Lectionary Commentaries for October 22, 2023
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 22:15-22

Yung Suk Kim

In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees come to the fore and send their disciples to Jesus along with the Herodians to slyly confront and debilitate Jesus with a “divide and rule” tactic, which is an imperial stratagem by which emperors cement power divisively. In fact, the coalition between the Pharisees and the Herodians is highly unexpected because whereas the former is critical of Rome, the latter aligns with the Roman Empire because they are a political party supporting the Herodian dynasty, a puppet of the Roman Empire. But their common interest binds them together, which is to impair Jesus’ authority and crush his “kingdom of God” movement by asking him a politics-driven question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (21:17). 

They are confident that this question will trouble and alienate him because he would find it difficult to answer either way. A simple “yes” seemingly contradicts his general teaching about God since true loyalty is rendered to God only. A dauntless “no” will make him an anti-imperial radical revolutionary. They expected Jesus to choose an “all-or-nothing” position whose logic is “If you give everything to God, there is nothing you can spare to give to Caesar, or vice versa.” If their trapping goes as planned, he will be barbecued further by his opponents. Subsequently, his authority will be questioned and feeble, and his followers or those who heard him teaching would be confused and divided. Some of them may think that Jesus is too radical to follow. Others would be in danger if they follow Jesus’ stance that they not pay taxes to Caesar.  

To set the stage for their trap, the Pharisees and the Herodians take Jesus for a ride and said: “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality” (22:16). This praise of Jesus is a bait to snarl him if he moves away from his teaching concerning God-only-loyalty, which is referred to as “in what he said” (22:16), which refers to all he taught and said in his ministry, including but not limited to teaching about the kingdom of God and his righteousness (6:33). Interestingly, while talking about great teachings of Jesus, they are not interested in the real change of people or fruits of his ministry through which, for instance, the downtrodden are encouraged to live with hope in God. For Jesus, good teaching does not stay with knowledge, but it must bear fruit.

But knowing their malice, Jesus said: “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax” (22:18-19). Putting someone to the test is evil. They are called hypocrites because they know and teach who God is, but they do not do what they teach (see also, 23:2). They are supposed to know loyalty to God does not necessarily lead to the rejection of the empire. So, he does not answer their question directly because they want to get him in trouble under the guise of the legal language of lawfulness. Even if he says either yes or no, he still gets in trouble because “yes” means a seeming rebuttal of his teaching focused on loyalty to God, which may bring about divisive responses from his followers or other people, and “no” means a blow to Rome, but it would cause him to stand at the brink of the revolutionary war against Rome. 

Instead of taking on either a yes or no answer, Jesus asks them to show him the coin used for the tax, which is a denarius—the usual daily wage reflecting people’s blood, sweat, and tears. He knows that everyday life is hard and that the sustenance of life is crucial to ordinary people. This coin represents their hard work. They are part of the local economy no matter how complex or abusive it may be. Recognizing the Roman Empire’s economy and politics, Jesus asks: “Whose head is this and whose title?” (22:20). He seems to recognize that not all things are evil in the Roman Empire. An “all-or-nothing” worldview is naive. As there is light and darkness in the world, people must face both and live wisely, doing the will of God. The Pharisees answered, “Caesar’s,” which is a correct answer. Then, Jesus said to them: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (22:21).

Jesus’ answer above is evasive but penetrating. On the one hand, he could avert the Pharisees’ trap. But on the other hand, it rings true to all his hearers, both his followers and his opponents, because ultimately, theological or ethical stances must be determined by each person. In other words, one must read and analyze the realities of the world and their relationship with God. Since all actions are the result of their interpretation, different people may think differently about the intersections of the empire/world rulers and God. Jesus pushes people to think for themselves and determine what is best for them when they engage in the world. He seems to say: “Take a stand yourself. It’s your decision by which you can prove what kind of person you are.” In this way, he does not close the door on the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 

So, people are left wondering what it means to live in an imperial world that God is supposed to rule. How can they know which or what belongs to God or Caesar? If they know one way or another, they must be bold and loyal to their interpretation. In other words, they must bear the fruit of their interpretation. If they do not do what they believe or decide, there arises another form of hypocrisy. In this regard, Jesus calls the chief priests and the elders hypocrites (22:17), and his view holds true because they were amazed by Jesus’ answer but they simply left him and went away without further engagement or proper words of change or commitment (22:22). 

