Paul begins his first letter to Timothy with a reminder of his charge to his disciple to safeguard the church from the false teachers that were present in Ephesus, outlining some of the problems in their erroneous interpretations of the Mosaic law (1:1–11). The issue of false teaching remains the apostle’s chief concern even though he follows this opening section with a brief digression on the power of God’s grace and His saving purpose in sending His Son into the world (vv. 12–17); thus, Paul returns to Timothy’s task in today’s passage that his “child” might be strengthened to stand firm for the gospel.
The apostle refers to prophecies earlier made about Timothy in 1:18 (see also 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). What Paul is talking about here has not been revealed in Scripture, but it would seem that prophets at some point in Timothy’s career appointed him to take care of the problems at Ephesus, just as prophets set Paul and Barnabas apart for God’s work. We are probably not far off the mark to surmise that these prophecies were similar to the ones our Father delivered to Paul, containing predictions of suffering, the pledge of God’s empowering presence, and a summary of the duties to which Timothy would be called (see Acts 9:15–16; 26:16–18). Evidently, Timothy sometimes doubted whether he would be able to purify the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 4:12), and Paul’s mention of these divine promises would have certainly helped to bolster the young man’s confidence that he might accomplish his mission.
The task to which Timothy was called was “good warfare,” the wielding of the weapon of truth against the enemy of falsehood (1 Tim. 1:18). Such could only be done if Timothy were to hold “faith and a good conscience” (v. 19a). John Calvin tells us a good conscience holds the faith without a hypocritical and deceitful profession of true doctrine, and it is one not driven by ambition and covetousness. Timothy could only be assured of success if he relied wholly on the truth in his heart and mind, not paying lip service to tenets in which he did not trust and not doing the work of ministry only to get ahead in life. Our victory in spiritual warfare likewise depends upon these principles.