When studying New Testament letters, one of the most important concepts to grasp is the occasion of the letter. Why was the letter written?
Paul made two explicit statements in 1 Timothy about the purpose of his writing.
1. Paul charged Timothy to deal with false teachers and false teaching in the church at Ephesus (1:3). A group in Ephesus was teaching different doctrine, they were devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies (1:3-4), and they were claiming to be the teachers of the Law despite their ignorance of the Law (1:7). Timothy was to stand against these false teachers in the same way that Paul had stood against Hymenaues and Alexander (1:20).
2. In contrast to these false teachers, Timothy was to teach the church sound doctrine. Specifically, he was to teach the church how they ought to conduct themselves as Christians (3:14-15). Timothy’s teaching would make him a good servant of Christ Jesus (4:6), Timothy was to devote himself to the reading of Scripture and to teaching (4:13), and he was to pay attention to his life and his teaching for the sake of the salvation of those who heard him (4:16). The second half of 1 Timothy is full of commands from Paul to Timothy related to Timothy’s teaching ministry in Ephesus (5:7, 6:2, 6:20).
So how do these twin purposes of 1 Timothy relate to 1 Timothy 3:1-7?
- If Timothy was to stand against false teachers in the church, how was he to distinguish between false teachers and sound teachers? 1 Timothy 3:1-7 provides both Timothy and the church a pattern for recognizing what kinds of leaders should be accepted by the church and what kinds of leaders must be rejected by the church. Character is part of what helps distinguish between false teachers and sound teachers, so no man should be appointed to church leadership without demonstrating the kind of character outlined here. Since false teaching and godless living go hand in hand, Christian character if one of the criteria by which church leaders must be evaluated.
- Since Timothy was to teach the church at Ephesus how to conduct themselves as Christians, these verses are a reminder that church leaders should serve as examples of faithful Christian conduct. Just as Timothy was instructed to pay attention to his life, church leaders must be the kinds of leaders who serve as a model for the behavior of the rest of the church. This kind of sound living serves to validate and affirm their teaching.