This week we will be looking at the small epistle of Paul to the Philippians—those converts living in Philippi in the region of Macedonia, Greece and another even smaller epistle to the Colossians—those living in Colossae (ko-LAH-see), a celebrated city of Phrygia just 100 miles east of Ephesus in modern day Turkey. And we will be looking at one particular very wonderful thing Paul taught:  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Scot

As you know, Paul’s letters, or the Pauline epistles, are arranged in the New Testament in descending order of their length—with the exception of The Book of Hebrews.  These 14 letters comprise 173 pages, just about 43% of the entire New Testament.  This week we will be looking at the small epistle of Paul to the Philippians—those converts living in Philippi in the region of Macedonia, Greece and another even smaller epistle to the Colossians—those living in Colossae (ko-LAH-see), a celebrated city of Phrygia just 100 miles east of Ephesus in modern day Turkey. And we will be looking at one particular very wonderful thing Paul taught:  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Maurine

Hello, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor, and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me Podcast.  This week’s lesson title “I Can Do All Things through Christ Which Strengtheneth Me”—is especially significant to me, so much so that I have this right on my desk and I see it multiple times each day.  Today, we will be drawing our lessons from the 8 chapters of Philippians and Colossians combined.

Scot

As we start this lesson, Maurine, I just have to interject one thing that really relates to the Book of Ephesians from last week.  You know how we try everything possible to raise our children in the ways of the Lord.  We have Family Home Evenings, we take them to Church, we have family prayers, we read our scriptures together and make the Temple a center of our worship—you know all these things—but I remember a very effective scripture memorization we did with the children when they were still all home and most of them very small.  One of the very first scriptures we had them all memorize was from Ephesians—and I bet all 11 children could still recite this passage to this day:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”  (Ephesians 6:1)

There was something about the cadence and rhythm of that verse that really worked—and the principles taught were right on.  I just had to add that in before we go on with Philippians and Colossians—Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right!

Maurine

I love that memory and do know that was a great scripture for our children and I’m sure it would be for you, our listeners’ children and grandchildren.

Now, you know me, Scot: I love maps!  Whenever you and I go to another country I have to have a map—I have to see everything in context.  Of course we use GPS these days, but I still love to see a map to get context and see surroundings.  And I feel the same way about the ancient world.  It helps me so much to see the various cities where Paul is sending his epistles all in context with each other.

You all know where Rome is—right there in Italy.  We were just recently at the Rome Temple dedication—and all the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were there.  It was breathtaking!  This is certainly part of Paul’s ancient territory.

And you should know where Corinth is now—just 42 miles west and south of Athens, Greece.

And Galatia, you remember, is located in north central Turkey, with Ankara being the capital in ancient times.

You should also know that Ephesus is located in Western Turkey right on the Aegean Sea coast.  This is a favorite stop for tourists today with many cruise ships having Ephesus on their itineraries.

Philippi is located in Greece—in ancient Macedonia—just 100 miles east of Thessalonica not far from the border of modern Turkey—but still a city in Greece.

Colossae (ko-LAH-see), which relates to today’s lesson, is 100 miles east of Ephesus and is located in the ancient region of Phrygia in Asia Minor—modern day Turkey.

Scot

In fact, it’s worth going to the back of your Bibles, either paper or electronic versions, and look at the map section. Take a look at Map 20 and Map 21—Paul’s Second and Third Journey and see where all these places are.  Remember:  Christ’s admonition to the apostles was to take the Gospel to all the world—and Paul was certainly doing his part.

And we forget sometimes, because it’s not readily in our records, that the ancient apostles were taking the gospel all over the known world.  Remember, we are talking about the Roman Empire at that time and it stretched from the British Isles on the West to the Caspian Sea on the East.  It covered all of North Africa and Asia Minor.  This was a huge empire and the apostles’ desires were to take the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.

Maurine

And we see this work of the apostles going far and wide just from their deaths.  Peter was in Rome when he was crucified upside down.  Paul was also in Rome when he was beheaded.

Scot

Thomas, by tradition and most records, was in Madras or Chennai, India.  We know some of the apostles made it into Ethiopia and we certainly know they were in the British Isles.  James, brother of John, though he was beheaded in Jerusalem was buried in Galicia, Spain because of his much time he spent in Spain spreading the gospel.

Maurine

Andrew was buried in Patras, Greece.  We know that Bartholomew was in Italy and Philip was in Turkey.  Matthew was buried in Salerno, Italy.  And Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, was buried in Trier, Germany (which was a part of your mission, Scot).

Scot

That’s right.  So, you can see that the apostles took very seriously the charge to take the Gospel to all the world.  Paul is certainly deemed the most traveled among them, but that may or may not be true.  We certainly know more about his missions because of Luke’s writings in the Acts of the Apostles.

