Getting The Most Out of Time In God's Word

1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians is a short book, it’s only 5-chapters and you can probably read through the whole thing in 20-minutes. Between now and next week, read through the entire book multiple times to familiarize yourself with it.
Take an online equipping course. Start with Keys to Effective Bible Study.

Todd Wagner, David LeventhalMar 22, 20202 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12

Discussing and Applying the Sermon

1 Thessalonians is a short book, it’s only 5-chapters and you can probably read through the whole thing in 20-minutes. Between now and next week, read through the entire book multiple times to familiarize yourself with it.
Take an online equipping course. Start with Keys to Effective Bible Study.


We don’t worship the Bible, we worship God…Father, Son, and Spirit. However, God gave us His Word so that as we study and apply it to our lives we can know Him, love Him, and love others. David Leventhal and Todd Wagner teach us three simple steps to use when studying our Bibles: observation, interpretation, and application.

Key Takeaways

  • We don’t worship the Bible. We worship God…Father, Son, and Spirit.
  • When you read the Bible, remember that it is inspired by God.
  • God wants to reveal Himself to you more than you want to find Him. He’s not playing hide and seek with you.
  • Reading and studying the Bible is a long-term journey. There is value in both repetition and patience.
  • The goal of reading the Bible is not to get through the Bible but to get the Bible through you.
  • When you read the Bible, use these three steps: Observation, Interpretation, & Application.
  • When observing, look for things that are: emphasized, repeated, things that are alike, things that are unalike, related, and true to life.
  • Two people can look at the same thing and come to two different conclusions. Interpretation is the process that helps ensure you are landing in a spot that closest to what the Holy Spirit, through the biblical writer, had in mind.
  • We don’t read the Bible to become smarter sinners.
  • One of the most important questions you ask when you read the Bible is “So what? How do I apply what I just read to my life?”
  • One of the best things you can do when you read God’s Word is to ask for help!

Todd Wagner: David, welcome.

David Leventhal: Hey, guys. Great to be with you this morning. What a great time to get in God's Word together. What I thought we would do here as we wrap up this morning and send folks on their way for the rest of the Sunday is just to remind you guys. Hopefully what you're about to hear is not new content. I think it's things we've taught and encouraged and exhorted from the pulpit for two decades, really.

You've heard us say a lot this week, "Hey, many of us now are finding ourselves with more time on our hands." By the way, that's not true for all of us. Some of us have less time on our hands than before, but a lot of us find ourselves with more margin in our day. So we've said, "Hey, why don't you take that opportunity to double down in God's Word, remembering that quarantine and isolation are not the same things as solitude."

So we want to continue to encourage you guys in the midst of this self-quarantine to find ways to be alone with the Lord, to have solitude with Jesus. As we do that, I think it's important to remind ourselves of a couple of things. First, we don't worship the Bible. The Bible is not the thing we're worshiping, but God's Word is clear that Scripture is God-breathed. We worship Jesus Christ, the risen Savior of the world. We worship Father, Son, and Spirit.

The way we do that is by getting to know him, and the primary mechanism by which we can come to know Jesus is through the Word he has given us. Paul tells Timothy, his pastor, in 2 Timothy 3 that all Scripture is God-breathed. It is profitable. Profitable for what? It's profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Why? So that the man or woman of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

So, if you are not coming to God's Word through the lens of, "God, in this time, what can I learn about you that I can then take to the world…?" The first thing is shift how you're coming into God's Word. It's not to make you a smarter sinner. It is to change your heart so you might become more and more of a blessing to your family, who you may be spending more time with, and to the watching world.

This is not an ordinary book. Hebrews 4 tells us the Word of God is living, it's active, it's sharper than a two-edged sword. It's able to pierce to the division of soul and spirit, of joint and marrow, and to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We are all laid bare before the Word of God. This is not Harry Potter. This is not War and Peace. This is not, frankly, C.S. Lewis or Calvin. This is God's Word inspired.

Todd: It's not Come and See.

David: It's not Come and See, although that's a great book.

Todd: Listen. I want you to read this one, because it shows us who the Father, Son, and Spirit is. It shows us the God we do worship, who he is. It's the Word of God, and it should drive us to him. David, I know when you study the Word of God, as you go through this thing, there are a couple of things you bring in your mind. You've used the words thoughtfulness, patience, and repetition. So why don't you explain those? Now we're going to talk about this idea. When we open up a text, this is what we bring. The thoughts he has already mentioned… It's the Word of God; it's not Harry Potter.

