Not only...but also
It was my eighth-grade graduation, and I was standing alone in front of an audience. My small school had a tradition where each student stood on stage while a teacher read a passage of scripture, specially chosen for that individual. Meant as a blessing, this tradition was daunting, and I felt my knees knock together as my teacher read aloud Philippians 2:3-4. They praised my humility, my selflessness, and prayed that these traits would continue to grow in my heart as I matured.
I know their intentions were to compliment and encourage, but this passage of scripture hounded me for years afterwards. Desperate to prove that I deserved this banner verse, I continually placed other’s needs above my own. Yearning for other’s approval, I made myself small reminding myself not to act out of selfish ambition.
This continued until college, when I came across a slightly different translation of this verse which read “look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others” (Phil 2:4, ESV). My breath rushed out of my lungs, my shoulders dropped a weight, “not only…but also” this changed everything. This framed the verse not as neglecting my own needs for the sake of others, but instead honoring both my needs and those of others.
Something in my heart clicked into place. Each time an airplane pilot had reminded me to secure my own air mask before helping someone else flooded my mind. I had spent years pouring from a nearly empty cup, and bitterness was the swill at the bottom. I felt burned out of service, of giving, of tireless effort from my own dwindling strength that left me so weary.
Because God was intent on proving a point, a few weeks later I heard a sermon on Christ retreating from the crowds with his disciples, about the importance of rest and boundaries. I sat there frantically taking notes in my journal while tears streamed down my face, splashing on the page. God desires for me to rest? Christ set an example of setting loving, healthy boundaries?
In the hustle of college ministry opportunities, rest was far from a priority. Setting boundaries seemed a foreign concept because all the things I wanted to do were good, they were service, how could I say no? But that still, quiet voice whispered, “not only…but also.” Perhaps I was called to serve with more intention, which would require more focus, strength, and wisdom; traits that required rest and reflection. Maybe God was inviting me into a space where He could fill me with His strength through the practice of rest.
I have since studied this verse in various translations. The Greek “but also” (ἀλλὰ καὶ) is clear in the original form. While a “but also” in English would encourage a “not only” to be added for grammatical continuity; many translators will choose not to frame it in this precise manner for the sake of authenticity. Instead, they choose to leave the “also” and remove the “but,” or simply remove the “also” all together.
This may seem like nit-picking, but as a chronic-people-pleaser, this reframing drastically changed my worldview. I have slowly learned to honor my own needs to better serve those around me, to listen to my mind and body and the cues they give me for when burnout approaches. And to look to my Father and Christ as examples of the beauty of taking a rest.