On November 3, 2020, Christian leader, author, and blogger Tim Challies tragically lost his twenty-year-old son Nicholas. He suddenly collapsed and died while playing a sport on the grounds of Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. In an announcement the next morning detailing the heartbreaking loss, Challies wrote, “Yesterday Aileen and I cried and cried until we could cry no more until there were no tears left to cry. Then, later in the evening, we looked at each other in the eye and said, ‘We can do this.’ We don’t want to do this, but we can do this—this sorrow, this grief, this devastation—because we know we don’t have to do it in our own strength. We can do it like Christians, like a son and daughter of the Father who knows what it is to lose a Son.”
What a tragedy, but what a testimony! Here is a Christian couple faced with grave loss confessing a belief that they can handle this hurt through a strength that is divine, not human; heavenly, not earthly; inside of them, but from outside of them. This battling with grief and this dealing with devastation was not something they wanted to do but something they believed they could do upheld by God Himself, a God who has experienced grief and loss in Christ. When it comes to life’s trials and troubles, the Christian can surmount them because God in Christ has, and He helps us do that very same thing. The Lord of life can become the strength of our life (Psa. 27:1; 46:1).
In writing to the Philippians, Paul gives testimony to the fact that he as a Christian can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Phil. 4:13). The “all things” are the various circumstances in life that he has just cited in the previous verses (Phil. 4:11–12). On the negative side, he mentioned abasement, hunger, and suffering. Paul has lived humbling circumstances, gone without basic necessities, and endured losses and crosses. Yet, despite the uphill climb, Paul, by the grace of God, has stayed the course and weathered the storm. How? Paul had been given a power to persevere and a strength to continue. The grammar of the text tells us that Paul was sustained by a power that was being constantly poured into him by Christ—a divine strength that was abundantly infused into his life (Eph. 6:10; 1 Tim. 1:12). Like a glass under a running tap or farmland beside a flowing river, Paul’s life was being continually supplied with and filled by God’s gracious enabling so that he could live victoriously (Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 9:8).
Paul’s strength was not an act of self-will. It was not something he conjured up from within but rather something infused into his life by the indwelling, ever-flowing, and overflowing presence of the Holy Spirit, given to all believers by Christ (John 7:37–39). Paul was able to live his various circumstances, handle sickness, and face betrayal and trial because he was made strong by Christ within (Phil. 4:10–13; 2 Cor. 12:7–10; 2 Tim. 4:9–18).
Let us learn with Paul, and Tim Challies, that we can accept all things (Phil. 4:11–12), for we can do all things (Phil. 4:13) because in Christ we have all things (Phil. 4:19).
Life on the outside is never greater than the strength we enjoy in Christ on the inside.