In the end, what Jesus teaches us is a critical interpretation of the world, fearless determination thereafter, and conscientious engagement in the world, based on what we believe is true. From Matthew’s perspective, the goal of life is not merely to defeat the empire or adopt an “all-or-nothing” policy but to love people, including enemies, strive after his kingdom and righteousness, and live in hope between now and the future. Until the end, they must continue to pursue the way of God progressively and radically. 

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 45:1-7

Dale Coulter

This passage forms a climactic part of the second half of Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66). While the first half of the book concerned Israel before the exile, the second part addresses the nation in exile. The exilic context of the second half of Isaiah has led many commentators to refer to it as Second Isaiah. Nevertheless, there is a literary and canonical unity to the whole book even if it was the result of an editorial process over time in which the historical contexts shifted between Israel before and during the exile.

While the immediate lesson is 45:1-7, the passage builds on 44:24-28 in which Cyrus is first mentioned. The invocation of Cyrus as God’s shepherd (44:28) and anointed one (45:1) parallels the figure of the suffering servant upon whom God’s Spirit rests (Isaiah 42:1-9; 52:13-53:12). The latter underscores God’s plan to deliver Israel and points toward Jesus while the former shows how that plan involves those even beyond Israel’s borders. What remains central is that God has a plan for creation, but it unfolds in surprising ways that remind humanity of its dependency upon the creator and its ignorance of this infinite and eternal God.

There are three major themes in this passage: God’s plan for creation, God’s unpredictable use of secular forces to bring about His plan, and God’s absolute rule as creator. 

God’s plan for creation

The passage moves back and forth between Cyrus as God’s anointed instrument and Israel as God’s elected servant. It’s a movement from the stage of world history to the particularity of Israel and back again. In this way, it builds on the larger theme of the Old Testament that God had chosen Abram from out of the nations to form a people who would be a light to the nations. 

The image of God as the potter who makes and shapes creation provides the larger context for this movement. While the image is not explicit until 45:9, it functions as a counter to God as the one who formed Israel in the womb and the maker of all things (Isaiah 44:24). The final verse of this passage should be understood in terms of God as the potter who makes and forms all of life (45:7).

God has a plan for creation. It unfolds through God’s making and shaping history and humanity. God is the potter who stoops over lifeless dust, molding it into His image and filling it with His breath (Genesis 2:7). Paul invokes this image when he tells the Ephesians that they are God’s handiwork or workmanship. While the term could be variously translated, it implicitly refers to God as the potter, the divine artist who shapes and forms life in ways that lead to human flourishing. Such is the grace of God. 

God’s absolute rule

The passage concludes with one of the strongest assertions of monotheism in all of scripture. Using verbs of creation (form/make and create), God claims to create light and darkness, weal and woe. Another way of translating “weal” and “woe” is well-being (shalom) and calamity/evil (rā’). The contrast is not between good and evil but between peace and disaster. The point of this contrast is to desacralize the world. We do not live in a universe of gods but in the creation of God. 

The text is not claiming that God is the author of evil. This would be a contradiction to the repeated claim that God is the “Holy One of Israel” whose glory fills the whole earth. God’s holiness means that God will be righteous and just in His dealings with His creation. Yet, the text asserts in the most emphatic way that it’s God’s creation and God remains the sole author of it. 

In making the claim about God’s absolute rule, the text does not remove human freedom from the equation. In fact, just the opposite. God invites humans to participate as co-creators in forming and shaping the world. God even works through those who do not acknowledge Him in such a way as to invite them to acknowledge His Lordship and to further His plan. The invitation to cooperate reminds us that God delivers not as an outside force acting upon creation through the imposition of His will but as one who steps into creation and saves from within. This perspective finds its ultimate fulfillment in the incarnation through which God becomes flesh and enters fully into the calamities of life.

