Lectionary Commentaries for October 1, 2023
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 21:23-32

Yung Suk Kim

Doing the will of God is more important than knowing him. In Matthew, the fundamental question is not simply whether you know God but whether you do the will of God. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the disciples’ urgent task is not merely to know who God is but to do what God wants them to do, which is to love all, including enemies (5:43-48). 

Matthew 21:23-32 reflects this Matthean theme and focuses on God’s radical love for all people, especially the marginalized in society. To understand this text, we must start with Matthew 21:1-11, which shifts the focus of Jesus’ ministry to Jerusalem. He enters Jerusalem as a humble king riding on a donkey, receiving the ebullient crowds’ welcome. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (21:9). He was recognized and accepted as the Messiah who would “save his people from their sins” (1:21). Before entering Jerusalem, he persistently demonstrated God’s righteousness by teaching the kingdom of God, curing the sick, and embracing the weak and marginalized. Indeed, “he taught them as one having authority and not as their scribes” (7:29). But his triumphal entry into Jerusalem faces turmoil in the city, which is an irony because the people of Jerusalem must have heard about Jesus and his reputation. They knew about him, but did not want to recognize his authority. So, they ask, “Who is this?” (21:10). Then, the crowds answered: “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee” (21:11). 

Then Jesus immediately entered the temple in the city, which is the heart/center of Judaism, drove out people who were selling and buying in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers (21:12-17). The temple is a house of prayer, not the powerhouse of politics or economics. It is neither a source of authority, nor an authority producing center. In the temple, Jesus cured the lame and the blind. But the chief priests and the scribes became angry because he disrupted their power base in the temple. After this, he goes out of the city to Bethany and meets a barren fig tree which he curses because it bore no fruits (21:18-22). This event is symbolic and refers to those who know God but do not do the will of him. 

Jesus entered the temple again and taught (21:23-32). But he was confronted by the chief priests and the elders of the people who asked him: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (21:23). It is an irony that his authority is questioned even though he does the will of God, fulfilling the righteousness of God along with John, who baptized him (3:13-17). In some sense, he is challenged because he does the will of God and cares for the poor and marginalized. But they ignore it because of fear of the loss of their power or prerogatives as leaders. They know who God is and what he wants them to do, but they do not do what they teach, as Jesus points out their problem later in 23:1-3: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach’.” 

Jesus acknowledges Jewish leaders’ good teaching in this text and knows that the chief priests and the elders are not ignorant of God or his will. So, he retorts: “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” (21:24-25). Jesus presumes that they also know that John’s baptism is recognized as good work as he prepares people for repentance through water baptism. He also assumes that the crowds and other people recognize his good work in teaching the kingdom of God and helping real people. So, his point is that the issue is not authority itself, because authority is given to the one who does the work of God, but one’s not doing the will of God with authority. Jesus said earlier in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly’” (7:21-23; see also 7:24-28; 25:31-46). 

To make his point further, Jesus gives the parable of the Two Sons to the leaders of the people (21:28-32). This parable is simple yet clear. A man had two sons. The father called the first son and asked him to go to work in the vineyard. He said “no” but later changed his mind and went to work. So, he called the second son because the first son said no and said the same thing. The second son said “yes” but did not go to work. The one who did the will of his father is “the first.” Knowing the father’s will without doing it is naught. The important thing is not knowledge but repentance and doing the will of God. Jesus said to them: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” because they changed their minds (21:31-32). Jesus’ point is again that what is essential in the kingdom of God is not one’s position, knowledge, or authority even if it is from God, but one’s change of mind and doing the will of God. 

First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Lisa Wolfe

This passage raises compelling questions about divine retribution—the notion that God punishes sinful acts and rewards righteous behavior. 

In particular, Ezekiel 18 suggests that each person should only pay for their own sins. Punishment should not carry forward to one’s offspring (18:1, 4). Notably, each person will have the opportunity to change their behavior and thus avoid their deserved penalty. Observing the consequences of a parent’s behavior would facilitate this change (18:14-20). In the historical context, that probably referred to the community of exiles learning from the mistakes of their ancestors, whose disobedience to God was interpreted as having caused their captivity. While Ezekiel 18 seems to indicate that individual responsibility for sins was an innovation, the idea exists elsewhere in the canon (Deuteronomy 24:16).

