicit claim as to who is “the one who strengthens” him. However, the context shows that “the one who strengthens” Paul is the Lord. We have argued elsewhere that

contextually, “the one who strengthens me” (4:13b) goes back to the presence of Jesus (“in the Lord”) in 4:10a and it is obvious that this is Paul’s intended meaning, even though it is not Paul’s words.[109] 

As Hendrickson words it, “The Lord is for Paul the Fountain of Wisdom, encouragement, and energy, actually infusing strength into him for every need.”[110] God is the enabler (endunamounti), through Whom Paul can face the trials of life with a smile (2 Cor 12:9-10).[111]

With these observations in hand, it is important to state a limitation to this Scripture. It is often thought that Paul’s words offer limitless promise; however, the “do all things” is best conceived of as “endure all things.” It is that Paul has learned the Christian secret that he can endure all the challenges thus far because the Lord empowers him to endure which is at the heart of this passage.

To illustrate this point, missionary Gary Reaves shares an interesting anecdote:

Once in a class at Freed-Hardeman University, my professor, Dowell Flatt, brought a scroll of papyrus to class to show us what some of the New Testament was written on. Out of nowhere he asked, “Rusty, can you see this scroll?” It is important to know that Rusty is blind.

For a moment he teased Rusty saying, “What’s the matter, if your faith was stronger you could see this… well I guess you just need to pray harder.” Then, he began the most fascinating discourse on Philippians 4.13 I had ever heard.

So often people convey a message that you can do everything through Christ who strengthens you; you can do it! But can you really do everything?[112]

No, Paul’s words are a not a limitless billboard promise that in Christ we an do anything. Some things are not subject to being done. However, they do stress that in Christ all of life’s circumstances can be endured in anticipation of gaining the hope Christ offers.


