Paul has charged Timothy to hold fast to love in contrast to the leaders who have lost themselves to vain speculation; coached him on the proper use of the Law; and has explained his own view of his ministry. Now, Paul brings this all to sharp focus with specific examples.
Paul says that he leaves “this charge” to Timothy, possibly referring to the charge earlier (1:5), or maybe more specifically to the charge of being the Ephesian pastor. He calls on him to be faithful to the prophecies that have been made about him previously, using those as the basis by which he would wage the good warfare of the faith. This is a mostly unfamiliar metaphor, I think, to a lot of pastors these days, but it has a long, biblical-theological warrant.
In Creation, contra the gods of Babylon, Yahweh did not have to wage war against nature and other gods to create. His word and his breath were enough to give life to the universe. After the fall of Adam and Eve, though, God had to take up his own armor and go to war. He first goes to war against Egypt and her gods in a protracted mission to free his son, Israel, from slavery and bring Israel into the wilderness to worship him (cf. Exodus 15:3). Later, as Israel goes into Canaan to claim the land as Yahweh’s, the messenger of Yahweh appears as the “General of his Armies” (Joshua 5). The Commander answers Joshua’s question about his loyalties vaguely and cryptically; this angel appears to tell Joshua to remove his sandals. This angel’s allegiance to Yahweh alone means that Yahweh has no reason to let Israel win every battle if they are unfaithful. After the successful destruction of Jericho (Joshua 2), Yahweh, in response to Israel’s sin, causes Israel to lose a battle at Ai (Joshua 7). After Israel’s protracted, and somewhat failed, campaign to take complete control over Canaan (cf. Judges 1), Yahweh bolsters Israel’s army (2 Chronicles 20), but Yahweh also controls their loses, fighting against them.
The God-as-Warrior theme is highly pervasive in Isaiah. For the sins of the earth, Yahweh picks up his sanctified sword to wage war against the nations and Israel herself (Isaiah 34). Yahweh’s sword is that of a priest, cutting the devoted armies into pieces by the blade and committing them to the fire (cf. Leviticus 1-4). I don’t have space (nor is it Paul’s point in I Timothy) to explain the entire significance of the liturgical warfare of Yahweh, but keep this point in mind as we move into Ephesians later. Yahweh has also waged war on the spiritual powers of the world, once cutting the mystical Rahab into pieces (Isaiah 51:9). When Torah is stopped up, Yahweh himself has to come down and wage war against the world in order for justice to flow again (Isaiah 63:1-6). Following this, Yahweh warns that he may have to come back to Israel as a warrior and commit them to herem if they do not change their hearts in light of Elijah’s return (Malachi 4:5-6)*.
In the New Covenant, the saints join in Yahweh’s war against the spiritual powers of sin and darkness. I find it interesting that the majority of militant imagery appears in correspondences with the Ephesian church: compare the armor of God discourse in Ephesians with this appellation here, followed by John’s Apocalypse, also addressed to the Ephesian church. Because we do not wage war against flesh and blood (as Israel once had), instead fighting the spiritual powers of the world, we put on armor of God (cf. Ephesians 6:10-19). In doing so, we are protecting against the wiles of the devil and are given the freedom to speak the gospel.
Paul has a list of weapons for Timothy in this letter as well, but they don’t match the ones he listed earlier for the entire Ephesian church. Rather, he lists only two: faith and a good conscience. Paul has already explained that these are two of the three necessary elements of the love which fufills the Christ-given charge of a minister, so he is simply reviewing them here and re-iterating their importance. Having faith in Christ and a good conscience, born from obeying his commands through the power of the Spirit, is the means by which we love others and wage warfare against the powers which enslave the non-Christian world.
Paul lists two men who have turned from the faith: Alexander and Hymenaeus. We don’t know how specifically they shipwrecked their faith as Paul doesn’t spend time explaining that to us. We may not be out of luck, though, in terms of figuring out what happened. These men have presumably been in Paul’s purview since the beginning of this letter. If this is the case, we can presume they are some of the men who have wandered into the realm of controversies and vain speculation. Because of this, Paul has turned them over to Satan to be instructed in how to act properly.
The ESV Archaeology Study Bible points out ways in which Paul subtly attacks the Ephesian gods. His praise of God in 1:17 may be an implicit attack on Artemis, who had a public birth in contrast to the immortal God. Alexander shares his name with many famous kings. Hymenaeus was named after yet another Roman god. This leads the editors to suppose that Paul was attacking them in light of the gospel. Whether or not this was Paul’s intention, we can say that when the gospel is preached rightly, in love that comes from a sincere faith, good conscience, and a pure heart, we also implicitly attack the gods and kings of the world who stand in opposition to the true King, the ascended Jesus.
For ministers and pastors today, we do well to heed the call of Paul to wage the good warfare. We do this through our faith and through a pure heart rather than our minds or our works. Let us put our faith in Christ, the true anchor of our souls (Hebrews 6:19), who keeps us steady, preventing us from shipwrecking our faith.
* Remember, the term herem has liturgical dimensions before military ones. (Let the reader understand.)