Ezekiel does not seem bothered by the idea of a punishing God. In the ancient world, that was a welcome attribute in a deity. After all, a God who did nothing to keep the community—or its enemies—in line would be as worthless as a society that did nothing to punish its criminals. This passage emphasizes that even while meting out punishment, Israel’s God was not ruthless or without mercy. The people have reason to hope. They have a chance to change their ways, and that is exactly what God wants for them. 

But in what ways exactly should the people change? It is worth examining the verses not included in the lectionary reading (18:5-24) to see what our ancestors in faith considered righteousness, and sin. Obedience to the LORD GOD entails care for the poor, hungry, and needy (18:7, 8, 12, 16). Ezekiel asserts that an unjust society neglects its most vulnerable members. As for sin, this list contains the expected commandments familiar from Exodus 20:1-17//Deuteronomy 5:6-21, including idolatry, murder, theft, and adultery.

Some items on the catalog of sins challenge our modern sensibilities. We may be surprised to read the condemnation of one who “takes advance or accrued interest” (18:13). Another baffling example instructs avoiding a menstruating woman (likely a specific prohibition of sexual contact during a woman’s cycle, 18:6). This aligns with the ritual guidelines in the Holiness Code (Leviticus 18:19), and would have seemed perfectly logical to Ezekiel, given his priestly roots. The idea of “eat[ing] upon the mountains” may sound similarly perplexing, but it refers to worshiping other deities. Sara Wells’ piece about Ezekiel on BibleOdyssey helpfully describes this religious and historical context of Ezekiel.

Notice that this list in Ezekiel 18:5-24 defines obedience to the LORD according to behavior rather than belief. This dichotomy marks a difference between Judaism and Christianity—typically Judaism focuses on behavior, whereas Christianity developed statements of belief. Yet it seems reasonable based on both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament that we Christians have every reason to scrutinize our actions at least as much as our creeds. 

We could benefit from ongoing serious discussion about how to care for the “hungry” and the “naked” (18:7, 12, 16), and about how we might exercise “true justice” (18:8). While few Christians in our culture view interest lending (or “usury”) as sinful, these verses rightfully challenge us to consider the societal harm those economic practices inflict. In 18:7 Ezekiel calls out those who would hold a “pledge.” Think of a pawn, perhaps of a person’s only possession, such as a blanket. Do any of our current fiscal practices parallel this condemned system? A point of interfaith connection could mention the Muslim law of riba, which prohibits interest on loans to protect those in need.

This passage culminates with instructions from the Holy One to “throw away your rebellion,” paired with the chance to “make for yourself a new heart and a new spirit” (18:31, my translation). This unites the false dichotomy of behavior versus belief. 

While many of us today intellectually reject the idea of divine punishment, the concept still inhabits many of us. Many of us, particularly in dire circumstances, will assume that God’s judgment plays a causal role between our behaviors and our life experiences. I will never forget the night when, as a hospital chaplain, I was called to the ER to be with a woman whose infant had inexplicably died. As she rightly wailed, her words of lament were directed at God: “Why did you take my baby when I just started going back to church?” 

This woman’s cries remind us of what we all observe: Sometimes “the righteous are treated according to the acts of the wicked, and the wicked are treated according to the acts of the righteous” (Ecclesiastes 8:15, my translation). These experiences reverse the way divine retribution is supposed to work. Job similarly challenges the retribution system (for instance chapter 21). The way we Christians typically retain this idea—whether of punishment or reward—is by pushing it into the afterlife, where its accomplishment becomes an act of faith rather than fact. 

Yet the dilemma of the daily decision remains: How will I behave? 

