This is one of a series of reviews from a Christian perspective on the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me (New Testament, 2023) for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find the index of these reviews, visit here.
Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence is being reviewed.)
Philippians and Colossians
Paul wrote his epistles to the Philippians and Colossians while he was a prisoner in Rome. But these letters don’t have the tone you might expect from someone in prison. Paul spoke more about joy, rejoicing, and thanksgiving than he did about afflictions and trials: “Christ is preached,” he said, “and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). And “though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding … the steadfastness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). Certainly, “the peace of God” that Paul experienced in his difficult circumstances “passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), but it was nonetheless a reality. In our own trials, we can feel this same peace and “rejoice in the Lord alway” (Philippians 4:4). We can, as Paul did, rely completely upon Jesus Christ, “in whom we have redemption” (Colossians 1:14). We can say, as did Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13; see also Colossians 1:11).
I have no problems with the introductory paragraph. The problem I have so far is the fact that they are going to try again to cover too much territory; these are two incredible Pauline epistles and to try to get the membership to study it–even just read the two books–will be completely impossible in a 1-hour lesson.
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Philippians 2:5–11; Colossians 1:12–23
My faith is founded on Jesus Christ.
According to these passages, Jesus is in “very nature God.” Let’s take a look at the two passages:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Notice, verse 6 says he is “in very nature God.” Mormonism teaches that Jesus is “a” god but not capital G God. It says that He “did not consider equality with God” something to be used as a bragging right but rather he humbled Himself to become a man. Christians call this the Incarnation, God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). And He did the ultimate by dying. What happens next is simply incredible. Verse 9 is straight out of Isaiah 45:24, talking about God the Father, yet here the idea of worship is directed toward Jesus. This is simply amazing, as Mormons do not worship Jesus. Yet here is says everyone who has ever lived will.
Next, in Colossians 1 it says in part:
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Notice, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” He is preeminent, which is what is meant by “firstborn.” (This is not talking about “first created” but rather a sign of preeminence. See here for more information.) He is the creator of all things. See here for more information on this topic. And Jesus has all the fulness of God in Him. How can this teaching coincide with the idea that Jesus is a mere creation and not God Himself.
Colossians 2:9 says this: 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”
Let’s see how the LDS Church writers analyze these passages.
President Russell M. Nelson said that when he focused his scripture study on verses about Jesus Christ, it had such an impact on him that he felt like “a different man!” (“Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2017, 39). Consider following his example as you read Philippians and Colossians (see especially Philippians 2:5–11; Colossians 1:12–23). What do you learn about the Savior? How can these truths help you become “a different man” or woman?
No teaching is done here, which is truly a shame. this is a weak analysis of some very important verses. I’d encourage the reader to go back and read Philippians 2 and Colossians 1 slowly and in context to see how rich this information really is. Jesus is much more than just our “spirit brother,” but He is God over all. Such a golden opportunity for clear thinking and the reader is provided pablum as a result.
Do we “work out [our] own salvation”?
Some people use the phrase “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12) to support the idea that we are saved only by our own efforts. Others use Paul’s teaching “by grace are ye saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) to claim that no works are required for salvation. However, the scriptures, including the writings of Paul, clearly teach the need for both the grace of Jesus Christ and personal effort in order to receive salvation. And even in our best efforts to work out our salvation, “it is God which worketh in you” (Philippians 2:13; see also Philippians 1:6; 2 Nephi 25:23; Bible Dictionary, “Grace”).
While the authors says we are not “saved only by our own efforts,” understand what they are saying. It’s grace and works together that justifies a person before God according to the doctrines of Mormonism. Second Nephi 25:23, quoted so often by LDS teachers, says that we are saved by grace “after” all we can do. So this is what is needed
Christians certainly believe in the importance of good works, but only as a result of the regenerated life that has taken place in the believer’s life. Salvation by grace through faith is what we call justification. Works done as a result of eternal life already given is called sanctification. Christians do not negate good works, but they also don’t make good works a part of the justification process.
For more on the differences between these concepts, see Crash Course Mormonism:
Romans 11:6 says, “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. ” Philippians 2:12 says that Christians should work out (not for) their salvation. If they have been justified and been baptized by the Holy Spirit, then we should expect a good outcome (fruit) as we discussed in Galatians 5.