God’s wildness

While Scripture’s affirmation of a divine plan for life stems from its depiction of God as the creator of all, there is also a sense in which God and God’s plan unfolds in surprising and unpredictable ways. God does not follow the predictable social and political customs of life. He is wild and even uncultivated in the sense that God does not conform to human expectations. One of the clearest places where this occurs is in God declaring Cyrus to be his shepherd and anointed one (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). 

The designation “anointed one” probably stems from God anointing Israelite kings (see Psalm 2). It refers to a divine appointment to fulfill a role or task. God does something similar in designating Assyria as “the rod of my anger” sent against the ungodly (Isaiah 10:5). In this text, however, Cyrus does not seem to be aware of God’s activity. God tells Cyrus, “You have not known me” (Isaiah 45:4). 

The British Museum possesses the Cyrus Cylinder, a small clay cylinder that records the conquest of Babylon by the Persians. In the text of the Cylinder, Cyrus claims that the god Marduk called him to conquer Babylon and return exiled peoples to their home. The biblical text is responding to this kind of imperial propaganda by reinterpreting the conquest in terms of God’s providence. 

Providence unfolds in unpredictable ways that remind us of the distance between God and humanity. God’s use of Cyrus would have been surprising both to Israelites and to Persians. It is one reason why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “not my will but your will be done.” God works his plan in the world less in a straightforward chronology and more in terms of a circuitous manner that allows for human freedom. 

The wildness of God is never outside of God’s holiness. And yet, this wildness reminds us that we must conform ourselves to God rather than God to our conceptions and actions. The God who becomes flesh is willing to be shamed and cursed for our sake. It doesn’t get much wilder than that.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 33:12-23

Lisa Wolfe

I was preparing to teach a Confirmation Class in which I would ask each student how they imagine God. While I was divvying out markers and large pieces of butcher paper on the floor of the youth room, a church volunteer came by with her four-year-old child. “What are you doing?” the boy wanted to know. I explained and asked him what he thought God looked like. I can still hear his profound response, complete with his age-appropriate inability to pronounce the letters “l” and “r,” which both sounded like “w.” “A giant rainbow cloud.” 

This child’s perceptive response aligns well with biblical accounts, which similarly provide non-physical descriptions of the deity. Exodus 33:12-23 holds a central place in the list of biblical theophanies, or personal encounters with the Holy One, which start with the first humans in Genesis 2-3, and continue with Abram (Genesis 12:7), Hagar (Genesis 16:13), and Moses, along with many others throughout the canon. Exodus contains multiple theophanies, mostly associated with the Holy Mountain (identified as Horeb in some places and Sinai in others). Moses famously encounters the Holy One in a burning bush that was not consumed (Exodus 3:2); in Exodus 19 God’s presence appears amid thunder, lightning, cloud, and fire, while Exodus 24:10 offers the simultaneously specific and evasive phrase “something like a pavement of sapphire stone” on which God stood.  

One of the most striking statements in this passage reports the LORD saying, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” This theology plays out in that iconic scene from the finale of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Paramount)–those who know enough to look away from the opened ark’s manifestation of holiness do so, and they are the only ones whose faces do not melt. This is the epitome of pop culture teaching biblical principles! 

A deeper dive into the biblical books shows that the ancient people of God had differences of opinion on whether one could see God and live. Only nine verses earlier, in 33:11, we read “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Scholars have identified such differences of theological opinion as pointing to various traditions or even sources produced by sub-groups of ancient Israelites. 

Dr. Benjamin D. Sommer has pointed out how differing ancient views about God provide analogies to contemporary theological debates.¹ We could be comforted by the idea that we are not the first community of faith to struggle with conflicting understandings of God. We could also let this teach us about how to deal with disputed issues. Our ancestors in faith did not take a vote to determine whether the text would retain a “you cannot see God and live”-only view, over against a “some people can see some parts of God” view. Rather, they retained both views, side by side, woven into our compelling, complex, sacred texts. 

Just before this passage, the LORD had instructed Moses and the people to finally leave the Holy Mountain. This marks a significant change in geography and content for the remainder of the Pentateuch. Moses and the people have received the divine teachings and now will commence an epic journey of wilderness wandering. As with most transition points for all of us, this raises concerns and anxiety. Understandably, it prompts many questions from Moses for God.

