“Chapter 45: Philippians and Colossians,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 45,” New Testament Student Manual
Philippians and Colossians were probably both written while Paul was under arrest in Rome, but remarkably it was during this difficult time that Paul wrote of “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). These two epistles are consistently positive and optimistic, and they contain some of Paul’s clearest and most earnest teachings about Jesus Christ. Paul taught that if we live in faith and gratitude, the Lord can further the gospel cause through us—no matter what circumstances we might be in—and that by building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ we can avoid being led astray by worldly philosophies and traditions.
In his Epistle to the Philippians, Paul gave the Saints in Philippi encouragement and exhorted them to stand fast in the faith. Paul also exhorted the Saints to claim the unifying and exalting blessings that would come from humbling themselves (see Philippians 2:3). Perhaps one of the most important principles Paul taught in Philippians is that trusting in the Lord brings “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Paul’s messages of encouragement in this epistle can help motivate modern readers in their personal efforts to endure faithfully. As members of the Church strive to follow Christ, they too can gain confidence and like Paul declare, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
Although Timothy is mentioned along with Paul in the epistle’s greeting (see Philippians 1:1), Paul is almost universally accepted as the sole author of the Epistle to the Philippians. This view is supported by the use of the singular pronoun “I” throughout the letter and the reference to Timothy in Philippians 2:19. Timothy may have acted as Paul’s scribe, writing the letter under Paul’s direction. Regarding the subscription found at the conclusion of the epistle in the King James Version of the Bible, see “When and where was 1 Corinthians written?” in chapter 38.
Philippians is often called a prison Epistle, along with Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. It is traditionally thought that Paul wrote Philippians while he was imprisoned in Rome from A.D. 60 to 62 (see Philippians 1:7, 13, 17; see also Acts 28:16–31). Paul had previously been imprisoned in Caesarea (see Acts 23:33–26:32) and Ephesus (see 2 Corinthians 1:8–10; 11:23).
Philippi was the first place in Europe where Paul formally preached the gospel and established a branch of the Church (see Acts 16:11–40). One purpose for Paul writing this letter was to express gratitude for the affection and financial assistance the Saints in Philippi had extended to him during his second missionary journey (see Philippians 1:3–11; 4:10–19).
Paul also praised the members in Philippi for their faith in Christ and gave them counsel based on information about the city that he had received from a Philippian disciple named Epaphroditus (see Philippians 4:18). Paul’s counsel included encouragement to be humble and united (see Philippians 2:1–18; 4:2–3). Paul also warned the Philippians to beware of corrupt Christians, such as those who taught that circumcision was necessary for conversion. Such individuals were known as Judaizers, who falsely claimed that new converts had to submit to the former Old Testament law of circumcision before becoming Christian (see Philippians 3:2–3).
“This Epistle is a letter of friendship, full of affection, confidence, good counsel and good cheer. It is the happiest of St. Paul’s writings, for the Philippians were the dearest of his children in the faith. …
“… It is a classic of spiritual autobiography. … While 2 Corinthians displays the agitations which rent the Apostle’s heart in the crucial conflict of his ministry, Philippians reveals the spring of his inward peace and strength. It admits us to St. Paul’s prison meditations and communings with his Master” (J. R. Dummelow, ed., A Commentary on the Holy Bible , 969).
The Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned by name over 50 times in the four chapters of Philippians. Paul poetically depicted the Savior’s condescension from premortal divinity to mortal life, where He suffered “death of the cross” (Philippians 2:3–8). Having fulfilled His divine mission, Jesus Christ now stands exalted, and the day will come when “every knee should bow” before Him and “every tongue … confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10–11).
Paul greeted the Saints, bishops, and deacons in Philippi; expressed gratitude for them; and prayed for them. He informed them of his circumstances while in prison.
Paul exhorted the Philippians to stand united in one spirit and one mind by following the unselfish example of Jesus Christ, and he encouraged them to work out their own salvation as God worked in them. Paul warned of false teachings, encouraged the Saints to stand fast in the Lord, and admonished them to think about things that are virtuous and praiseworthy.
Paul thanked the Philippians for their financial support during his second missionary journey. Paul told the Saints that Christ is the source of confidence and that through Him they could accomplish all things. He then closed with words of testimony, reassurance, and blessing.
