New Testament Lesson 40 (Philippians; Colossians; Philemon)

PHILIPPIANS

When and where was Philippians written?

● It was written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome (AD 61–62).

— While Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians appear to have been sent at the same time (Colossians 4:7–9; Philemon 10; Ephesians 6:21), when Paul wrote Philippians he was in his own rented house, suggesting it was slightly later than the other three (perhaps AD 62).

— At the time the letter was written, it had been ten years since Paul’s first visit to the city and the conversion of Lydia, the jailer, and others (Acts 16).

Why was Philippians written?

— The city of Philippi was named after King Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. It was a prosperous Roman colony; its inhabitants were Roman citizens who prided themselves on the superiority of Roman customs (Acts 16:21).

— Some of the Saints worked in “Caesar’s household,” a possible reference to the emperor’s palace. These had been converted through Paul’s preaching (Philippians 4:22; Philippians 1:13).

— This is perhaps the reason for Paul’s exhortation to the Saints to look to heaven as the source of their lasting citizenship (Philippians 3:17–21).

— The letter to Philippi may be the happiest, most positive, and most personal of all Paul’s writings. The Philippian Saints had been most concerned about attending to Paul’s temporal needs, not just in Philippi but also in Thessalonica, Corinth, and Rome (Philippians 4:15–18). He called the Philippian Saints “my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1).

— They seem to be the most faithful branch in the Church.

FOLLOWING JESUS CHRIST

Persevering in a Wicked World

● Christ gives our mortal existence meaning. Also, we are torn between continuing to live and serve or going on to a glorious hereafter (Philippians 1:21–24).

● Paul urges the Philippians Saints to maintain their standards in the midst of a wicked world. They are to be blameless, act like the children of God, and to “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 1:27; 2:2–3; 2:14–15).

Submitting to Christ

● Following Christ’s example of humility and service (Philippians 2:5–8).

● Eventually every knee will bow and every tongue confess Christ (Philippians 2:9–11). There is no other name whereby we can be saved (2 Nephi 25:20).

● Salvation comes through obedience. By this means we are to work out our own salvation with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

— President David O. McKay said: “‘Work out your own salvation’ is an exhortation to demonstrate by activity, by thoughtful, obedient effort the reality of faith. But this must be done with a consciousness that absolute dependence upon self may produce pride and weakness that will bring failure. With ‘fear and trembling’ we should seek the strength and grace of God for inspiration to obtain the final victory.”1

Sacrificing for Christ

● Reflecting on what he might have had as a Pharisee, Paul says he has sacrificed all things for Christ in the hope of exaltation (Philippians 3:6–8). This included friends, family, fame, income, and the comforts of life.

— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things.”2

● Obtaining salvation is a long, hard struggle, and none of us has already arrived while in this world. We must press forward, not looking back, to eventually win “the prize of the high calling of God” (Philippians 3:12–14).

● When we finally obtain exaltation, our resurrected bodies will be fashioned after Christ’s (Philippians 3:20–21).

Seeking the Peace of Christ

● Two sisters seem to have had some disagreement in the Philippi branch of the Church. Paul asks others to help them work it out. They are faithful sisters who have served in the Church with Paul, with Clement, and with others (Philippians 4:2–3).

Clement: He is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.

— Early Church scholars included:
Origen (AD 185–254)
Eusebius of Caesarea (260–339)
Epiphanius (315–403)
Jerome (331–420)

— All indicate that this Clement was a younger contemporary of Peter and Paul. He eventually became bishop of Rome.

— Eusebius said: “Clement . . . who became the third bishop of Rome, was, as the Apostle himself testifies, Paul’s fellow-worker and fellow-combatant.”3

● We should not “stress out” over things, but seek the peace of Christ (Philippians 4:6–7).

● We should seek for and embrace every good thing the world has to offer. All good things come from God for our benefit (Philippians 4:8; Article of Faith 13).

