Paul writes to the Philippians while in prison, not knowing whether he will face release or death. He has every reason in the world to feel sorry for himself. Instead, he writes a letter full of thanksgiving and encouragement. He clearly has developed a relationship with the people in the church at Philippi, and it sounds as if he is hearing of some disunity among them. So he writes to assure them of his well-being and also to thank them. Paul could easily have berated the Christians at Philippi for their selfishness and their forgetfulness; instead he gently but firmly motivates them with words of encouragement and example.
In chapter 2 Paul encourages the believers at Philippi to imitate Christ and in today’s passage, he encourages them to imitate himself. Paul, a highly disciplined and confident person, does not hesitate to hold himself and Timothy up as examples that others may emulate. On the one hand it appears that Paul is violating the words he wrote earlier: “in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (2:3), but we recall that he is trying in every way to encourage and motivate. In the previous verses of 7-16, Paul has described the ways that he has allowed the knowledge of Christ to take hold in his life. He desires to be an example of Christian living, an example others may follow.
In some ways the letter to the Philippians is like a letter that a parent writes to a child after hearing that the child is not living the way he or she had been reared to live. In effect, Paul says, “That’s not the way we do things in our family. Let me remind you of the way you were raised.” And Paul does so in a gentle and affirming way.
Gentle and loving God, may the example of your son, Jesus Christ, and the mature Christians who have gone before us inspire our living. Amen.