Two Ladies at Odds
What prompted St. Paul to write the Epistle to the Philippians? The most obvious motive, I suppose, was his desire to thank that congregation for its recent gift (Phil. 4:10,18). One of their number, Epaphroditus, who had been visiting Paul, had just recovered from a recent illness and was on the point of returning to Philippi. To Paul, this seemed an excellent opportunity to write the Philippians a letter for Epaphroditus to carry along with him (2:25–30).
Yet, as we read through this epistle, we sense that perhaps not everything was fine at Philippi. Although there appear to have been no doctrinal problems there, something urges us to think that there were difficulties of another sort. We suspect that an underlying problem at Philippi, if there was a problem, had to do with what we may call “conflicting personalities.”
This would explain the emphasis on respect, humility, and mutual forbearance in this epistle. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit,” Paul writes, “but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:2–4). This explanation would account for Paul’s lengthy citation from an early Christian hymn about self-emptying in 2:5–10.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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