The biblical books present tensions between communal and individual punishment, and assertions of and challenges to retribution. There are meaningful reasons to reflect on these varying views. Whether we think of consequences as divinely imposed or not, many behaviors have their own built-in outcomes. What are the warnings that we fail to heed today that can have both individual and communal effects? 

These questions can be used abusively, as with vocal public religious leaders who take it upon themselves to deem a given natural disaster the outcome of their sin of choice. While we must avoid drawing conclusions about divinely imposed consequences, we can learn a great deal from humbly reflecting on how our mistakes may come back to haunt our children. Examples include climate change and the fallout from economic, racial, and gendered societal inequities. What might bring our ruin, and how will we change our ways to “throw away your rebellion” and “make for [ourselves] a new heart and a new spirit” (18:31)? We must reflect on those things compassionately, without taking on God’s job of assigning blame for anyone’s circumstances.

Ezekiel 18 contains similarities to last week’s reading from Jonah 3:10-4:11 (see 9/24/2023, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; Ord. 25). That passage began with the announcement that God had changed God’s mind about destroying Nineveh because the Ninevites had changed their ways (3:10). Here we find a similar sentiment: turn away from wrongdoing and you and your children will avoid the punishment. The prophet Jonah was “angry enough to die” (4:9) because that system allowing for mercy did not seem fair to him. In Ezekiel, as in Jonah, God “has no desire in the death of the wicked.” Ezekiel reports the people’s concern that this arrangement, in which someone who had behaved wickedly eliminates that behavior and turns to righteousness, is “unfair” (18:25, the Hebrew means “not right; not equitable”). The required change goes beyond a simple or occasional edit of one’s ways—recall the repentant Ninevites in Jonah, all the way down to their cattle wearing sackcloth (3:8). The final verse in this Ezekiel passage, like in Jonah 3:10 and 4:11, returns to the emphasis on God’s radical mercy. By God’s own self-admission, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live” (18:32).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7

Matthew Schlimm

At the outset of this passage, the Israelites leave the Sin desert (unrelated to the English word “sin”). They end up in Rephidim, the last stop before the wilderness of Sinai (see Exodus 19:2). Like many other locations in Exodus, scholars do not know Rephidim’s exact location. 

What we do know is that Rephidim is within the Sinai Peninsula, a vast barren desert. The lack of water there is a serious and life-threatening problem even in modern times. Vegetation of any sort is difficult to find amid this wasteland. Yellow, tan, and brown hues dominate the landscape.

Demanding water (17:2–3)

Few words are more likely to foreshadow death than “there was no water for the people to drink” (17:1). Survival depends on water. Our bodies—our very selves—are about 60% water by weight. Every part of our bodies requires water to live. As the Mayo Clinic puts it, “Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly.” Water carries toxins away, maintains temperature, prevents joints from scraping, and protects vital tissues.¹

The New Revised Standard Version says, “The people quarreled with Moses,” but the Hebrew word for “quarrel” (rib) refers to lodging a complaint, such as one might do in a lawsuit. The people demand that their leader give them water. Moses grows irritated by their request. A defensive leader, he asks why they are complaining. The answer is ridiculously obvious: the people don’t want to die. Moses also asks them why they are testing God. But as we will see, God does not take offense at their requests. God gives them exactly what they request.

To be clear, there are times when the people complain in the wilderness, and they should have kept their mouths shut. When they grumble about something minor like a lack of onions (Numbers 11:5), God responds angrily. In those cases, they’re ignoring their miraculous rescue out of slavery, foolishly wishing they were back in the house of bondage. When the people need something to survive, however, their complaints have a different quality, and God always provides. When water is undrinkable, God makes it sweet (Exodus 15:22–27). When they have no food, God rains down bread from heaven (Exodus 16:1–32). 

Here, they need water. They talk specifically about thirst killing not only themselves, but also their children and animals (17:3). Children, especially young ones, are at high risk for dehydration. Animals would be kept close to people at all times. Even once the Israelites move into the land and build settlements, they would often share their houses with farm animals. These animals, moreover, would often be the most valuable possessions people owned. They do little good, however, as corpses (see also Leviticus 22:8).