But I want to point out something important, which I explained in detail in last week’s lesson on Ephesians. Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball bristled at the use of Ephesians 2:8-9 when it is used by Christians. If you didn’t see this, let me quote him again just after he cited these two verses:
“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus alone is all that is needed for salvation. . . . Church members are fortunate indeed to have scriptures brought forth in this age which clarify this and other doctrinal questions beyond all doubt.”
Why did he speak so harshly about these verses and call what Christains hold near and dear a “fallacious doctrine”? Obviously, he did not read these verses as the writers of the lesson are doing so today. Another example I can give is E. Richard Packham, for instance, who wrote in a church magazine. He wrote,
“As a young missionary, I countered this view of grace by quoting James 2:14–26, which concludes, ‘For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also’ (v. 26). Whereupon, my contacts often opened their Bibles and responded with a few scriptures of their own in support of their belief in unconditional grace. One verse they commonly used was the Apostle Paul’s statement, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8–9). They reasoned with me that grace is a gift of God that freely comes when we accept Christ. For the first time in my life, I realized how easily we can become confused about any doctrine if we focus on a single verse and don’t take into account the whole of gospel teachings. I also formed the opinion that people gravitated to the doctrine of unconditional grace because it was so easy to accept. After all, life can appear a whole lot simpler when all one has to do for salvation is ‘accept Christ.’”“My Maturing Views of Grace,” Ensign, August 2005, 22.
This is nothing more than a straw man argument and a complete mockery of what Christians truly believe by suggesting his opponents accept what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” In a general conference message, Marion G. Romney said that Ephesians 2:8-9 has been misunderstood by some. He wrote,
“Paul’s statement, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8-9), has been misunderstood. Some have interpreted it to mean that works are not necessary. This is an erroneous conclusion. The truth is that we are saved by grace only after all we ourselves can do. (See 2 Ne. 25:23.) There will be no government dole which can get us through the pearly gates. Nor will anybody go into the celestial kingdom who wants to go there on the works of someone else. Every man must go through on his own merits. We might just as well learn this here and now.”Marion G. Romney, “In Mine Own Way,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1976, 124-125.
Romney made his conclusion with a straw man argument. No Christian I know has said that “works are not necessary.” Why, the very next verse (10) states that Christians were created to do good works. James 2:20 and 26 says that works should spring forth out of the saved individual. Paul says that we should display the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Where does the idea that works are not important?
But when it comes to justification, Christians strongly maintain that we’re justified by faith apart from works on the law, as we discussed in the lesson on Romans (3:28). And as Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, a Christian is saved by grace through faith and NOT by works. How much clearer coud it be? What has been written in this lesson seems to be a change from previous LDS writers who wanted to minimize the teaching of Ephesians 2:8-9.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is worth every sacrifice.
Paul gave up much when he converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, including the influential place he held in Jewish society as a Pharisee. In Philippians 3:4–14, look for what Paul gained because he was willing to make sacrifices for the gospel. How did he feel about his sacrifices?
Then consider your own discipleship. What have you sacrificed for the gospel of Jesus Christ? What have you received? Are there any additional sacrifices you feel you need to make to become a more dedicated disciple of the Savior?
Sacrifice is important, but only if you are sacrificing for the truth. If the gospel according to Mormonism is not true, then any sacrifice that is done is for error is not worthwhile. Paul says in verse 7, “But whatever was to my profit I know consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Can a Latter-day Saint echo such an idea? In the minds of most Mormons, ultimate reality is about eternal families and attaining an exalted state. Rather, Paul writes in verses 8-9, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”
Sacrifice, then, for the right reasons, because your faith is based on the truth. Sacrifice for things not based on the truth is a complete loss.
I can find joy in Christ, regardless of my circumstances.
Paul’s life is a vivid illustration of the truth expressed by President Russell M. Nelson: “When the focus of our lives is on … Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him” (“Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2016, 82).
As you read Philippians—particularly chapter 4—search for statements that can help you find joy in any circumstance of your life. When have you experienced “the peace of God” during a challenging time? (verse 7).
Stop here. Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Yet how is it possilbe for a Latter-day Saint to know if he or she has been able to to accomplish all that ought to be done? How many Mormons don’t grasp the meaning of the “peace that passes all understanding”?
Again, so much is missed in a study of two very important books. These two books are some of the best Christological books (right next to John), yet no glory is given to the God-man who died on the cross and forgives His people of their sins. A wasted opportunity, that is for sure.