Well, that’s our brief geography lesson.  We did that for Maurine’s sake because of her love of maps and context.  Now let’s talk about some of the teachings and doctrines found in the books of Philippians and Colossians.

Maurine

I’d like to jump right in and talk about Philippians 4:13:  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.  I love this scripture and I think about it every day because, as I mentioned, it is right on my desk before my eyes.

Scot

I remember the saying you had on your desk just before that one, which was really a good saying:  I can do hard things.  That’s certainly motivational and a good confidence builder—but a little more ME focused.  This scripture, Philippians 4:13 really reminds me of John 15:5 (which is one of our faith scriptures we’ve memorized):  “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”  That certainly puts us in our place.

Maurine

It’s breathtaking—truly, without Jesus Christ, we can do nothing.  How can that be?  It brings me to King Benjamin’s teachings which we will talk about in great detail in the Book of Mormon Come Follow Me podcasts in April.  But I love three things specifically from his sermon:

First from Mosiah 2:21:

21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another…” (See Mosiah 2:21)  Supporting us from one moment to another!  He is there for us and loans us the very air we breathe.

Scot

In astronaut lingo, He is like our spacesuit—we are completely dependent on Him for our very lives.  Try to walk on the moon without your spacesuit and, well, you just can’t do it!

Maurine:

The second thing I love from King Benjamin on this topic is in Mosiah 4:19:

19 For behold, are we not all beggars?  Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

So we are not only dependent for breath, but for all our means of living and survival—for our food and our means of making a living.  No wonder we have the wonderful practice of thanking God at each and every meal—because He gave it to us.

Scot

Yes, it’s tempting sometimes to think we are self-made men and women, that WE are the ones who brought something about.  The world certainly teaches that falsehood.  Myriads of books have been written on this very topic.  Wouldn’t it be nice if each of those books had a special chapter called, “But Remember…” or “Don’t get too stuck on Self,” or “Putting things in true perspective…”  We sometimes think we are the vine—but the eternal truth is:  We are the branches and we absolutely must abide in Him.

Maurine

And a third point from King Benjamin—and this goes right along with that chapter title you just suggested, Scot—and this is Mosiah 4:21:

21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

So we obtain all that we have from Him—our very breath—our food—our living—forgiveness of our sins–sour all—and, of course, we need to freely share with each other, to bless those who stand in need of our aid.

Scot

And it takes a lot of humility to live in this “survival of the fittest” world, this “only the strong survive” world, this “looking out for number one” world—and acknowledge and practice the truth that we are all dependent on Jesus Christ.  But as we do this then the scripture truly comes to pass in our lives:  I can do ALL things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Think of all the prophets who have lived their lives this way.  Remember Ammon, the son of King Mosiah, who said, “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things…” (See Alma 26:12)  There’s that same teaching that Paul has given us.

Maurine

Think of Moses who cowered before the Lord as he was given his mission and calling:  O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. (See Exodus 4:10)  This same Moses stood before Pharaoh and decreed plague after plague upon mighty Egypt and he raised his staff and parted the waters of the Red Sea.  Moses is the prototype of this scripture:  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Scot

And we could go from Adam and Eve to Enoch to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Rachel, to Joseph of Egypt and to our modern prophets, Joseph Smith to Russell M. Nelson.  These are all remarkable men and women—but they all have the distinct characteristic of living their lives in a way that they know they are dependent upon Jesus Christ and they cannot do anything without Him.  Brigham Young said this:

“God is the source, the fountain of all intelligence, no matter who possesses it, whether man upon the earth, the spirits in the spirit-world, the angels that dwell in the eternities of the Gods, or the most inferior intelligence among the devils in hell. All have derived what intelligence, light, power, and existence they have from God—from the same source from which we have received ours. Every good and perfect gift cometh from God [see James 1:17]. Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind has been given by direct revelation from God, though but few acknowledge it. It has been given with a view to prepare the way for the ultimate triumph of truth, and the redemption of the earth from the power of sin and Satan” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.18).

Maurine

We certainly love Brigham Young, don’t we?  He said it how it is.  And then we think about what the Lord says in Section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants:

21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things… (D&C 59:21)

We are dependent upon Him, we can do all things through Him who gives us the strength to do things—and we must remember joyfully to acknowledge His hand in all things in our lives.  That’s a true pattern for happiness.

Scot

Paul, you remember, had visited Phippi on his second mission—and this would constitute, as far as we have record, the first missionary work in Europe. “Philippi was a Roman colony where Latin was the official language, although the indigenous residents would also have spoken Greek, the language of Paul.  The colony was inhabited by expatriates from Italy, likely former soldiers who had fought in the Roman civil wars of 44 B.C.  Luke records that Paul was imprisoned at Philippi, the result of a dispute over Jewish sensitivities.” (Holzapfel, Richard Neitzel and Wayment, Thomas A., Making Sense of the New Testament, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2010, p. 403)

So, Paul is writing to the Philippians who are converts to Christ and to the Jews who are also trying to convert to Christianity.