David: It's not Harry Potter. God wants to reveal himself to you more than you want to be informed by him, so he's not playing hide and seek. I just finished going through 1 Thessalonians. I knew we were going to be teaching it on our Sunday weekend services, so I jumped in in late January, and I just finished 1 Thessalonians this past week. That's six, seven, or eight weeks on a book that's five chapters long. I became really familiar with 1 Thessalonians, because I kept reading it.

Like Todd said earlier, it's short. You can read 1 Thessalonians, the whole book, in about 15 to 20 minutes, depending upon how fast you read. There is value in repetition and rereading the whole book in one sitting. Now, Exodus… You may find that gets to be a little bit longer chunk of time, if you want to try to read Exodus in one sitting. I would encourage you to do it, but recognizing these smaller books, read and reread the whole book, because you start to pick up themes you wouldn't otherwise pick up just looking at one part at a time.

Todd: When you read it, David, the thoughtfulness is kind of the stuff I said. You come expectantly, humbly, eagerly, and know what this is: the Word of God. But then you used the word patience. Tell them why you say you come with patience.

David: First of all, this is an infinite God revealing himself to a finite man. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and it takes time…time as measured not in days and weeks but in months and years and decades…for me to really begin to continue to deepen my love and my affection and my understanding of the Word. So don't feel like, if you have an hour, you're going to get everything you can get in an hour. It's okay to say, "Hey, this is a long-term journey."

I want to be patient and let the Word of God work its way through me, knowing I may be more open on Monday than I would have been on Sunday because of whatever is going on in my life. The Spirit may be moving in me today in a way I wasn't allowing him to the day before, because God's Spirit always wants to push me toward holiness and purity and Christlikeness. The issue is whether I am open to that on any particular given day.

So we want to be patient with God's Word. Allow it to do the work. Look. It's totally great if you want to read through the Bible in a year. That's awesome. You should do that. We do that as a body in our Join the Journey.

Todd: It takes about 70 hours…that's about 20 minutes a day…to read through the Bible in a year, but again, the goal is not to get through the Bible; the goal is to get the Bible through you. One of the things David has done… I want to get to what you did with 1 Thessalonians, and we're going to actually show them a copy of what you did when you did 2 John, because one of the keys is repetition. You read the book again and again and again. It's how I see some of the patterns, how I see the thankfulness in 1 Thessalonians 1:2 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Thessalonians 3:9. You see those kinds of patterns when you read it a lot.

David: But it only comes through repetition. I'm a product of the 70s and 80s, so I'm a big Star Wars guy. We watched The Empire Strikes Back the other night as a family, because that's what you do when you're in quarantine. It occurred to me as I was watching it, the reason I could basically quote my way through the whole movie is because I've seen that film…

Todd: This is great. You told me yesterday you were going to say this. When I watch Star Wars with my kids… I was a child of the 70s and early 80s where I saw the first three Star Wars, which I know are Star Wars IV, V, and VI. I have not gotten into Star Wars I, II, III, VII VIII, IX, and now all of the other ones.

David: I, II, and III are terrible. You're fine.

Todd: Okay. My point is when I watch them with them, I'm lost. I need somebody who loves Star Wars to go, "Okay. This is how that's connected. You know the ones you are familiar with?" There are parts of the Scripture you're familiar with. Look. David and I have been around God's Word for 30 years, so when I read 1 Thessalonians, it's why my mind runs to Matthew 18, it's why it runs to 1 Corinthians 2, it's why it runs to Isaiah 64, and it's why I see all of the things. Be patient with yourself if this is the first time you've watched Star Wars, but start watching the movie. When I watch Star Wars, I need somebody like you there with me…

David: Yeah, to highlight the nuances and things you might not pick up that are relevant to the story.

Todd: Yeah. Frankly, that's why some people like to watch the movie again and again. They see different things. One of the things you need to do when you're watching, if you will, the movie for the first time is to make notes. Like, "Who was that guy?" Write the name down. Understand how he fits in a larger context. Don't be discouraged that you're not a seasoned Star Wars nerd.