Paul opened his epistle with a tender and loving greeting to the Philippian Saints (see Philippians 1:1–11). He then pointed out some positive consequences that had come from his imprisonment—specifically the “furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). The Greek term translated as “furtherance” can refer to an army’s cutting away of undergrowth or removing other barriers that impede their progress (see Philippians 1:25). Apparently Paul’s situation removed impediments to the spreading of the gospel as his “bonds in Christ” became known in the “palace” or military headquarters (Philippians 1:13). In addition, other Church members drew courage from Paul’s example and became “much more bold to speak the word” (Philippians 1:14).
Paul identified two ways of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. One way is to preach with “strife” and “contention,” without sincerity (Philippians 1:15–16). The second, better way is to preach with “good will” and “love” (Philippians 1:15, 17).
While he was detained in prison, Paul was caught between two competing desires: a desire for death, which would allow him to be with the Savior, and the desire to live and continue to serve Him. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed: “Paul did not fear death. As with others who have fought the good fight and overcome the world, he desired to be relieved of the burdens of mortality and rest in the paradise of God; yet his sense of duty caused him to know his ministry here was not over, that though his own salvation was assured, he must remain in the flesh and work further for the salvation of his fellow saints” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 2:529). The Book of Mormon prophet Mormon similarly expressed to his son Moroni a duty to preach the gospel while he remained alive “in this tabernacle of clay” (Moroni 9:6).
Developing unity among Church members was a common theme in Paul’s epistles (see Philippians 1:27; 2:2; see also 1 Corinthians 1:10; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:13), as it is elsewhere in scripture (see Mosiah 18:21; D&C 38:24–27; Moses 7:18). Paul taught that for the Philippian Saints to achieve unity, they must set aside selfishness and humbly consider the needs of others. Paul then pointed to Jesus Christ, who set a perfect example of esteeming the needs of others as He “took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). Elder H. Burke Peterson (1923–2013) of the Seventy described the qualities of a selfless person:
“There are those among us today who are completely selfless—as was [Jesus Christ]. A selfless person is one who is more concerned about the happiness and well-being of another than about his or her own convenience or comfort, one who is willing to serve another when it is neither sought for nor appreciated, or one who is willing to serve even those whom he or she dislikes.
“A selfless person displays a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to purge from his or her mind and heart personal wants, and needs, and feelings. Instead of reaching for and requiring praise and recognition for himself, or gratification of his or her own wants, the selfless person will meet these very human needs for others” (“Selflessness: A Pattern for Happiness,” Ensign, May 1985, 66).
Paul taught that when the Savior was born into mortality, He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). Jesus Christ gave up His premortal status “in the form of God” and was born into mortality “in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6–7). In the Book of Mormon, the idea of Christ descending below all things is called “the condescension of God” (1 Nephi 11:16; see also verses 17–33; Psalm 22:14; Isaiah 53:12).
According to Elder Tad R. Callister of the Seventy, “God the Son traded his heavenly home with all its celestial adornments for a mortal abode with all its primitive trappings. He, ‘the King of heaven’ (Alma 5:50), ‘the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth’ (Mosiah 3:5), left a throne to inherit a manger. He exchanged the dominion of a god for the dependence of a babe. He gave up wealth, power, dominion, and the fullness of his glory—for what?—for taunting, mocking, humiliation, and subjection. It was a trade of unparalleled dimension, a condescension of incredible proportions, a descent of incalculable depth” (The Infinite Atonement , 64).
Paul told the Philippian Saints, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Some people incorrectly use this verse to support the idea that we are saved by our own efforts and not by the grace of Jesus Christ. However, Paul was not telling the Saints to work in order to earn salvation. Instead, as Paul pointed out, the Saints should live the gospel so that the saving work God was already doing within them would be manifest in all they did (see Philippians 1:6; 2:13). Our efforts to work out our salvation are possible only because of the Lord’s grace within us.
When Paul said to act “with fear and trembling,” he did not mean that we should be afraid or worried (see Matthew 6:25–34; 2 Timothy 1:7). Instead, he meant that we should serve the Lord with awe and reverence and that we should tremble with eagerness to work out our salvation. President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency expounded on this statement:
“The Apostle Paul wrote that we should ‘work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling.’ (Phil. 2:12.) Could that familiar expression mean that the sum total of our own righteousness will win us salvation and exaltation … solely on our own merits?