Maurine

And there were contentions and disputations in Philippi as there were in many other of the early branches of the Church.  Paul was trying to teach them to stand faithful on their own and to draw closer to Christ.  We read in the first chapter of Philippians, verse 27:

27 Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27)

This reminds me of our modern times and how important it is that new members of the Church are converted to Jesus Christ and His everlasting Gospel and not to the missionaries who delivered the message to them.  Sometimes we found that overseas and when we were living on the East Coast of the United States, that as we went through the roll of the less active members, some of them had been those who had loved their missionaries and had been “converted” by them or perhaps “to them” and then after the missionaries left, they soon fell away.

Scot

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that every new convert needs three things:

A friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with the good word of God…”

A Friend

“[Converts] come into the Church with enthusiasm for what they have found. We must immediately build on that enthusiasm. You have people in your wards who can be friends to every convert. They can listen to them, guide them, answer their questions, and be there to help in all circumstances and in all conditions. … I invite every member to reach out in friendship and love for those who come into the Church as converts.”

Maurine

President Hinckley continued:

A Responsibility

“Every convert who comes into this Church should have an immediate responsibility. It may be ever so small, but it will spell the difference in his life. … I cannot understand why converts aren’t given more responsibility immediately when they come into the Church. The tendency is to say, ‘They don’t know enough.’ Well, take a chance on them. Think of what a chance the Lord has taken on you. Give them something to do, be it ever so small, something that’s specific and by which they will grow. … You will not develop people in this Church unless you give them responsibility.”

Nurturing with “the Good Word of God”

Scot

President Hinckley concluded on this topic:

“Moroni [writes] concerning [new members]: ‘And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith’ (Moro. 6:4).

“In these days as in those days, converts are ‘numbered among the people of the church … [to] be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer.’ … Let us help them as they take their first steps as members.”  (Hinckley, Gordon B., Every Convert is Precious, Insight and Counsel from President Gordon B. Hinckley)

It would have so helped the Saints in Philippi to have these teachings, and it helps us today to follow these teachings.

Maurine

As I was studying Philippians I was drawn to a few verses in the 2nd Chapter that really present a pretty thorough answer to a question that an angel had posed to Nephi in a vision.  Do you remember?  In 1 Nephi 11: 16 the angel asked Nephi:

16 …Knowest thou the condescension of God?

Nephi really didn’t know the answer.  He just said, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:17)

In Philippian chapter 2, starting in verse 6 we read:

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Scot

So, the Great Jehovah of the pre-mortal world, already a God, already the Creator of worlds without number, already the one to wrought the Atonement by His sinless blood, condescended to come down to earth and take upon Himself a mortal body and live in this mortal sphere among men.  And not only that, He would be born in a lowly stable, a fold made for animals, the lowliest place on earth really not fit for the King that He truly is!

Paul continues:

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In other words, the Father sent His Holy Son Jesus to the earth to finally be lifted up on the cross, that He might then lift all men up who would look to Him and follow His commandments.

Maurine

That, in a nutshell, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is the Plan of Salvation.  That is the Great Plan of Happiness.  That is the thing that caused all of us in the pre-mortal world to shout for joy!

Scot, I can’t pass up verse 15 of chapter 2 in Philippians—the wording caught my attention:

15 …in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.

Isn’t that indeed the commission the Savior has given to us?

14 Verily, verily, I say unto you (Christ taught the Nephites), I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. (3 Nephi 12:14)

The Savior wants us to shine as lights in a fast-darkening world.  And He further teaches this:

24 Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world.  Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. (3 Nephi 18:24)

Scot

So, we are to become more and more like the Savior in all that we do.  It truly is well for us to ask in any given situation:  What would Jesus do?  How would the Savior want me to act?  How would Jesus Christ have me respond in this difficult situation?  How would He want me to treat my spouse or my child?

I love the words of the simple primary hymn that we all know:

I’m trying to be like Jesus;

I’m following in his ways.

I’m trying to love as he did,

In all that I do and say.

At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice,

But I try to listen as the still small voice whispers:

Love one another as Jesus loves you.

Try to show kindness in all that you do.

Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,

For these are the things Jesus taught.

(Children’s Songbook, 78)

I think that’s what the entire Come Follow Me curriculum is all about.