  1. Davis discusses the practical value of the ancient papyrus sheet upon which letters were written. See W. Hersey Davis. Greek Papyri of the First Century: Introduction, Greek Text, English Translation, Commentary, Notes (repr., Chicago, IL: Ares, 1933), xx.
  2. E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 13.
  3. Charles B. Cousar, The Letters of Paul (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 30; Richard N. Longenecker, “On the Form, Function, and Authority of the New Testament Letters,” Scripture and Truth, eds. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), 101-02, 104.
  4. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills (Collegeville, PA: Liturgical Press, 1995), 39.
  5. Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 312.
  6. Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985), 13; William G. Doty, Letters in Primitive Christianity (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988), 18; Richard N. Longenecker, “Ancient Amanuenses and the Pauline Epistles,” New Dimensions in New Testament Study, eds. Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974), 283.
  7. Longenecker, “On the Form,” 101.
  8. Paraenesis is the “Greek word for ‘advice.’ Ethical, edifying material, often associated with moral instruction or preaching” (Doty, Letters in Primitive Christianity, 83); Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, 3rd rev. and expanded ed. (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2001), 132-33.
  9. Richard N. Longenecker catalogues Philippians as a pastoral letter, “conveying the apostolic presence, teaching, and authority” and thus as a pastoral letter it would have been “read widely in the churches (cf. their salutations and such verses as Col 4:16; 1 Thess 5:27). Yet as letters arising from a particular situation and speaking to that situation, their message was more circumstantially than systematically delivered. They are not tractate- or essay letters. They are real letters dealing pastorally with issues then current, and they must be interpreted accordingly” (“On the Form,” 104).
  10. Handley C. G. Moule, Studies in Philippians (1893; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1977), 116.
  11. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer, 40.
  12. William Hendrickson, Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1962), 19.
  13. Donald Guthrie, Epistles from Prison: Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (New York, NY: Abingdon, 1964), 47.
  14. Archibald T. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ: Studies in Philippians (New York, NY: Revell, 1917), 245-46.
  15. John D. Harvey, Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 245-46. Harvey demonstrates three particular parallels within the section under discussion: chairo (1:4; 4:10), huper with phroneo (1:7; 4:10), and perisseuo (1:9; 4:12). These parallels may not alone prove the unity case, but as Harvey demonstrates there is considerable evidence to show a literary relationship between 1:3-11 and 4:10-20 (246).
  16. E. Iliff Robson, “Composition and Dictation in New Testament Books,” JTS 18 (1917): 289-91; Gordon J. Bahr, “Paul and Letter Writing in the First Century,” CBQ 28 (1966): 470.
  17. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer, 8-16.
  18. Gordon D. Fee, To What End Exegesis? Essays Textual, Exegetical, and Theological (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 284.
  19. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1983), 195.
  20. Gerald W. Peterman, “‘Thankless Thanks’: The Epistolary Social Convention in Philippians 4:10-20,” TynB 42 (1991): 261.
  21. Fee, To What End Exegesis?, 283-87.
  22. Peterman, “‘Thankless Thanks,’” 264.
  23. Peterman, “‘Thankless Thanks,’” 270.
  24. All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
  25. Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians (1937; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001), 886.
  26. Hawthorne, Philippians196.
  27. Alfred Plummer, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (London: Roxburghe, 1919), 100.
  28. Plummer, Epistle to the Philippians, 100.
  29. Frederick F. Bruce, Philippians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 148.
  30. The Greek text underlying this discussion is The Greek New Testament (UBS4), 4th revised ed., eds. Barbara Aland, et al. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2002).
  31. BDAG 1074.
  32. James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 102.