God’s plan (17:4–6)

Even though Moses is far from perfect, he is smart enough to consult God about his problems (17:4). He “cried out” to God, and the verb used there (tsa‘aq) is exceptionally strong, often used in response to life-threatening circumstances (such as Exodus 14:10). Indeed, Moses worries that the people will stone him (17:4).

God responds to both Moses’ worry about his life and the people’s concern about theirs. Following God’s orders, Moses takes elders, probably for protection from a desperate people. He sets forth with his trusty shepherd’s staff, which has played a role in multiple miracles involving snakes (Exodus 4:2-4), blood-red water (7:14–25), thunder and hail (9:23), locusts (10:13), and the splitting of the sea (14:16). He goes to a rock where God is present (17:6), which is interesting because Paul will later associate this rock with Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:4). As God ordered, Moses strikes the rock, and life-giving water gushes forth. 

The aftermath (17:7)

Moses gives the place a double name: Massah and Meribah. The first word is related to testing, an echo back to 17:2 where Moses asks why the people test God. Victor Hamilton translates it, “Testingville.” The second is related to quarreling or lodging a complaint, also featured in 17:2, and Hamilton calls it, “Complainingburg.”²

When it happens all over again (Numbers 20:2–13)

The people travel from Rephidim here and spend time at the base of Mount Sinai (19:2). After many months, they eventually set forth for the promised land. As they make their way there, this episode seems to happen all over again (Numbers 20:2–13). There is no water (20:2). The people complain to Moses (20:3–5). Moses—with Aaron this time—consults God (20:6–7). Afterward, they go to a rock, strike it, and out flows water (20:9–11). The name of the place becomes, once again, Meribah (20:13). 

This time around, however, some disturbing twists take place. Moses and Aaron insult the thirsty people, calling them “rebels.” Rather than giving God credit, Moses and Aaron speak as if they are the ones powerful enough to bring water out of the rock (20:10). And God responds by saying that these two leaders shall not enter the promised land (20:12). Though the people were clearly a difficult group to lead, God holds leaders to high standards of accountability. Even Moses and Aaron had their shortcomings, and they suffer as a result.


  1. Mayo Clinic Staff, “Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?” The Mayo Clinic (Oct 12, 2022), https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256.
  2. Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 264.


Commentary on Psalm 25:1-9

Nancy Koester

Are we teachable? Can we change? Can we grow into the image of God in which we are created?¹

Each text for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost asks these questions. Psalm 25 puts them in the form of a prayer: “Lead me in your truth and teach me.”

In the first lesson (Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32) Israel argues with God, accusing God of unfairness. No, says Ezekiel; the problem is that Israel needs to “get a new heart and a new spirit!” Israel must become teachable. The second lesson (Philippians 2:1-13) is the famous hymn to Christ. It invites us to have this mind among yourselves. To learn from Christ. Not because we are good enough, or because having the mind of Christ is an achievement, but because Jesus has “humbled himself and became like a servant.”

It is God’s work and not our ability that changes us. In the Gospel, (Matthew 21:23-32) the chief priests and elders interrogate Jesus; showing themselves to be anything but teachable. Jesus tells them that “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Why? Because these sinners were teachable: they believed John’s testimony. But as for the chief priests and elders, those know-it-alls did not change their minds when they heard John’s testimony about Jesus.

In all of these texts, God teaches us humility, trust and joy in the presence of God. Learning nice little moral lessons, or memorizing factoids about God is not the point. Instead God invites us to be changed by divine mercy and love. The work of Psalm 25 is to express receptivity, or even to make us receptive. The Psalm can be used as a refrain to support the other texts, as a theme for prayer, or the focus of an entire sermon.

Originally, this Psalm was a Hebrew acrostic; that is, it began with the first letter of the alphabet, and ended with the last. But this is more than a word game. It is about God’s A- Z mercy in your life, even when you feel abandoned. Taken as a whole, Psalm 25 is a prayer for help, growing more intense as it progresses: “I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me” (25:16-19). And the last petition is for the whole people of God: “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.”