● Everything we experience—positive or negative—teaches us. We can successfully experience them all with the help of Christ (Philippians 4:11–13).

COLOSSIANS

When and where was Colossians written?

● It was written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome (AD 61–62).

● It was written to Colosse, Laodecia, and Hierapolis in western Asia Minor (Colossians 4:12–13,16). Colossae was a small, unimportant town in Phrygia (it’s not even shown on our Bible maps). Philemon and his slave Onesimus lived in Colossae (the epistle to Philemon). All three cities were located in the Lycus Valley about one hundred miles east of Ephesus.

● Colossae was a small, relatively unimportant city in Phrygia on the famous trade route which connected East with West. In the fifth century BC, the city had achieved some degree of commercial importance but was later eclipsed in importance by Hierapolis and Laodicea.

● Some scholars say that Paul never visited Colossae prior to his Roman imprisonment (Colossians 2:1). They believe that Epaphras, who was native to Colossae, may have been converted when Paul preached at Ephesus on his 3rd missionary journey, and that Epaphras spread the gospel message in Colossae and the surrounding area (Colossians 1:7, 8; 4:12, 13). Others say Paul did visit Colossae on his 3rd missionary journey, either to establish the Church or to lend his support to an already existing branch (Acts 18:23; 19:1). Either way, it is apparent that Paul greatly desired to visit Colossae after his Roman imprisonment (Philemon 22).

Why was Colossians written?

● Colossians is one of the shortest of Paul’s epistles, yet it contains important doctrines. It was written to counteract the effects of Jewish and Gentile thought on the members there. There were false doctrines concerning the Godhead and worship of angels (Colossians 2:18). Some members or apostates were denying the physicalness of Christ and a bodily resurrection. They argued whether Jesus was a God or man (Monophysitism or Arianism) or both at the same. Some were also attempting to displace the preeminent Head with mediating angels.

SOUND DOCTRINE

The Godhead

● Paul refers to two beings in the Godhead: “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” as he often does at the first of his epistles (Colossians 1:1–3).

● Jesus Christ is the express image (Greek, icon) of the invisible (meaning unseen) God (meaning the Father) (Colossians 1:12–19). He is the Firstborn and the Creator. God the Father has given him all power both in heaven and on earth. He can make a person holy and blameless.

Remaining Steadfast

● Paul counsels the Saints to remain steadfast in the Church and in doctrines that he had taught them (Colossians 1:23).

● The Saints should have their hearts “knit together in love” and in the knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:2–3).

● We are to be “rooted and built up” in Christ (Colossians 2:7). The analogy of roots nourishing a tree shows our dependence on him for spiritual strength.

● A warning against intellectualism—the philosophies and traditions of men—which are not as credible as scripture (Colossians 2:8). The poet John Milton said that the end of all learning is to know God.

● The ordinances and performances of the law of Moses were fulfilled in Christ (Colossians 2:14–16). Also, avoid legalistic interpretations, such as laws pertaining to meat and drink, Paul is saying, in effect, ‘Do not be misled in following the doctrine, traditions, and rituals of the law of Moses. They were only a type and a shadow of Christ and his gospel.

● Gnostic philosophy held that God was not directly approachable by man but had to be contacted through angelic mediators or spirits. Paul is here denouncing this idea of worshiping angels (Colossians 2:18–19). This idea persists today in praying to special “Saints” rather than to God.

The Elect of God

● Election made sure: Some Colossian Saints had their calling and election made sure; that is, they were sealed up unto eternal life (Colossians 3:2–3).

— The Prophet Joseph Smith on 16 May 1843 declared that William Clayton had his calling and election made sure. Later, the Prophet wrote: “Putting my hand on the knee of William Clayton, I 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.”4

● Characteristics of the elect: Those so favored must conduct their lives in a Christ-like manner, putting away carnal attributes, treating others with equality and charity, and being peaceful and thankful (Colossians 3:5–17).

