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Paul has used special terminology to describe Timothy's task. First, what the NIV translates as guard what has been entrusted to your care is literally "guard the deposit." This phrase, which in the New Testament is limited to 1 and 2 Timothy, comes from a rather formal procedure (a "sacred trust") that was current in Greek, Roman and Jewish societies. One could securely pass some commodity to another party by entrusting it to an authorized agent. Some commentators interpret the "commodity" in this case to be Timothy's ministry as a whole. But as the contrast with the false teaching here and in 2 Timothy 1:13-14 suggests, it is more likely that Paul means "the faith" or "the gospel" that was under attack by false teachers.
Second, Paul's language emphasizes continuity. Timothy was to carry on with a mission given by Christ to the apostles much earlier (compare 1 Cor 15:1-3; 2 Tim 2:2). The gospel ministry is a single (though multifaceted) task with a single message, which is to be transmitted through the generations by servants whom God chooses (2 Tim 2:2).
Third, this task is a sacred one, as Paul's choice of "deposit" terminology confirms. God has planned that the evangelistic mission be executed by the proclamation of the gospel. The mission depends on the gospel message. Consequently, God's servants in each generation must guard it—that is, faithfully proclaim and protect it. The threat to the message and the church's mission posed by the false teachers in Ephesus was Paul's main reason for writing.