These small group studies of Thessalonians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
1 Thessalonians 1 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Commentary
I. Greeting (1)
II. Paul’s positive comments about the Thessalonians (2-10)
I. Greeting (1)
- Who was this letter written to?
- Where is Thessalonica?
- What do we know about Thessalonica? What is the background and history there?
- What do we know of Paul’s time ministering there? Who went with him? Which Scriptures detail his time there?
- What is the main content and/or main themes of this epistle?
- What was the condition of the Thessalonian church? How would you describe the tenor of Paul’s message to them?
Acts 17:1-10 – Paul in Thessalonica.
1 Thessalonians 3:1-2,5 – Timothy sent back to the Thessalonians.
The ancient city of Thessalonica is the same city, which is now called Thessaloniki. This is currently the second largest and second most important city in Greece. It was founded roughly 300-400 years B.C. By the time of Paul’s missionary journey it was an important regional capital for the Roman province of Macedonia. The city was strategic because of its location at the intersection of two major Roman highways and its harbor, which was a busy port for shipping and trading.
Paul visited this city on his second missionary journey, on which he was accompanied by Silas and Timothy. In the Acts account we see that Paul may have been in this city as short as three weeks since he is mentioned as teaching on the Sabbath three times. Some of the Jews in the local synagogue, but even more Greeks and a number of the leading women believed Paul’s message and were converted. The Jews were jealous and stirred up a mob which rioted. Paul’s host, Jason, was forcibly taken from his house along with some of the other brethren. Jason somehow made peace with them and Paul and his companions were forced to leave the city, at which time he went to Berea. This was not enough for the Thessalonian Jews, who then followed Paul to Berea and kept causing trouble until he was forced to leave that place as well.
Evidence suggests Paul wrote this letter from Corinth and that based on an inscription showing that Gallio’s was consul at 51-52 A.D. this would date 1 Thessalonians as the earliest epistle.
1. Paul mentioned Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy by name in his greeting because the Thessalonians would have been familiar with them and because Silas and Timothy would have wanted to send their greetings since they had been an integral part of the church being formed there.
2. Timothy was sent back to the church there after Paul left, but before this book was written. See 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2.
3. Paul begins this letter, like most, with a declaration of authorship, a clear recipient, an acknowledgment of his position as God’s servant, and a blessing.
II. Paul’s commendations to the Thessalonians (2-10)
- What is the main content from verses 2-10?
- What can learn from Paul in these verses?
- How was the Thessalonian church doing after Paul’s departure? How do you know?
- What was Paul’s attitude toward the Thessalonians?
- What can we learn from Paul about doing ministry?
- What can we learn from Paul about how to treat brothers and sisters in Christ?
- What does “work of faith” mean? How about “labor of love?” And “steadfastness of hope?”
- What doctrines are revealed in verses 4-5? What lessons can we learn from verse 5 which are helpful for sharing the gospel?
- Should we ask others to imitate us (see verse 6)? Who was the first example? Then who was the next example? What principle do we learn from these verses?
- What were the Thessalonians commended for in verse 8?
- How did their lives change after their belief in Christ? Are your lives marked by the same change?
- What important theme of this epistle is revealed in verse 10?
1. Paul is a very superlative kind of guy – He does not take half measures. In these verses we see such superlatives as “always,” and “constantly.” You can see that Paul does not just pray for the Thessalonians now and then or when he thinks about it. He intentionally comes before the Lord on a very regular and even frequent basis. He constantly is thinking about them, their growth, and their relationship to the Lord. In fact, Paul did not know most of them very deeply. It appears that he was only in that area for about three weeks. And yet, he cared deeply for them. He knew that they were spiritual babies when he left them and would face many persecutions, temptations, and spiritual attacks. He couldn’t be with them personally, so he was left doing the only thing he could do for them, and that is to continually come before God’s throne and beseech the Father directly on their behalf. We are all acquainted with the idea of prayer. Praying for others is not a new concept. But here Paul shows a clear example of just how important prayer is and how important it is to dedicate ourselves to be faithful and constant prayer warriors.
When you promise to pray for others, do you pray for them just once? Perhaps when it comes to mind? A minute here or a minute there? This is not the model of prayer which Paul has set for us. Prayer is our direct link with God. Only He can change people’s hearts and can bring about spiritual growth. While we should be men and women of the Word who place a heavy emphasis on the Word, we should not do it to the exclusion of prayer. Prayer needs to be a major part of our Christian lives, something we dedicate ourselves too, not just an afterthought.