● The importance of music to our spiritual nourishment (Colossians 3:16; D&C 25:11–12).

— Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “We need to make more use of our hymns to put us in tune with the Spirit of the Lord, to unify us, and to help us teach and learn our doctrine. We need to make better use of our hymns in missionary teaching, in gospel classes, in quorum meetings, in home evenings, and in home teaching visits. Music is an effective way to worship our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. We should use hymns when we need spiritual strength and inspiration.”5

Personal Relationships

● Family Relationships: This is beautiful counsel to wives, husbands, children, fathers, and servants (Colossians 3:18–22). “Submit” means willing to accept the guidance of another.

● Work/Employment Relationships: He speaks of masters and servants, but in our society it would apply to the workplace (Colossians 4:1).

● Relationships with Nonmembers: We should behave with “grace” and improve (“salt”) the world by our presence and behavior (Colossians 4:5–6).

PHILEMON

When and where was Philemon written?

● It was written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome (AD 61–62).

Why was Philemon written?

● It was written to convince Philemon to accept back his runaway slave, Onesimus.
Philemon was apparently a rich and faithful member of the Church, a resident of Colossae.
Philemon appears to have been converted by Paul (v. 19–20).

— Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway Greek slave, had apparently also joined the Church by this time.

— Slavery, or servitude, was not viewed as evil by the Judaeo-Christian culture at the time of Christ. Slaves actually constituted twenty to thirty percent of the population of the empire.

— Under Roman law, Paul was legally bound to encourage Onesimus to return to Philemon. Paul says Onesimus would be coming back different—not as a slave but as a brother (v. 16).

— Encased in prison walls, Paul’s tender Christ-like feelings reveal themselves as he pleads the cause of a poor runaway who has nobody but Paul to recommend him.

PAUL’S FRIENDS IN COLOSSAE

Paul’s Faithful Colossian Friends

● It is highly probable that these persons were members of the Church in Colossae and friends—perhaps converts—of Paul during his stay in Ephesus on his third mission (Philemon 1:2, 17). Some have suggested that Apphia was Philemon’s wife and Archippus, his son. Ancient tradition holds that Philemon became bishop of Colossae and, during the persecution under Nero when Peter and Paul met their deaths, was martyred in Colassae with his wife Apphia, his son Archippus, and his slave Onesimus.

● Paul speaks of having his “bowels” refreshed by the Saints in Colassae, meaning he had been refreshed by their kind and righteous responses (Philemon 7,12, 20).

Paul’s Appeal Concerning Onesimus

● The Greek verb translated as “convenience” means “to measure up” to a certain standard (Philemon 8–9). Paul is suggesting that Philemon’s forgiveness of his runaway slave would be the most fitting thing for a true follower of Christ.

— “The aged” is more properly translated as “the elder”—a priesthood title.

● The Greek name Onesimus means “helpful” or “profitable” and was a common name for slaves (Philemon 1:10–11). Note the play on his name in verse 11.

● Under Roman law runaway slaves were put to death. Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus back as a “brother” and forgive him, but does not suggest he cannot continue as a slave. In fact, Paul offers to pay Philemon back for any financial loss suffered by this incident (Philemon 1:15–19).

Other Information from Philemon

● Paul is interested in making a personal visit soon (Philemon 1:22).

● Epaphras was a resident of Colossae who carried Paul’s letter (Philemon 1:23).

● Paul’s companions and fellow missionaries: John Mark and Aristarchus were fellow prisoners (Philemon 1:24; Colossians 4:10). The name Demos is probably a contraction of Demetrius or Demarchus. He had been imprisoned at first with Paul but later apostatized (2 Timothy 4:10).

Notes:

1.  In Conference Report, April 1957, 7.
2.  Lectures on Faith [1985], 69.
3.  Eusibeus, History of the Church, 67.
4.  History of the Church, 5:391.
5.  In Conference Report, October 1994, 13; or Ensign, November 1994, 12.

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