Moses does not hesitate to rehearse his misgivings, questions, or challenges of God.

We can learn something from Moses here. Even God’s hand-picked leader does not refrain from expressing his concerns to the Divine. He asks the LORD in the opening verse who will go with him on this epic journey. Practically in the same breath he also implores, “make your ways known to me” (33:13). The Holy One reassures Moses that God will cause the people to “rest”—which has a deeper meaning than napping. This term indicates that the LORD’s “presence” will ensure the people freedom from warfare and suffering. The word for “presence” is the same one translated “face” in verses 20 and 23. Thus the “presence” that Moses is assured of as company is also the “face” that he cannot be allowed to see. This passage itself contains some of that theological ambiguity about whether one really could see God and live!

Despite this emphatic reassurance of God’s support/solidarity with Moses and the people, Moses almost belligerently persists with his doubt-riddled line of questioning: Do not make us go if you do not go with us; we cannot trust in your “favor” without your actual presence. Again, the LORD reassures Moses—both he and the people have God’s “favor” (verse 17)—but still, Moses pressures the Holy One: “Please, make me see your glory!” (verse 18, my translation). Here, it would seem, Moses surely has crossed a line from doubtful to cheeky. How much reassurance does this guy require? 

If the Holy One were impatient, Moses surely would have been struck by lightning by now. Instead, we have an intimate back-and-forth of questions (12, 13 twice, 15, 16, 18) and reassurances (verses 14, 17, 19 twice, 20). Though the LORD and Moses have a history of exchanging names (verses 12, 17), Moses’ persistence pays off with a final revelation of the Divine Name* and Nature (verse 19). Having first been protected from the dangerous power of this encounter, Moses catches a fleeting glimpse of the LORD’s back on the way. The Holy One is at once protective and revelatory. No ancient deity worthy of worship would have been anything other than dangerous, otherwise what good would they be in times of trouble? Thus, Moses’ demanding questions contain risk. How can he find reassurance without being destroyed in the process? Perhaps that is what he learned in this divine self-revelation: This is a God who shows “favor” to Moses and his people; a God whose prerogative it is to be “gracious,” and “show mercy.”   

*As a post-script, though one quite related to the topic at hand, I encourage Christian clergy to stand in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers by participating in the tradition of not pronouncing the holy, unspeakable, divine name. Longstanding Jewish tradition is to pronounce the tetragrammaton “Adonai,” while more contemporary practice includes the option of “ha-Shem,” or “the name.” This divine name is typically rendered “LORD” (in small caps) in contemporary English Christian translations. This tradition itself embodies the dilemma of the Holy One as both immanent and transcendent; present and distant; close enough to almost see while dangerous enough to protect us from that encounter; both speakable and unspeakable.


  1. “The Source Critic and the Religious Interpreter” https://www.thetorah.com/article/the-source-critic-and-the-religious-interpreter


Commentary on Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Kelly J. Murphy

“It’s like those miserable psalms. They’re so depressing.” At least, so says the character of God in an (in)famous scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Yet Psalm 96 is anything but miserable or depressing.

Psalm 96 rejoices in Yahweh’s salvation, works, glory, greatness, honor, majesty, and strength. It proclaims that Yahweh alone created the heavens. It commands that all of the heavens, all of the earth, and all peoples should praise Yahweh. It opens with an imperative that sets the joyous, praise-filled tone for what follows: “Sing to Yahweh a new song!” (Psalm 96:1).

While verses 1-9 are included in the liturgy, the final four verses are absent. Yet at the core of this psalm is the opening of these last verses: “Say among the nations, ‘Yahweh is king!’” (Psalm 96:10, New Revised Standard Version). Verses 10-13 remind listeners why they should sing and praise, both declaring that Yahweh is king and promising divine action: Yahweh “is coming to judge (šepoṭ) the earth,” with “righteousness … and truth” [verse 13].

The promise of divine judgment might return us to the idea of “those miserable psalms,” which are “so depressing.” After all, judgment rarely carries with it connotations of joy. But many scholars suggest that a better translation of the Hebrew verb špṭ might be “to establish justice.” In other words, this is a promise of justice on earth, a promise that the world will be righted and restored even if it doesn’t look that way in the present moment. One day, says the psalmist, things will be better than they are. So “let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it” (verses 11-12).