David: Here's a great example from 1 Thessalonians. Because I read 1 Thessalonians all the way through a lot of times… Todd mentioned today… He showed the highlight, and he said, "As you know…" "As you know…" "For you remember when we were with you…" That's repeated a bunch of times in 1 Thessalonians, which is why Todd is going to teach us in a couple of weeks in 1 Thessalonians 4… All of a sudden, you see this phrase: "Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed." You're like, "Wait a second. Whoa, whoa! That's different than everything else in the letter."

He has been saying, "You know…" "As you know…" "When we were there, you remember…" And all of a sudden, there's this new bit of teaching. "Brothers, we don't want you to be uninformed." That only pops if you've been reading the rest of the letter and have begun to kind of put the parts that make sense in light of the whole. That's why that section, which I can't wait for you to teach in a couple of weeks… "We don't want you to be uninformed." About what? Well, you have to wait and see.

Todd: Very good. Watch this. I want to take you, just to show you… You saw my little sheet, that I get my Bible out, and here's a picture again of what I taught you from today. This is my notes from 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2, that make up all that was there. I'm going to show you David's 2 John, and you're going to see with patient study… So we say observe, interpret, apply.

What I did as I taught through that little text we were just in is I made some observations about how many times as you know showed up, the word of God showed up, and different things like that, and I made an interpretation of why that truth was there, and then I applied it to your life. That's what David does when he studies. That's the basic thing. So walk them through 2 John.

David: The reason we grabbed 2 John is because it's super easy to illustrate a point. This is from a couple of years back. Second John is 13 verses. It's a letter you can read in 10 minutes 15 times. The reason I chose this one is because it highlights a couple of things. When you're reading God's Word, you want to observe. Look for things that are repeated.

I had the privilege of studying under Prof Hendricks at Dallas Seminary in the early 00s, late 90s, and one of the things he talked about was observe. Look for things that are repeated. Second John is great, because you can basically walk through the four or five paragraphs in 1 John, and you'll see that in the first paragraph, I highlighted in pink (no particular reason why pink, not blue) truth. It's highlighted four times in those first couple of verses.

Then you get to the second paragraph, and you see commandment in orange is highlighted four times. You get to that third kind of middle section, and you see deceivers, those who don't confess Christ, the Antichrist, is highlighted three or four times in gray, because that's a sad color. Then you see in that final section, teaching is highlighted three times in green.

Just by looking at the words the apostle John used in this short little letter, I can begin to get an idea of what he was trying to communicate in each section of the letter. Truth in the first couple of verses, commandments in the second couple of verses, the deceivers…watch out for false teachers who deny that Christ came. Then the last one is teaching. A test of orthodoxy is: Do we obey Jesus Christ's teaching? "If you love me, you will obey my commands." Period.

So it's super easy. You can see at the beginning he starts with the "elect lady and her children." That's in blue. And what does he finish with? "The children of your elect sister." In writing, that's what we call a bookend. It's a way to help the reader see, "I'm closing my thought." You'll see that in God's Word in paragraphs.

This happens to be a bookend over the whole letter, the 13 verses, but you'll see bookends within books of "Hey, this verse sounds a lot like this verse four verses ahead. Maybe it's a bookend." It's Paul or Peter, or whomever, closing his thought. So look for repeated words. Look for repeated themes. Look for things that are related, things that are alike.

Todd: Here are some basic observations. This will all be in our show notes from today if you want to look. So when you observe… What's he emphasizing? You saw David do that. What's repeated? He already said things that are alike. Keep going, David. Things that are unlike.

David: Things that are unlike. So, contrasting. Like, in Proverbs, a lot of things are unlike. "Don't be like this; be like this. Don't be like this; be like this." And things that are true to life, things you can relate to. We know that sowing and reaping is something that's true to life. We can observe it. That's a reality Jesus used to describe the kingdom of God growing. So you observe, and you could spend all day observing God's Word and just writing down, "What do I see? What does this say? What's repeated? What's emphasized?"

Then you move to interpretation. Here's the deal. Todd and I may come to a text, a passage of Scripture. We may read it. We may observe a lot of things, but we may come to two very different conclusions. This is why in Acts 8 when you have Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch… The Spirit calls Philip to go to this eunuch, and he runs up to the eunuch and asks, "Do you know what you're reading?"

What does the Ethiopian eunuch say? Philip asks, "Do you understand what you're reading?" and the eunuch says, "How can I understand unless somebody guides me?" That's the eunuch saying, "I'm reading this, but I don't understand. I need someone to help me interpret what I'm reading." So, we come to the Scriptures, and we can come to two different interpretations.