2. Paul sets a model of gratitude and optimism – You can see Paul’s positive outlook toward the 1 Thessalonians in this chapter. Of course they were not a perfect church, but he chooses to focus on their strengths instead of their weaknesses. As we know in the case of the Corinthian church, he doesn’t ignore sins and weaknesses, but at the same time most of epistles are overwhelmingly positive as he chooses to focus on the good rather than the bad. Let’s take a minute and see what are the positive things and what are the negative things which points out about the Thessalonians in this chapter and count how many of each case there are. Why does he do this? Why is this important? What lessons can we learn from this?
In fact, there is a gift of encouragement (sometimes referred to as exhortation) found in Romans 12:7-8. Barnabas seemed to have this gift (Acts 4:36). And it seems to me that Paul also learned from Barnabas and tried to be an encourager. I have been around some brothers and sisters who are very good at encouraging. They could sense when others were getting discouraged and would always try to remind them of the positive things God had done in and through them. They used their words to life up others’ spirits and help the people around them focus on God’s goodness and the many gifts He has bestowed upon us. This was a great lesson to me. I do not believe that by nature I am a very good encourager. It is easy for me to focus on people’s failures or shortcomings. I tend to slide more easily into criticizing or rebuking rather than encouraging. So Paul’s model is an important reminder to me to always look for the good in others (1 Corinthians 13:7) and be very verbal in expressing words of affirmation and appreciation (which is actually one of the most common love languages.)
How about you? Do you tend to criticize others easily or look at the shortcomings they have or the mistakes they have made? How can you be more of an encourager? Who specifically would you like to encourage in the next week?
3. Work of faith – This is an interesting phrase. A lot of times, people would consider faith as passive. Sometimes unbelievers would look at Christians and accuse us of being passive or lazy while we wait for God to do things for us. But this phrase shows us that this idea of passivity is clearly wrong. In fact, real faith is quite the opposite. Faith drives us to work. It drives us to serve God wholeheartedly. What does faith in God drive you to do? It drives us to try to reach God’s standards. Faith drives us to “don’t waste your life” as John Piper puts it. True belief in God will push us to work for Him with our brief days on the earth before we enter eternity.
4. Labor of love – Here is another interesting phrase which we often wouldn’t think about. Most of the time, people think that love is natural. They think it is an emotion, a feeling. Once they reach the point where they have to work at it and it doesn’t come easily (like it might during the honeymoon phase of a relationship), then they think that they have “fallen” out of love and it is not even worth continuing the relationship. This idea of love is completely false. Real love is not easy and it does NOT come naturally. Our natural inclinations are all selfish. It takes hard work for men to support their families properly. It takes hard work for women to take care of the household and deal with all the problems their kids are facing. It takes hard work for a couple to show the proper respect and care for each other after the two have finished their long days of work. It takes hard work to properly raise and discipline one’s children. It takes hard work for a child to care for an elderly parent rather than send him/her to a nursing home. Love is a labor, but it is a worthy one. Are you putting out the time and energy you should be to show love to the closest people around you? Or do you just lazily make the excuse that you are too tired or don’t feel like it?
5. Steadfastness of hope – Here is yet another interesting phrase that is much different than what we might expect. For many, hope is a temporary thing, a flash in the pan. They may hope for something and when they don’t get it in a very short time they give up hope and begin to despair. But Paul commends the Thessalonians for being steadfast in their hope. What is their hope? I believe their hope is the same as ours, that all of Christ’s promises to believers will come true. Eschatology is an important theme in this book and here is the first reference to that hope which all believers have. If the Thessalonians already needed to be steadfast in their hope, which they had for only a brief time (perhaps only around a year), how much more the church today which has been waiting for Christ’s return for almost 2000 years!
6. His choice of you – Here is a reminder that every believer is chosen by God. This is something that should be quite encouraging. Next time you are feeling down, remember that God chose you. Next time your brother or sister is feeling down, remind them that God chose them. We indeed have great reason to rejoice.
