Bill Withers wrote a catchy tune with unforgettable words in 1972: “Lean on me, when you're not strong and I'll be your friend. I'll help you carry on for it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.” I am positive that Bill never imagined that his song would be sung with crazy motions at every church camp over a roughly 25-year span (including my childhood youth camp). Those now famous lyrics struck a chord with all kinds of people, which contributed to its transcendent popularity. Underlying those words was a deep truth for every person regardless of faith commitment – we all need a strength greater than our own.
In Philippians 4, Paul writes some of the most memorable verses in all of scripture. Chief amongst those verses is the 13
verse: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Unfortunately, many people misinterpret this passage by suggesting that it refers to a quasi-super human strength. Although it would be cool to lift a car over your head, I do not think that is what Paul had in mind. The context of this verse suggests a strength to overcome any spiritual obstacles encountered.
Previously in this passage, Paul indicates that he had been humbled by his faith, hurt by his foes, and even humiliated by some friends. Despite all of these difficulties, he found a way to “abound.” In other words, he found a way not only to survive, but also to thrive! Through a dependency on God’s strength, he found the abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10.
We find strength in God in two ways. First, we find strength in the spiritual endowment gifted to us through God’s Spirit. A few weeks back, we read Paul’s first prayer in Ephesians where he prayed that your heart be enlightened with a spirit of wisdom, knowledge, and revelation. That same spirit illuminates the Holy Scripture into God’s applicable Word for your life. That same spirit gives you energy, power, and strength to face obstacles by depending on God’s guidance. The indwelling Holy Spirit is available to you.
Paul mentions a second place where we find strength. In 4:14, Paul thanks the Philippians for sharing in his difficulty. We find strength in community. Jesus established his church to be a palpable parable of His presence. By leaning on one other, Paul could feel the strength of God in a tangible way. Likewise, that dependency on one another exhibits our larger communal dependency on God.
This week, we have seen the strength of community played out during Vacation Bible School. Wow, what an awesome week! I am so grateful for all of those who came together to make things work. No one person could have done it on their own, but the Body of Christ did it together. We will be demonstrating that same strength when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper this Sunday. Let us keep leaning on God and His community for strength. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday.
Expecting His Best,
Stephen V. Allen