The reality is the biblical author… There's one interpretation, and we'll figure out what it is when Jesus comes and gets us, but the way you try to land closest to what the biblical author had in mind (the Holy Spirit, I should say, through the biblical author) is by studying things like context and history. There are language issues, because I don't speak Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, so we can use tools to help us understand "Hey, that word means something a little different than the way we use it today."

So, there are all kinds of tools to help close the gap between what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in, depending upon when you think he wrote it, AD 50 or 60 and what we're reading as we're trying to interpret it and understand, "What did he mean in 2020?" There are tools to do that, and the Holy Spirit, again, wants to illumine his Word. He's not playing hide and seek. He wants to help you interpret.

Lastly and maybe most importantly is the "So what?" question. How do we apply this? The last thing we want for myself, for Todd, for you whom we love is for you to be smarter sinners, for you to now have more Bible in your body that you're not applying, because now you're just under more accountability. You're not doing what you should be doing. So we have to figure out, "God, what would you have me do with this truth?"

Todd talked this morning about "I long to be with you," and we're separated here, Paul for a different reason than we are today. So what can I do with that longing? How can I take that truth that just like Paul wanted to be with the Thessalonians, we would love to have you here with us this morning? What can we do to bridge the gap in this interim? That's how we would figure out how to apply that. So, observation, interpretation, application…three simple ways to come at God's Word.

Todd: Let me do this, David, because in a minute we're going to spin over and do it again at 11:00. I think the things you're hearing from him are things he has cultivated over a series of time. Be patient with yourself, patient over God's Word, and stick with it. Don't be afraid to ask your friends.

One thing he and I are excited to share with you this morning… And we know some of you guys have turned off, and we'll figure out a way to push this out tomorrow in the Current, but we have our Equipping classes, one of which is how to study the Bible, and we're going to make them available to you during this time, again, online.

Here's a little slide that will give you the link you can go to. It's You can learn about the life of Christ, answering tough questions, and here's the one we're going to really push you to right now: Keys to Effective Bible Study. I would encourage you to go through that with your Community Group. If you're not in a Community Group and you're watching, then we'll put you in a group with others with a moderator.

You can go and sign up in that particular place and take advantage of this season where you have more time, not to binge-watch a lot of other things but to train yourself to binge in God's Word the rest of your life. Bible first, Bible most. All right. Would you close us in prayer? And we'll fly out of here. Don't get discouraged when you see what this brother can do with just a few minutes with a Bible, because he has watched Star Wars. He has read his Bible for a lot of years. All right? Pray for us, David.

David: There's no greater investment of your day than getting in God's Word. So, let me close us in prayer, and then we'll get going.

Heavenly Father, we just thank you that you have provided us a sure and clear word to guide our lives, to explain clearly how this chasm we cannot cross, how a bridge has been put across through Jesus Christ. Thank you that the story of your book to us is the story of your rescue of lost and broken humanity. Thank you that it connects together.

I pray for my friends this morning wherever they are tuning in from, that you would bless them. I pray that their hearts might be stirred to want to open your book, maybe for the first time, maybe for the four hundred thousandth time. I pray that it would bring hope to their hearts, you would remind them, you would convict them in areas where there is sin, where there are behaviors and attitudes and perspectives you want to shift and bring more in line with your Word.

I pray that you would speak peace and that we would remember that maybe the most frequent command from you is that we should not be afraid. In moments like this where there is a tendency to be fearful and to be anxious, would you provide comfort and hope to our hearts? I pray for husbands and dads to lead well right now. I pray for moms to be patient and to be a source of hope and confidence to their husband and their kids.

I pray for our single friends, that they would use this time wisely to deepen the reservoir in their hearts. The psalmist says in Psalm 119, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." I pray that would be true in my life, I pray that would be true in the lives of the leadership of this church, and I pray it would be true in the lives of our body of Christ here at Watermark.

Thank you for Jesus. Thank you that we can have hope in the midst of uncertainty, we can have confidence when the rest of the world is on shaky ground. We love you. We pray you would stir our affections that we might learn to love you more. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.

Todd: Bless you, guys. It has been such a privilege to be together with you this morning, and we long to be together with you soon. We're absent in body but not in spirit. That's a little statement we use a lot. It came from your Bible right there in 1 Thessalonians 2:17. Can't wait to be with you soon. See you tomorrow on Watermark TV.

David: Have a great week of worship.