“On the basis of what I have heard, I believe that some of us, some of the time, say things that can create that impression. We can forget that keeping the commandments, which is necessary, is not sufficient. As Nephi said, we must labor diligently to persuade everyone ‘to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ (2 Ne. 25:23.) …
“Man unquestionably has impressive powers and can bring to pass great things by tireless efforts and indomitable will. But after all our obedience and good works, we cannot be saved from the effect of our sins without the grace extended by the atonement of Jesus Christ” (“What Think Ye of Christ?” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 66–67).
The term dog is usually one of derision in the Bible, meaning an unworthy person. The “dogs” Paul spoke of in Philippians 3:2 were Judaizers—people who taught that converts to Christianity must follow certain Jewish customs, including circumcision (see the commentaries for Acts 15:1–5; for Acts 15:1, 5, 24; and for Galatians 1:1–7). In sarcasm Paul referred to Judaizers as “the concision,” a term that implies mutilation. On the other hand, Paul used “the circumcision” (a term he often used to refer to Jews) to instead refer to God’s covenant people—Christians. Thus, those who worship God and rejoice in Christ are the real “circumcision,” or covenant people (Philippians 3:3; see also Romans 2:25–29; Colossians 2:10–13).
Having warned against the teachings of Judaizers, Paul then listed some of his credentials as a devout Jew (see Philippians 3:4–8). He pointed out that he had given up many things when he became a follower of Jesus Christ, including his former prestigious position as a Jewish Pharisee (see Philippians 3:4–7). Yet Paul considered those losses insignificant when compared with “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8; see also verses 10–11; Matthew 19:29).
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) taught of the blessings that come from sacrifice: “We must lay on the altar and sacrifice whatever is required by the Lord. We begin by offering a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit.’ We follow this by giving our best effort in our assigned fields of labor and callings. We learn our duty and execute it fully. Finally we consecrate our time, talents, and means as called upon by our file leaders and as prompted by the whisperings of the Spirit. … And as we give, we find that ‘sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven!’ (Hymns, no. .) And in the end, we learn it was no sacrifice at all” (“Becoming the Pure in Heart,” Ensign, May 1978, 81).
Paul said that he followed “after,” meaning he pressed “forward” (Philippians 3:12, footnote b) so that he might “apprehend,” meaning take hold of or obtain, eternal life (Philippians 3:12; see also 2 Nephi 31:19–20). Paul also spoke of “reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13) and pressing “toward the mark for the prize” (Philippians 3:14). Some of the imagery in these verses reflects the idea of a race, where runners continuously press on while always focusing on the finish line. Paul declared that although he had not yet reached his final goal, he had left his past behind and was pressing forward toward the mark—the prize of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. Regarding this attitude, President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) counseled: “There is no going back, but only forward. Rather than dwelling on the past, we should make the most of today, of the here and now, doing all we can” (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 85).
Paul expressed tender feelings toward certain women who assisted him in the Lord’s work. He exhorted the Philippian Saints, “Help those women which laboured with me in the gospel” (Philippians 4:3). President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961) of the First Presidency expressed similar feelings regarding the sacrifices of women in the latter-day Church: “From [New Testament times] until now woman has comforted and nursed the Church. She has borne more than half the burdens, she has made more than half the sacrifices, she has suffered the most of the heartaches and sorrows” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1940, 21).
To read about the book of life, see the commentary for Revelation 13:8.
The Greek phrase translated as “be careful for nothing” (Philippians 4:6) means not to be unduly anxious, fretful, or concerned (see the commentary for Matthew 6:25–34). Paul taught that the antidotes for anxiety were prayer and trust in the Lord. They bring “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), and they help guard our hearts and minds against fear. While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Jay E. Jensen shared an experience in which he and his family received peace during a time of sorrow:
“Our grandson Quinton was born with multiple birth defects and lived three weeks short of a year, during which time he was in and out of the hospital. Sister Jensen and I were living in Argentina at that time. We truly wanted to be there with our children to comfort them and be comforted by them. This was our grandchild whom we loved and wanted to be near. We could only pray, and we did so fervently!
“Sister Jensen and I were on a mission tour when we received word Quinton had died. We stood in the hallway of a meetinghouse and hugged and comforted each other. I witness to you that assurances came to us from the Holy Ghost, a peace which passes all understanding and continues to this day (see Philippians 4:7). We also witnessed the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost in the lives of our son and daughter-in-law and their children, who to this day speak of that time with such faith, peace, and comfort” (“The Holy Ghost and Revelation,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 78).