The image of the heavens, the earth, the sea, the field, and “everything in it” celebrating a new and better future becomes especially moving when we consider when Psalm 96 might have been composed. Along with Psalms 93, 94-95, and 97-99, Psalm 96 has long been categorized as an enthronement psalm; namely, a psalm that celebrates Yahweh as divine king (also see Psalms 29 and 47). For many years, biblical scholars, following in the footsteps of Sigmund Mowinckel, suggested that these psalms originated in an annual festival where Yahweh was (re)enthroned as king over Israel in the Jerusalem Temple.

Alternatively, scholars have proposed that Psalm 96 might have been written as a response to the Babylonian Exile of 587 b.c.e. Psalm 89, which closes Book III of the Psalter, describes the crisis of the Babylonian Exile, asking, “How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” (Psalm 89:46). Jerusalem has fallen and Yahweh is hidden. In the aftermath of the exile, hope in any form, especially hope for justice, must have been hard to come by. After this, Psalm 96, along with the other psalms of Book IV of the psalter (Psalms 90-106), follow.

So why do scholars think Psalm 96, with its joyous and praise-filled tone, is a response to the crisis of exile? According to many, the similarities between the language of Psalm 96 and the language of Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), largely dated to sometime near the end of the Babylonian Exile, provides us with the clues to situate its composition. A number of parallels are regularly cited. For example, Psalm 96:1 implores its listeners to “Sing to Yahweh a new song!” So too does the book of Isaiah: “Sing to Yahweh a new song, his praise from the end of the earth!” (Isaiah 42:12). As Isaiah declares, “Let the sea roar and all that fills it,” so too does the psalmist (96:11). Psalm 96:2 commands its listeners to “tell (basserû)” of Yahweh’s “salvation from day to day,” using the same Hebrew root behind the “good tidings” of Isaiah 40:9 (mebasseret) and Isaiah 41:27 (mebasser).

Moreover, this declaration of Yahweh’s “salvation (yešû’atô)” in Psalm 96:2 also appears in the book of Isaiah: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation (yešû’atî) may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6; see 52:7). Both Isaiah and Psalm 96 proclaim that only Yahweh is God and all other gods are idols (Isaiah 44:9-20; Psalm 96:5). And both Second Isaiah and Psalm 96 share the aforementioned vision of divine justice (see Isaiah 42:1-4). So, goes the argument, these literary connections suggest that Psalm 96 might have been written around the same time.

For Second Isaiah, there was hope that the Babylonian Exile might end and that Yahweh would act in Israel’s history once again, as Yahweh had in the past: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). The declaration that “I am about to do a new thing” seems to be the same hope that undergirds Psalm 96 and its call for a new song. Once again, says the psalmist, Yahweh will act.

Psalm 96 is anything but miserable or depressing, even if it was perhaps composed in one of the most potentially depressing periods of ancient Israelite history. The psalm looks forward to a time when Yahweh will act yet again. At the same time, the psalm does not ask its listeners to wait passively for the establishment of justice on earth. The series of imperatives throughout the psalm remind listeners themselves to also act: to sing, bless, tell, and declare. These imperatives, all in the plural, demand that everyone act. And the inclusion of all throughout the psalm—all the peoples, families, nations, and, indeed, the very heavens, seas, fields, and trees—reminds listeners of how bound together creation is. Together, the psalmist says, hope, even in the face of misery. Celebrate. But together, too, work.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Oct. 22, 2017.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

David Carr

For clear and responsible interpretation of a written work, it is important to consider what it is we’re trying to interpret. Those who grew up reading the New Testament may not often think to ask: what does it mean for us to read a letter as Scripture? Admittedly, it may strike us as odd that we would give such close attention to something akin to a very old piece of mail—and here, just part of it—to the extent that we would study it, write commentaries about it, and preach sermons on it for centuries. Yet we can gain significant historical and theological insight from these first ten verses of what we know as 1 Thessalonians. Two points are especially helpful to bear in mind. 