Maurine

Scot, I think it’s so interesting to note a little something from Church History here that ties to our lesson this week.  John Wentworth, the editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat requested Joseph Smith to give a brief history “of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints” which Joseph did. Many of us are familiar with various parts of this letter.  Almost at the end of this 2,829 word letter Joseph gives the familiar prophecy that is so often quoted:

“No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing…the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear.”  What many do not know is that after this powerful and bold prophecy, Joseph ended the entire letter with the 13 Articles of Faith.  The longest of these, of course, is the 13th Article of Faith.  Joseph clearly was familiar with the teachings of Paul the Apostle in Philippians as we read here in chapter 4 verse 8:

8 Finally…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Scot

That reminds me when we were serving in a YSA Ward at BYU, I used to interview the students for their ecclesiastical endorsement.  The first question I would always ask these precious students was this:

Can you recite for me the 13th Article of Faith?

Amazingly, except when I had an adult convert, every one of them recited the entire 13th Article of Faith with seldom a mistake!  I was so impressed!

“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.  If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”  (Articles of Faith, 13)

I would then say to the student:  If you live by the 13th Article of Faith then you will be keeping the BYU Honor Code and you pass all the questions on the Ecclesiastical Endorsement. That was always a sweet experience.

Maurine

Those Young Single Adults are amazing, aren’t they?  If we skip just three verses forward in Philippians chapter 4 to verse 11, I love what Paul teaches us here:

11…For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

This comes from someone who also recorded this summary of his trials in 2 Corinthians, chapter 11:

24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.

25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;

26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

That’s quite a list from someone who teaches us that “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Scot

That reminds me so much of Elder Joseph B. Withlin’s inspiring talk—in fact it was his last talk he ever gave in General Conference.  He told this story and then taught us a lesson:

“When I was young I loved playing sports, and I have many fond memories of those days. But not all of them are pleasant. I remember one day after my football team lost a tough game, I came home feeling discouraged. My mother was there. She listened to my sad story. She taught her children to trust in themselves and each other, not blame others for their misfortunes, and give their best effort in everything they attempted.

“When we fell down, she expected us to pick ourselves up and get going again. So the advice my mother gave to me then wasn’t altogether unexpected. It has stayed with me all my life.

“’Joseph,’ she said, ‘come what may, and love it.’”

“I have often reflected on that counsel…

Maurine

Elder Withlin continued:

“There may be some who think that General Authorities rarely experience pain, suffering, or distress. If only that were true. While every man and woman on this stand today has experienced an abundant measure of joy, each also has drunk deeply from the cup of disappointment, sorrow, and loss. The Lord in His wisdom does not shield anyone from grief or sadness…

“You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, ‘Why me?’

“But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt.

“I love the scriptures because they show examples of great and noble men and women such as Abraham, Sarah, Enoch, Moses, Joseph, Emma, and Brigham. Each of them experienced adversity and sorrow that tried, fortified, and refined their characters.

“Learning to endure times of disappointment, suffering, and sorrow is part of our on-the-job training. These experiences, while often difficult to bear at the time, are precisely the kinds of experiences that stretch our understanding, build our character, and increase our compassion for others.”

Scot

I think that’s exactly what Paul was teaching the Philippians and what he was teaching us: Come what may, and love it.  In whatsoever state I am, be content.  These are certainly teachings for our times.

Let’s just talk about two more things.

We know, Maurine, from historical sources that the city of Colossae was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 61, so the letter to the Colossians can be dated before that time since the city was never rebuilt and had Paul heard of the devastating quake he would have mentioned it.  We can assume that the letter was written about A.D. 60. from Rome while Paul was in prison there.  We look for clues like that when we are just trying to date things or put things in a chronology.

In this first chapter of Colossians, Paul gives a powerful witness of the Savior as the Creator.  Starting in verse 16 we read:

16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Maurine

These verses from Paul and these teachings go right along with Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 11-13:

11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth you eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space–

13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

The closer we draw unto Jesus Christ, the more we realize that He is everything to us.  He is our all.  He is truly in and through all things and is the only way back to the Father.

Scot

And doesn’t this careful study of the scriptures throughout the week just naturally draw us closer to Him?

One last thing today:  It’s in Colossians, chapter 1, verse 23—this really leaped out at me this week:

23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled (I love that phrase: grounded and settled!), and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel…

Isn’t that great counsel?  To be grounded and settled in the faith.  In Book of Mormon lingo that means “firm, steadfast and immovable.” (See 1 Nephi 2:10; Helaman 15:8; 3 Nephi 6:14)  And never moving away from the hope of the gospel!

Why would we ever want to move away from the hope of the gospel that centers in our Savior Jesus Christ?  It is the only safe path on this planet—to be grounded and settled in our faith in Him, firm, steadfast and immovable—never departing from this sure path.

Maurine

Thanks for joining us again this week.

Next week’s lesson will cover 1st and 2nd Thessalonians and is entitled:  “Be Not Soon Shaken in Mind, or Be Troubled.”  Thanks to Paul Cardall for the wonderful music that opens and closes this Podcast.

Scot

Have a great week and see you next time.