Paul admonished the Saints to “think on” (to give careful, continuing thought to) things that are true, just, pure, lovely, and of good report (Philippians 4:8). When the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) cited this “admonition of Paul” in the thirteenth article of faith, he changed “think on these things” to the more active “seek after these things” (Articles of Faith 1:13; italics added). Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed the admonition to “seek after these things”:
“The word seek means to go in search of, try to discover, try to acquire. It requires an active, assertive approach to life. … It is the opposite of passively waiting for something good to come to us, with no effort on our part.
“We can fill our lives with good, leaving no room for anything else. We have so much good from which to choose that we need never partake of evil. …
“If we seek things that are virtuous and lovely, we surely will find them. Conversely, if we seek for evil, we will find that also” (“Seeking the Good,” Ensign, May 1992, 86).
As Paul drew his epistle to a close, he thanked the Philippian Saints for the support and care they had offered him personally during his trials (see Philippians 4:10). Paul had endured severe challenges, but his faith in Jesus Christ sustained him. He said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy taught that the trials we face can help us to grow and progress:
“We don’t seek out tests, trials, and tribulations. Our personal journey through life will provide just the right amount for our needs. Many trials are just a natural part of our mortal existence, but they play such an important role in our progress. …
“Sometimes we want to have growth without challenges and to develop strength without any struggle. But growth cannot come by taking the easy way. We clearly understand that an athlete who resists rigorous training will never become a world-class athlete. We must be careful that we don’t resent the very things that help us put on the divine nature.
“Not one of the trials and tribulations we face is beyond our limits, because we have access to help from the Lord. We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us [see Philippians 4:13]” (“More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 79–80).
When Paul wrote his Epistle to the Colossians, false teachings and practices in Colossae were influencing the Saints there and threatening their faith. Similar cultural pressures pose challenges for Church members today. Part of this epistle’s great value lies in how it identifies and exposes falsehoods while emphasizing Jesus Christ’s divinity and saving work. As modern readers deepen their conversion to the Savior—like the Saints in Colossae did—they are more fully protected from deception and sin.
According to its opening lines, the Epistle to the Colossians was sent by Paul and Timothy (see Colossians 1:1, 23; 4:18). Paul apparently handwrote his own salutation at the close of the epistle (see Colossians 4:18), indicating that a scribe, perhaps Timothy, had assisted him in writing the body of the letter. Regarding the short explanatory note found at the end of the epistle in the King James Version of the Bible, see “When and where was 1 Corinthians written?” in chapter 38.
Since Paul stated he was a prisoner during the time he wrote Colossians (see Colossians 4:3, 10, 18), the epistle may date to between A.D. 60 and 62, while he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul likely wrote the Epistle to the Colossians around the same time he wrote Philippians, Philemon, and Ephesians; all of these epistles bear similarities to one another.
This epistle was written to the faithful Saints in Colossae, a site in modern-day Turkey. Paul instructed the Colossian Saints to share the letter with the members of the Church in nearby Laodicea (see Colossians 4:16). Details in the Epistle to the Colossians suggest that in the region of Colossae, heretical beliefs and worship practices had developed, blending Christian, Jewish, and pagan ideas. These heresies minimized or denied the divine role of Jesus Christ. Such false ideas threatened the Church but had not yet won over the many Colossian Saints who remained “faithful brethren in Christ” (see Colossians 1:2; 2:4, 8, 20). In writing this epistle, Paul hoped to communicate his personal concern for the Saints, to counteract the false teachings and practices that threatened their faith, to testify of the divinity and preeminence of Christ, and to exhort the Saints to deepen their conversion to the Savior.
In this Epistle to the Colossians, Paul countered the heretical teachings in Colossae by emphasizing the preeminence of Jesus Christ. He presented an especially complete picture of the divinity and saving mission of Jesus Christ (see Colossians 1:15–23). He taught that Christ is the very image of God the Father—an embodied member of the Godhead, the Creator, the Head of the Church, the first to be resurrected, the Redeemer, and the “hope of the gospel, which ye have heard” (Colossians 1:23). He is “the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10), and He fulfills His divine mission under the direction of the Father (see Colossians 1:19; 3:1).
