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 5:17-25?
1. Sound church leaders are necessary to combat false teachers and false teaching in the church. Paul made this point more explicitly in Titus 1 when he told Titus to set in order what remained to be completed, the establishment of elders in the church at Crete (Titus 1:5). These elders were to teach sound doctrine and rebuke those who opposed sound doctrine (1:9). The establishment of these church leaders was urgent because of the false teachers in Crete who needed to be silenced (1:10-11). 1 Timothy 5:17-25 deals with honoring good leaders, rebuking sinful leaders, and taking care in the appointment of leaders. All of these admonitions were necessary so that the church in Ephesus might be protect from false teachers by their faithful leaders.
2. There is always a connection between false teaching and immoral living. As Jude said, there are some who take the grace of God and turn it into a license for sensuality (Jude 3). For this reason, sound teaching on Christian living is necessary to combat false teachers. So in this letter, Paul charged Timothy to teach the church at Ephesus many things concerning faithful Christian living. But Timothy was not going to remain in Ephesus permanently, so established faithful leaders in the church at Ephesus were paramount if the church was to continue to stand against false teaching in the future and to live faithful before God.