7. Verse 5 – Preaching the gospel is not about saying the right words. While we should do our best to present it clearly, the best arguments in the world cannot convince anyone to believe. Although Paul was one of the greatest preachers of all time, he was very well aware that his words could not change people’s hearts. This responsibility belonged to the Holy Spirit. Some have said that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Missions and there is a lot of truth to that. The Holy Spirit takes the words of the gospel and uses them to illuminate people’s hearts and convict them of sin. See John 16:8. How could Paul’s three weeks at Thessalonica bring about a strong and vibrant church? It seems almost impossible to us, and yet it happened. How did it happen? How is this possible/. It happened because of the Holy Spirit. He caused it to happen, not Paul. What lessons can we learn from this? How can we apply this principle to our own Great Commission efforts?
A. We need to be completely humble tools of God. Never get puffed up about your amazing gospel presentations or awesome answers to challenging questions. Working for credit or personal glory will hinder the Spirit’s work.
B. We must soak everything we do in prayer. Knowing that we cannot change people’s hearts, no matter how good we are at sharing, should push us to our knees. Since it is the Spirit’s work why do we not spend more time beseeching God to do it?
8. You became imitators of us – See 1 Corinthians 11:1. This concept of Paul modeling the Christian life and ministry for others is not exclusive to this passage. It is a key component of his mission strategy and he is not shy about it. The idea of modeling tends to make us feel uncomfortable. Does it make you feel uncomfortable? It can stir up a lot of questions such as:
- What if I am not good enough?
- Is it prideful to declare myself as a model to others?
- Is it seeking credit and glory if I tell others to follow my example?
- Isn’t it enough to have Christ as a model?
- How can we answer these questions?
A. Firstly, if modeling is fundamentally prideful, Paul would not have done it. This was an intentional and well-thought out aspect of his ministry, which he mentioned on numerous occasions. Therefore we can conclude that if done properly and with the right motivations it is a powerful discipleship method, which we also can make use of.
B. Secondly, it is not necessary to be perfect to be model. If it was, only Jesus could be a model.
C. Modeling must be done with the right motivations. Certainly people may seek to get personal credit or glory through modeling. That is a sinful “look at me” attitude. Our motivation should be to help the disciple grow closer to the Lord, not draw attention to ourselves just for the sake of attention.
D. While Christ is the perfect model, he is not someone which we can see right now in front of us. Sometimes it is helpful to see a believer facing the same problems or situations as we are so that we can learn from their own examples and experiences.
E. Modeling challenges us in our own spiritual walks. Spurgeon said that before reproducing we should consider if we want to reproduce other Christians like we are. Generally people you teach or disciple will become much like you are. This applies to parenting (such as the phrase “like father like son”) and also to spiritual discipleship. Do not give up discipleship because of your own mistakes. Instead correct those issues so that you can be a better model.
F. We also need to model repenting when we stumble.
G. Discuss the process of M.A.W.L. (Model, Assist, Watch, Leave)
9. The Thessalonians then became a model to others – Look at what happens if modeling is done right! What does this text show us happened? Paul was a model to the Thessalonians who were in turn an example to all the believers in that whole province. This is modeling done right. This is reproduction. These saints in Thessalonica learned from Paul that they should be obeying the Word. They learned from Paul that they should be passing it on to others. They saw Paul doing this, so they did it too. The result was that the gospel went forth into the whole province of Greece and beyond. In verse 8, Paul says that the word of the Lord has sounded forth. This was not an accidental or incidental spreading of the gospel. It was a powerful, bold, intentional mission. When you think about all the persecutions this church faced in their own backyard from the Jewish troublemakers in their city, their dedication to spreading the Word is even more impressive. They had lots of potential excuses, but we don’t see them making those excuses.
What can you learn from this passage about what you should be doing to fulfill the Great Commission?
10. They turned from idols to a living God – The Holy Spirit was at work. It was His power that completely transformed their lives. The entire direction and purpose of their lives had been changed. Paul shows us clearly in this chapter the fruit that bore evidence of this radical transformation.
11. To wait for His Son from heaven – Each chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with an eschatological reference. Jesus’ Second Coming is a key theme in this book. We will be studying it more later on in the book, but the key lesson in this chapter is that they didn’t waste the time they had passively waiting for this second coming. They were growing. They were rejoicing. They were following Paul’s model. They were modeling the life of a growing disciple to others. They were spreading the Word. Their lives had been transformed and they were showing it. How about yours?
What will you do in the coming week to apply what we have learned in this chapter?
E-book: If this study is helpful for you, download our all in one updated study on 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-9
1 Thessalonians 2:10-20
1 Thessalonians 3
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
1 Thessalonians 5:16-28
2 Thessalonians 1
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8
2 Thessalonians 2:9-17
2 Thessalonians 3