Paul warned against those who taught that true spirituality was gained through special rituals, festivals, and diets (see Colossians 2:16–17, 20, 23). He taught that spiritual maturity and knowledge of God is not properly manifest through such customs and practices but instead is manifest through setting “our affections” on “things which are above” (Colossians 3:1–2), eliminating unrighteous acts (see Colossians 3:5–9), and developing Christlike attributes (see Colossians 3:12–17). Paul counseled his readers to become “grounded and settled” as well as “rooted and built up in [Jesus Christ], and stablished in the faith” (Colossians 1:23; 2:7).
Paul greeted the Saints in Colossae and declared that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer, the Firstborn among all creation, the Creator, and the Lord of all divine perfection in whom is the reconciliation of the universe. Paul exhorted the Saints to establish their faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul warned against believing any false philosophy or tradition of men, including the worship of angels and the practice of denying oneself basic physical needs as a form of spiritual discipline.
Paul exhorted the Saints to set their hearts on things which are above, to abandon the sins of their former life, and to be merciful to one another. He gave instruction about how Saints should worship, then gave counsel to wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, and masters. He closed the Epistle to the Colossians with commendations, greetings, and final instructions and blessings.
Following the pattern of his other epistles, in his opening greeting to the Saints in Colossae, Paul referred to two separate and distinct beings in the Godhead: “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Colossians 1:2; see also 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2–3; Galatians 1:1).
False beliefs and forms of worship in the area of Colossae minimized the eternal role and divinity of Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:14, the Apostle Paul began an argument to support the superiority of Jesus Christ over all other things the Colossian Saints might be tempted to worship (see Colossians 1:14–20). Paul began by stating that through the shedding of Christ’s blood, we can obtain forgiveness of sins. President Dallin H. Oaks pointed out:
“Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God the Eternal Father. He is our Creator. He is our Teacher. He is our Savior. His atonement paid for the sin of Adam and won victory over death, assuring resurrection and immortality for all men.
“He is all of these, but he is more. Jesus Christ is the Savior, whose atoning sacrifice opens the door for us to be cleansed of our personal sins so that we can be readmitted to the presence of God. He is our Redeemer.
“The Messiah’s atoning sacrifice is the central message of the prophets of all ages” (“What Think Ye of Christ?” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 65).
Paul said Jesus Christ is “the image [meaning the likeness or manifestation] of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). By describing God as invisible, Paul meant that He is “unseen” but not necessarily “unseeable” or “incapable of being seen.” The Apostle’s point was that although God is presently unseen by our human eyes, Jesus Christ’s appearance and character demonstrate what the Father is like (see the commentary for John 14:7–11; 16:25). This is true of the Father’s spiritual nature and His physical nature, as we learn through latter-day revelation and the Prophet Joseph Smith’s eyewitness account of the Father’s physical body (see Joseph Smith—History 1:17; D&C 130:22).
Paul also taught that Jesus Christ was “the firstborn of every creature” (Colossians 1:15). “Jesus was the firstborn of the spirit children of our Heavenly Father, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, and the first to rise from the dead in the resurrection (Col. 1:13–18)” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Firstborn”; scriptures.lds.org).
Jesus Christ is the Creator, and He has governing power over all His creations. President Dallin H. Oaks explained:
“Under the direction and according to the plan of God the Father, Jesus Christ is the Creator, the source of the light and life of all things. Through modern revelation we have the testimony of John, who bore record that Jesus Christ is ‘the light and the Redeemer of the world, the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.
“‘The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him’ (D&C 93:9–10)” (“The Light and Life of the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 63; see also John 1:1–3; Hebrews 1:2; D&C 76:24; Moses 1:33).
Paul said that by Christ “all things consist,” meaning that Christ’s power holds together all His creations (Colossians 1:17). For more detail about how Jesus Christ governs all created things, see Doctrine and Covenants 88:6–13.
Paul’s teachings that Jesus Christ stands as the head of the Church (see Colossians 1:18) are a reminder to people who would put angels or anyone or anything else ahead of Him (see Colossians 2:18). At the time he was sustained as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Thomas S. Monson said: “I testify … that our Savior Jesus Christ is at the head of this Church, which bears His name. I know that the sweetest experience in all this life is to feel His promptings as He directs us in the furtherance of His work” (“Looking Back and Moving Forward,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 88).
According to Paul, “all fulness dwell[s]” in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19). The Greek term for “fulness” suggests a totality of divine power. Paul therefore declared that Jesus Christ and His gospel are superior to all other philosophies and religions. God the Father vested in His Beloved Son a fulness of power, both “in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18), set Him at His right hand (see Acts 7:55; Hebrews 1:3), and made Him perfect even as He is perfect (see Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 2:9; 3 Nephi 12:48).