  33. Here are a few examples of the epistolary aorist within the Pauline corpus where it “is merely looking at the letter from the standpoint of the recipient” (Archibald T. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, A New Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 10th ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979], 296): (1) Tuchikos… hon epempsa pros humas: Tychicus whom I am sending to you (Col 4:7-8); (2) Ego Paulos egrapsa te eme cheiri: I, Paul, write (this) with my own hand (Philem 19); (3) anangkaion hegesamen Epaphroditon… pempsai pros humas: I consider (it to be) a necessary thing to send Epaphroditus to you (Phil 2:25). See also Brooks and Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek, 102.
  34. Hawthorne, Philippians, 196.
  35. This is possibly an aorist ingressive. Jacobus Johannes Müller, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), 145; Moule, Studies in Philippians, 116. However, Lenski argues that this is “a simple aorist of fact” (Philippians, 886).
  36. Müller, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon, 145; J. Hugh. Michael, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (London: Hodder, 1928), 212; Hendrickson, Exposition of Philippians, 203.
  37. Robert G. Gromacki, Stand United in Joy: An Exposition of Philippians. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), 186. In addition, Robertson suggests that Paul’s joy stemmed from the difficulty the apostle experienced as he would often be supported by those he ministered to, he would often defend his right to receive support and at times he would be attacked from his lack or use of financial support. Since the Philippians supported him time and again, Robertson concludes, “He rejoiced in the church at Philippi because they trusted him and understood him. They gladly and frequently made contributions for the support of his work elsewhere” (Paul’s Joy in Christ, 246-47). Gromacki further contributes: “He rejoiced because God had met his need and because God had constrained the Philippians to give. This same principle was designed to encourage the Corinthians to participate in the welfare collection (2 Cor 9:11-13)” (Stand United in Joy, 186).
  38. Albrecht Oepke, “en,” TDNT 2:541.
  39. Oepke, “en,” TDNT 2:541.
  40. Hans Conzelmann, “chaírō, chará, sungchaíro,” TDNT 9:369.
  41. L&N 1:152.
  42. Guthrie, Epistles from Prison, 47.
  43. Present active infinitive, of phroneo, “I think.” Hawthorne observes that “because phronein characterized the relationship of the Philippian Christians meant that they of necessity would be personally involved in promoting the welfare of the apostle by whatever means they had at their disposal” (Philippians, 196-97).
  44. J. Gresham Machen, in his beginner’s Greek grammar, discusses the difficulty sometimes undergone transferring the articular infinitive into the English language. The articular infinitive “is usually to be translated into English by a clause introduced by a conjunction. But it must not be supposed that the details of such translation have anything to do with the details of the Greek original. It is rather the total idea expressed by the Greek phrase which is transferred into a totally different idiom” (New Testament Greek for Beginners (1923; repr., Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2000), 139.
  45. Harry Angus A. Kennedy, “The Epistle to the Philippians,” EGT 3:469.
  46. Robert Johnstone, Lectures Exegetical and Practical on the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (1875; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1955), 393; Lenski, Interpretation, 888; Müller, Epistles of Paul, 146; Gromacki, Stand United in Joy, 186; Albert Barnes, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, updated ed., ed. Robert Frew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1949), 217; William E. Vine, “Philippians,” in The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1996), 2:323; Wayne Jackson, The Book of Philippians: A Grammatical and Practical Study (Abilene, TX: Quality, 1987), 85; William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, revised ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster, 1975), 84; Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, revised ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 177.
  47. As an aside, it is interesting to note that such an object may be implied contextually and make perfect sense in the Greek language.
  48. Jackson, Philippians, 85.
  49. The Philippians had not forgotten Paul, “he had not been out of their thoughts, but he had been beyond their reach! When, however, opportunity presented itself, their thoughts blossomed into action!” (Jackson, Philippians, 85).
  50. Gerhard Delling, “ákairpos, akairéō, eúkairos, eukairía,” TDNT 3:462.