Through it all, Psalm 25 speaks of God’s character. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees” (25:10). The New Interpreter’s Bible finds the Psalm’s theological center here, in God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness.” Unfortunately the lectionary text for Pentecost 16 stops just short of verse 10, but this can easily be corrected by extending the text as it is read, or printed, or projected on a screen.

We now turn to verses 1-9, the portion of the Psalm appointed for Pentecost 16. The Psalm begins in an attitude of worship: “To you, Oh Lord, I lift up my soul.” Lifting up the hands is an ancient posture of prayer, expressing our dependence on God. This simple gesture opens a person to receive God’s blessing. So too, the worshipper ‘lifts up’ her soul to receive God’s love. God’s love takes many forms and in Psalm 25:1-9 these include instruction and wisdom.

Repeatedly the Psalmist asks to be taught God’s ways. “Make me to know your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths” (verse 4). “Lead me in your truth, and teach me” (verse 5). “God instructs sinners in the way…and teaches the humble” (verses 5-6). To know about God is a starting point, but the Psalmist wants something more. The Psalmist wants to be with God, to walk in God’s path.

People want to be instantly gratified, but if we really need something we will wait for it. “For you I wait all day long” (verse 5). Waiting was hard for the Psalmist, who was in desperate need of help. Enemies were seeking to inflict harm. It seems that the enemies were external — the “wantonly treacherous ones” who put the Psalmist to shame (verses 2-3). Shame comes from outside and is inflicted by individuals or groups. But “enemies” may also be within us, for example, guilt or regret for the “sins of my youth or my transgressions” (verse 7). Pride can make us unteachable, but so can guilt and shame. Then we can’t move forward, can’t hear God’s voice of wisdom, or receive blessing and forgiveness.

And yet we may become most teachable when we are vulnerable, when our illusions of superiority and self-sufficiency have been stripped away (verses 16-19). So the Psalmist who implores God, “lead me in your truth and teach me.”

This is a relationship with God, a two-way communication in which the Psalmist both receives God’s teaching and dares to instruct God. The Psalmist tells God what to remember: steadfast love and mercy (verse 6). And the Psalmist tells God what to forget: “the sins of my youth” (verse 7).

My dog has the right idea. She takes the leash in her mouth when I take her for a walk, so that she can lead me. It is an endearing gesture and always makes me laugh. If this give and take happens between animals and humans, surely it happens between us and God. And as we live in that relationship, we wait, and receive, and lift our souls. We learn, change and grow more and more into the image of God in which we are created.

Hymn: ELW 798 Will You Come and Follow Me


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 28 2014.

Second Reading

Commentary on Philippians 2:1-13

Jane Lancaster Patterson

Most preachers consider preaching on Philippians 2 only when it arises annually on Palm Sunday, but to do so misses out on the power of the cross as a moral pattern, a significant New Testament theme that is often not seriously dealt with. To speak of the cross only in Holy Week, when hearers are rightly focused on the drama of Jesus’ crucifixion is to miss out on the stunning choice that Jesus’ early followers made, to claim this tool of Roman injustice as a symbol of and pattern for God’s justice in a heartbreaking world.

Phronesis: the wisdom of knowing what to do

The Greek verb that shapes this whole reading is phroneō, to have a depth of understanding and practical wisdom, to know how to act rightly, especially in confusing or complex circumstances. Paul uses this verb twice in Philippians 2:2, and then it becomes the governing verb for the so-called Christ Hymn of 2:5-11. English does not have a verb like this, so it is often translated as “having a certain mind” toward things. Here, where Paul is stressing the need for unity, it shows up as “be of the same mind,” “be of one mind,” “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:2, 5). But turning the verb phroneō into the noun “mind” loses the kind of fully embodied wisdom gained over time and experience that is really at stake here. 

