Philippians is a very misunderstood letter. We often go to it for encouraging passages like “rejoice in the lord always” and “I can do all things through Christ”. We usually think of Philippians as being a book about joy because the word does appear several times. But the letter is much deeper than that. It is extremely encouraging, but maybe not for the reasons we often cite.
There are many similarities between Philippians and II Timothy. Paul takes a similar approach to correction in this letter, but it’s focused on two women: Euodia and Syntyche. In Philippians, though, Paul seems to take a far gentler approach. For example, he starts the letter by addressing it to everyone, not just those two women (1.1) — “to all of you in Philippi who are God’s holy people in Christ Jesus, including your elders and special servants.”
Confrontation is uncomfortable and uncertain. Philippians is a masterful example of confrontation by encouragement and tact. It’s not political and convictionless, but it’s also not aggressive or rude. Even though the letter is primarily addressed to two people, Paul is very gentle in how he corrects them.
This teaches us two things — one, correction is necessary. It’s often very unpleasant, but critical for the health of the church. Two, it teaches us to be careful when we correct. We’ll need to choose our words carefully, keep our emotions in check, and be mindful of why we’re correcting. Correction has nothing to do with superiority, it has everything to do with preserving a soul.
This isn’t unique to Christianity — when a part of our body fails, we get medical care. Sometimes that care is invasive and uncomfortable, but we do it for the health of our bodies. Correction within the church is no different. We don’t seek medical care for fun because it’s nearly always unpleasant. We don’t seek confrontation for fun because it’s nearly always unpleasant.
The theme of Philippians is simple: others above self. This letter is structured pretty simply — Paul gives several examples of people who put others above self. He talked about his own experiences at the beginning of the letter, then uses the examples of Jesus, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and himself again. It might seem strange to us that Paul used himself as a model to follow twice, but it makes sense when we take a closer look. Since he was the one writing the letter, using himself as an example of selflessness twice essentially communicated, “I’m not asking you to do something I’m not already doing.”