In Colossians 1:23; 2:6–7, Paul used the imagery of a tree and a building to describe the stability that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Continuing his case that the Colossian Saints should stay true to Jesus Christ, Paul encouraged the Saints to “continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved” (Colossians 1:23). Later, in Colossians 2:8, Paul warned the Saints to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.” In this verse, the word spoil refers to a conqueror taking a person captive in a war. “Philosophy and vain deceit” refers to any manmade system of belief and worship. According to Paul, because Jesus Christ “is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10), adopting any beliefs or religious practices other than the true gospel will have eternal consequences. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency contrasted the world’s theories and philosophies with the gospel of Jesus Christ:
“The world is not bashful in offering numerous new answers to every problem we face. People run from one new idea to the next, hoping to find something that will answer the burning questions of their souls. They attend seminars and buy books … and other products. They get caught up in the excitement of looking for something new. But inevitably, the flame of each new theory fades, only to be replaced by another ‘new and improved’ solution that promises to do what the others before could not.
“It’s not that these worldly options don’t contain elements of truth—many of them do. Nevertheless, they all fall short of the lasting change we seek in our lives. After the excitement wears off, the hollowness remains as we look for the next new idea to unlock the secrets of happiness.
“In contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers to all of our problems. The gospel is not a secret. It is not complicated or hidden. It can unlock the door to true happiness. It is not someone’s theory or proposition. It does not come from man at all. It springs from the pure and everlasting waters of the Creator of the universe, who knows truths we cannot even begin to comprehend” (“The Way of the Disciple,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 75).
Paul referred to the gospel of Jesus Christ as a “mystery” (Colossians 1:26–27). “Mysteries of God are spiritual truths known only by revelation. God reveals his mysteries to those who are obedient to the gospel” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Mysteries of God”; scriptures.lds.org). Therefore, Jesus Christ remains a mystery to all who are unbelieving and unrepentant. The truths of the gospel can be understood only through the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:14).
To read about the symbolism of baptism by immersion, see the commentary for Romans 6:1–11.
Prior to these verses in Colossians 2, Paul reminded the Saints in Colossae that God had forgiven them (see Colossians 1:14, 20, 22). The imagery that Paul used in Colossians 2:14–15 emphasizes how Christ’s Atonement makes it possible for our sins to be forgiven. In Paul’s day it was customary for Romans to write on a placard the crimes committed by a condemned person. When the wrongdoer was crucified, the placard was also nailed to the cross for all passersby to see (see John 19:19–22). Paul used this imagery in verses 13–15 to teach the Colossians that they had been forgiven. It was as though a list of all of the spiritual charges and accusations against the Colossian Saints, including their sins and infractions against the ordinances of the law of Moses, were placed on a placard and nailed to the cross. Through the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, these were erased or blotted out.
Through His Atonement and Resurrection, Jesus Christ triumphed over all earthly powers and authorities (see Colossians 2:15).
Paul warned the Colossian Saints not to be deceived by those who promoted the worship of angels (see Colossians 2:18). Although angels hold a position of honor in God’s kingdom, they are not to be worshipped (see Revelation 19:10). The worshipping of angels is evidence that some teachings of Gnosticism were making their way into the Church, since Gnostic philosophy held that God communicated with mortals through angels and that the physical body was evil. Paul denounced this false religious system. To read more about Gnosticism, see “To whom was 1 John written and why?” in chapter 52.
Paul asked the Saints why some of them were participating in worldly “ordinances” and following “doctrines of men” even though they had accepted Christ (Colossians 2:20, 22). He referred to such doctrines of men as “will worship” (Colossians 2:23), which refers to manmade worship—religious rules and practices devised by the will, or mind, of man. One form of “will worship” that Paul mentioned was the “neglecting of the body,” which refers to the practice of asceticism. People who practiced asceticism abstained completely from physical pleasures in an effort to overcome desires of the flesh. They often adopted extreme dietary restrictions and renounced sexual relations even within the bonds of marriage (see also 1 Corinthians 7:1–5; 1 Timothy 4:1–3). Such excessive practices are not in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Joseph Smith Translation helps clarify the meaning of Colossians 2:21–22: “Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, which are after the doctrines and commandments of men, who teach you to touch not, taste not, handle not; all those things which are to perish with the using? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting the body as to the satisfying the flesh, not in any honor to God” (Joseph Smith Translation, Colossians 2:21–22 [in the Bible appendix]).