  51. L&N 1:630.
  52. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 248.
  53. This word is a hapax legomena in the New Testament.
  54. BDAG 34.
  55. L&N 1:629.
  56. Bruce, Philippians, 148-49.
  57. Hawthorne, Philippians, 197.
  58. Martin, Philippians, 177.
  59. oux hoti is elsewhere evident in this epistle (3.12), where Paul guards “against misapprehension” (Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 248).
  60. Lego indicates and points back to something already under discussion, or to give the proper meaning about something already known (BDAG 588); here, Paul’s kairo appears to be the best candidate. Michael, Philippians, 214.
  61. BDAG 1044; Ulrich Wilckens, “hústeros, hústeron, husteréō, aphusteréō, hustérēma, hustérēsis,” TDNT 8:598.
  62. Kata, with the accusative construction, is a “marker of norm, of similarity or homogeneity” and may be translated as “according to, in accordance with, in conformity with, according to” and here according to BDAG the “norm is the reason” (512). BDAG further embellishes this meaning here by stating that contextually it connotes both the idea of “in accordance with and because of are merged” – consistency and reason (512).
  63. A. Plummer infers from that the word husteresin implies “actual penury” (Epistle to the Philippians, 101). Against this observation is Bruce, who affirms, “Paul greatly appreciated the Philippians’ kind thought, but he assures them that he had not been in need of support of this kind” (Philippians, 149). Cf. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Philippians, trans. James W. Leitch (Richmond, VA: Knox, 1962), 127. Bruce bases his case upon a supposed Pauline “policy” of not living “at the expense of his converts” (2 Thess 3:9), though he had the right to (1 Cor 9:12; Philippians, 149); however, while he did not accept support from “his [Corinthian] converts,” he “robbed” from “his [Macedonian] converts,” and received “wages” to preach full time at Corinth (2 Cor 11:7-9 ASV). Furthermore, Paul recanted from this optional situation at Corinth, seeing that it caused his ministry more harm than good (2 Cor 11:12-15) –“forgive me this wrong” (2 Cor 12:11-13). Hence, Bruce’s argumentation is flawed because its supposition is false.
  64. Lenski, Philippians, 888.
  65. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (ESV).
  66. Wilckens, “hústeros, hústeron, husteréō, aphusteréō, hustérēma, hustérēsis,” TDNT 8:599; Jackson, Philippians, 86.
  67. Gromacki, Stand United in Joy, 186; Vine, “Philippians,” 323.
  68. Conzelmann, “chaírō, chará, sungchaíro,” TDNT 9:366.
  69. Martin, Philippians, 177.
  70. This is same word used to describe Jesus in Heb 5:8 (L&N 1:327).
  71. BDAG 615; L&N 1:327.
  72. Martin, Philippians, 178.
  73. Plummer, Epistle to the Philippians, 101.
  74. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 250; Brooks and Winbery, Syntax, 99: “The constative aorist views the action in its entirety with no reference to its beginning, its end, its progress, or its result. The action is simply stated as a fact.”
  75. Gromacki, Stand United in Joy, 186; Hawthorne, Philippians, 198.
  76. As Guthrie points out, “such contentment is not automatic” (Epistles from Prison47).
  77. L&N 1:299.
  78. MM 93.
  79. MM 93.
  80. “Dr. Johnson talked with approbation of one who had attained to the state of the philosophical wise man, that is, to have no want of anything. ‘Then, sir,’ said he, ‘I do not mean simply being without, – but not having a want’” (469-70). Kennedy, “The Epistle to the Philippians,” EGT 3:469-70; Gerhard Kittel, “arkéō, arketós, autárkeia, autárkēs,” TDNT 1:466.
  81. MM 93.
  82. Kittel, “arkéō, arketós, autárkeia, autárkēs,” TDNT 1:466-67.
  83. Lenski, Philippians, 889.
  84. Barclay, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 85.
  85. Leander E. Keck, Paul and His Letters, 2d edition (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988), 121.
  86. Frederick B. Meyer, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Devotional Commentary (London: Religious Tract Society, 1912), 241.
  87. Barclay, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 85.
  88. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 252.
  89. L&N 2:172.
  90. L&N 1:335; BDAG 694.
  91. The kai-kai lends itself to the “both… and” and the “not only… but also” translation (BDAG 495).
  92. BDAG 990.
  93. Guthrie, Epistles from Prison47.
  94. BDAG 805.
  95. Robertson, Paul’s Joy in Christ, 252.
  96. L&N 1:327.
  97. Bruce, Philippians, 151; MM 418; Bruce’s suggestion is based upon the root derivation of the verbal to musterion (Philippians, 151). Following Bruce’s suggestion, it appears that the word carries the idea of initiation “into the mysteries,” which of has allusion to “religious secrets” of the mystery cults. Henry H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, NY: American Book Co., 1889), 419-20.
  98. Guthrie, Epistles from Prison47, Moule, Studies in Philippians116.
  99. Lenski, Philippians, 890, Robertson,  Paul’s Joy in Christ, 254-55.
  100. BDAG 1087.
  101. MM 690.
  102. MM 501; BDAG 792.
  103. BDAG 805.
  104. BDAG 1044.
  105. Jackson, Philippians, 86.
  106. Kittel, “arkéō, arketós, autárkeia, autárkēs,” TDNT 1:467.
  107. BDAG 484.
  108. BDAG 333.
  109. Jovan Payes, “Philippians 4:13: Did Paul Write Christ?,” (25 November 2015).
  110. Hendrickson, Philippians, 206.
  111. Plummer, Epistle to the Philippians, 102.
  112. Gary Reaves, “Philippians 4:13: Can You Do, or Endure?,” (6 March 2011).


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—. “On the Form, Function, and Authority of the New Testament Letters.” Pages 101-14 in Scripture and Truth. Eds. Donald A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983.

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Martin, Ralph P. Philippians. Revised ed. TNTC. Edited by Leon Morris. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.

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Meyer, Frederick B. The Epistle to the Philippians: A Devotional Commentary. London: Religious Tract Society, 1912.

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—, and W. Hersey Davis. A New Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament. 10th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979.

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Vine, William E. “Philippians.” Pages 277-327 in vol. 2 of The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1996.


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