Following the Christ Hymn, Paul issues the direct counsel to the community to “work out your own salvation.” His clear intent is that the moral pattern given in the narrative of Christ’s descent (and resulting exaltation by God) in 2:5-11 is to govern how the Philippian church works out a saving path together, and the grounds of their hope, in the midst of likely financial stress and social rejection.¹

Directly after the portion of Philippians 2 in the lectionary, Paul gives three examples of people whose moral deliberation follows the pattern of Christ’s self-risking descent as a slave to God’s saving mission: Paul himself (2:17-18), Timothy (2:19-24), and Epaphroditus (2:25-30).

The cross as a counter-cultural moral pattern

The lyrical passage commonly known as the Christ Hymn has two parts: Christ’s choice to descend from his position of power and status “in the form of God,” taking on the “form of a slave,” completely obedient to God’s mission; and his subsequent exaltation by God to the highest place. The first half depends upon Christ’s moral choice; the second half is purely the power of God at work in raising and exalting the faithful Christ. This clarity about the distinction between what human beings can control and what is only the work of God is then mirrored in verses 12 and 13: “work out your own salvation … for it is God who is at work among you.”

Note that these are all plural commands. The Philippians are to discern together a path of faithfulness in the context of the difficult decisions they need to make, in order to deal with debilitating factions in their midst and mistreatment from their wider community. The first four verses suggest some ways that the moral pattern might manifest in the particulars of the Philippians’ life together. The practical wisdom of Christ manifests in love, sharing in the Spirit, in compassion, sympathy, mutual humility, and in shared concern for one another’s best interest.

Viewing the cross as a moral pattern is also prevalent in the Gospels, as in Mark 8:34-37 and its parallels in Matthew and Luke (“If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross …”). But what makes a particular experience of suffering a cross, and not purely suffering, not a problem to solve? There are several characteristics of the cross that followers of Christ should keep in mind:

  • The cross is completely unjust. The charges at Jesus’ trial are false, and it proceeds in a very unorthodox way, because those in power want to force the whole group of Jesus’ disciples to back down. But neither Jesus nor his followers will be silenced. 
  • The cross is a turning point, where people can either keep serving the mission of God or back off. Jesus’ inward turn in the Garden of Gethsemane from his will to God’s will is a critical point in the crucifixion narrative.
  • As a moral choice, the cross must not be imposed on others, and most especially not imposed by people with power upon people without power or full agency, as has happened far too often across history.
  • The pattern of the cross—offering oneself for God’s mission—might be chosen on a personal level, as one person gives up status or power or favor to serve the needs of someone else. But it can even more significantly be chosen on a societal level, for the benefit of the wider community, or the world, or the creation. The key issue is the willingness to forego something one is justly entitled to, to serve someone else’s need.

Many moral issues in our present-day lives could be elucidated for Christians with reference to the cross as a moral pattern. Powerful preaching on this passage will be specific in giving examples that help people see the pattern of giving up something to which one is reasonably entitled, in order to serve someone who is more vulnerable, or whose need is greater. For Paul, this is the defining Christian moral pattern, repeatable endlessly in every context,  a pattern fueled by the powerful grace of God, multiplying human effort.

Work out your own salvation … for it is God who is at work among you

The final verses of the lection lay out both a process and a promise, as the Philippians discern together how to apply the cross as a pattern for their life together and for life in their city. There is a flaw in many translations, in which the word “me” is inserted (just as you have always obeyed me). There is no “me” in the Greek. Adding it undoes the importance of Christ’s obedience to God becoming the Philippians’ discernment of what obedience to God entails in their situation. Paul is suggesting a process of communal discernment to strengthen both individual and group decision-making, and he assures them that when they engage it with the mind of Christ, God will be in the midst of them.

This emphasis on the active presence of God “among you” assures the community of both God’s nearness and the divine empowerment that may fill their chosen actions with overflowing life. Attunement to God’s presence is what fuels Christian moral discernment, transforming it from an effort to a joy.


  1. For a full discussion of possible causes of the Philippians’ economic stress, see Peter Oakes, “The Economic Situation of the Philippian Christians,” in The People Beside Paul: The Philippian Assembly and History from Below, edited by Joseph. A. Marchal. Early Christianity and its Literature 17 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015), 63-82.