How to Read 1 Thessalonians

The Book of 1 Thessalonians


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

First Thessalonians teaches that a life changed by Jesus is full of holiness, love, and hope.  This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the structure of 1 Thessalonians, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use these questions as a guide as you watch this video.  



Now that you have an overview of 1 Thessalonians in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in 1 Thessalonians. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12.  

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (ESV)

Paul’s Ministry to the Thessalonians

1For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.2But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.3For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive,4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness.6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.7But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

9For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.10You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.11For you know how, like a father with his children,12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Paul and his companions never came to the Thessalonians with words of flattery.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12? (Consider the major characters, locations, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Paul and his companions never came to the Thessalonians with words of flattery. (Interpretation) Sharing the gospel  with unbelievers does not involve flattery. 

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12? How does its message connect with the main message of all of 1 Thessalonians? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: When conveying truth, the people of God do not soften the blow with flattery. Nathan confronted David with his sin head on—even though he could have lost his life for confronting the king. The prophets never sugar-coated the coming wrath of God through the exile. And Jesus spoke straightforward truth to all He encountered.

Contextualize: What themes does 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of 1 Thessalonians? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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 Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: When I share the gospel with nonbelievers, there's no room for flattery. The reality is that they are slaves to sin, destined for death. Without Jesus, they have no hope. I don't need to lessen the message of the gospel. Instead, I can do what Paul and his friends did for the Thessalonians. I can live a righteous life, teach the truth, work hard and work well as unto God.

Apply: How does the truth from 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of 1 Thessalonians to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.   

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about 1 Thessalonians, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through 1 Thessalonians this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 


To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.