Having refuted false teachings in Colossians 2, Paul next exhorted his readers to set their affections on “things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin similarly counseled Latter-day Saints to avoid becoming so busy with things of the world that they lose their focus on eternal priorities:
“We can spend a lifetime whirling about at a feverish pace, checking off list after list of things that in the end really don’t matter.
“That we do a lot may not be so important. That we focus the energy of our minds, our hearts, and our souls on those things of eternal significance—that is essential.
“As the clatter and clamor of life bustle about us, we hear shouting to ‘come here’ and to ‘go there.’ In the midst of the noise and seductive voices that compete for our time and interest, a solitary figure stands on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, calling quietly to us, ‘Follow me’” (“Follow Me,” Ensign, May 2002, 16).
Paul taught, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Though the Saints were not physically dead, Paul wanted them to understand that their former sinful selves had passed away as they “put off the old man” (Colossians 3:9) and that they were to live a new life in Christ. Paul said that this new life was “hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), suggesting that the life of a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ is secure in the Savior’s care in both an earthly and eternal sense. Such faithful Saints will appear with Jesus Christ “in glory” at His Second Coming (Colossians 3:4). Paul further counseled Church members, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth,” meaning they should deaden (get rid of) and control the desires and motives that belong to their earthly nature (Colossians 3:5).
An experience from the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith helps illustrate the meaning of the phrase, “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” On one occasion, Joseph Smith put his hand on the knee of his friend William Clayton and said: “Your life is hid with Christ in God, and so are many others. Nothing but the unpardonable sin can prevent you from inheriting eternal life for you are sealed up by the power of the Priesthood unto eternal life” (in History of the Church, 5:391). To have your life “hid with Christ in God” is to have your calling and election made sure.
Paul taught that Christ’s Atonement made all people equal, including Greeks, Jews, Barbarians, and Scythians (see Colossians 3:11). Barbarians were any group of people whom the Romans saw as lacking civility and culture. Scythians were people from the northern coast of the Black Sea (in modern-day Ukraine), whom Greeks viewed as being violent and uneducated.
Paul’s counsel to be filled with kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and charity toward others was written while he was imprisoned. While in Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote similar counsel to the Saints, declaring, “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men” (see D&C 121:41–45). This is timeless counsel for the Lord’s servants who are imprisoned unjustly, as well as for their followers. In such undeserved circumstances, bitterness must be removed from disciples’ souls so that the Spirit of the Lord can have influence in their lives.
Colossians 3:18–4:1 compose what some call a “household code,” consisting of principles and rules for the various members of a household (similar passages are found in Ephesians 5:19–6:9; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Peter 2:18–3:8). Rather than espouse the common cultural household expectations of his day, Paul admonished the Saints to evaluate their households and relationships according to the Lord’s standards (see phrases such as “in the Lord” or “unto the Lord”), thus bringing greater unity and peace to Christian families and congregations alike. To read more about Paul’s teachings on households and marital harmony, see the commentaries for Ephesians 5:17–6:9; for Ephesians 5:21–6:9; for Ephesians 5:21–25; and for Ephesians 5:25.
At the heart of Paul’s counsel to households is the idea that loving relationships should exist between husbands and wives. Regarding such relationships, President Spencer W. Kimball taught:
“The spouse [should be] preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse. …
“Marriage presupposes total allegiance and total fidelity. Each spouse takes the partner with the understanding that he or she gives self totally to the spouse: all the heart, strength, loyalty, honor, and affection with all dignity. Any divergence is sin—any sharing the heart is transgression. As we should have ‘an eye single to the glory of God’ [D&C 4:5; 82:19] so should we have an eye, an ear, a heart single to the marriage and the spouse and family” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1962, 57).
Paul recommended that Saints “walk in wisdom toward them that are without” (Colossians 4:5). The phrase “them that are without” referred to people who were not members of the Church. Paul then said, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). In ancient times, salt was used in the offering of temple offerings and thus became a symbol of gospel covenants (see Leviticus 2:13). Salt was also used as a purifying agent. Therefore, Paul’s teachings about speech being seasoned with salt reminded Church members that all their communication, even with non-Christians, should be pure and in harmony with the covenants they had made with the Lord.
This verse suggests that Paul sent a letter to the Saints in Laodicea. This letter no longer exists today.