First, we should remember that Paul didn’t write 1 Thessalonians with us in mind. He, along with others (verses 1–2), wrote this epistle to inform and encourage an actual community of people in ancient Thessalonica. Second, 1 Thessalonians is not a theological treatise or general instruction manual on Christian living. Paul wrote this letter—quite possibly the earliest of the Pauline letters that we have—to address specific issues that the Thessalonian community faced. To interpret such a writing for our contexts requires that we take some imaginative leaps in order to approximate how the first audience(s) may have understood it, and to discern how the writing might inform contemporary faith and practice.  

Like contemporary letters, e-mails, and other forms of written correspondence, ancient letters followed certain forms. Although he included some innovations, Paul knew and generally followed the conventions of ancient letter writing. Scholars largely agree that this epistle begins with a short greeting in 1:1 and progresses to a lengthy thanksgiving (and prayer) that ends at 3:13. When read in the larger literary context of 1 Thessalonians, along with the Acts of the Apostles, 1 Thessalonians 1:1–10 reveals much about the Thessalonians and Paul’s relationship with them. According to Acts, Paul and Silas shared the message of Christ in Thessalonica, with mixed results, after a miraculous release from jail in Philippi (Acts 16:11–17:9; see also 1 Thessalonians 2:2). After departing from Thessalonica, Paul began to worry about their young Christ-believing community—seemingly because they experienced persecution (3:3–4)—but was unable to return to them (2:17–20). He then sent Timothy “to strengthen and encourage” the Thessalonians (3:1–2), and Timothy returned with a positive report about their “faith and love” (3:6–10), which prompted Paul to write the letter. 

Because Timothy’s report was reassuring, Paul transitions from his short greeting (1:1) to expressions of gratitude for the community. One of the most notable features of this section is Paul’s emphasis on the power and presence of the living God who has been at work among the Thessalonians. He does not seek to prove that God has indeed acted powerfully in him and the community; he takes it for granted. In fact, the experience of God’s powerful presence serves as a key premise upon which Paul writes his thanksgiving and later exhortations. 

Paul remembers them in his prayers, confident that God loves them and has “chosen” their community (1:4). They became believers not by being persuaded by words alone; they experienced in Paul’s missionary work “power in the Holy Spirit and … full conviction” (1:5; see also 2:13). In an allusion to their conversion, Paul contrasts the idols to which they’d previously been devoted with the “living and true God” whom they now serve (1:9). In short, the Thessalonians have become Christ-believers, which involves active devotion to the God who raised Christ from the dead (1:10), not because they made mental assent to a set of teachings that they found persuasive. Rather, according to Paul, their lives were transformed by their experience of the living God. 

On the basis of such experience, Paul writes that the Thessalonians became imitators of him, his colleagues, and the Lord (1:6; see also 1:14), as well as examples and messengers for others (1:7–8). Two points about those claims are noteworthy. First, we should not presume that Paul writes of himself as someone to be imitated merely out of arrogance. In his ancient Greco-Roman context, imitation of models—whether of people’s conduct or of their ways of writing—was the basis of education and moral formation. In order to learn how to write, form arguments, and live a good life, people would follow the examples of others who modeled how it should be done. Paul bore the responsibility of providing such a model for the communities he founded in the early Christ movement. Second, we should note the content of what is being imitated. Above all, and as stressed above, the Thessalonians should imitate Paul in his efforts to serve God, in anticipation of Christ’s return from heaven (1:9–10). For a community still being oriented to a reality that differed substantially from their previous worldviews and practices, having models to follow was important to helping them find their way. In turn, their role as examples provided the same for others who had just given themselves to God (1:7) 

How might the greeting and thanksgiving of this ancient letter function for those who read it today as sacred Scripture? We can never share the experiences of Paul or first-century Thessalonians, and we miss key insights if we restrict our focus to historical concerns alone. Texts like this point beyond themselves. Of vital importance is that this portion of 1 Thessalonians bears witness to a God who manifests the divine presence in particular ways. Specifically, this God reveals God’s self not only through words, but through “power” (dynamis). Paul experienced that power. The Thessalonians experienced that power. Believers today should likewise remain prayerfully alert to discern the presence and power of God who is already working in and around us. Such is part and parcel of what it means “to serve the living and true God.”