It was the most costly art theft in history; and if the security guards had done their jobs, it probably never would have happened. Briefly, the tale goes like this. Early in the morning of March 18, 1990, the overnight security guards broke protocol and allowed two thieves into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA, because they were dressed as cops. The thieves then tied up the guards and had the run of the place for roughly an hour and a half, during which time they made off with $500 million worth of art—none of which has been recovered to this day. The culprits have never been caught, though it’s a popular theory that the mafia was involved. It’s also a common theory that at least one of the guards had some skin in the game. Regardless of whether they did, they certainly did a shoddy job of guarding some irreplaceable treasures of the art world.
Having trustworthy security guards is obviously critical to protect something of value. The New Testament uses the word phylasso, “to guard or keep” over thirty times, mostly in reference to humans keeping or guarding literally, a prisoner; or metaphorically, the law. However, on a few noteworthy occasions, God is the subject of the verb, which means He’s on guard duty. Let’s check out what exactly He’s guarding.
He Guards What I’ve Entrusted to Him
We regularly entrust our valuables to other people. You probably have money in a bank, and you trust that institution to guard your deposit, and return it to you if and when you ask. You trust that their protection systems, though not perfect, are better than yours. Or, if you’re a parent, you’ve probably, at times, entrusted the wellbeing of your kids to someone else—perhaps your own parent, a friend, or an upstanding teenager. You’ve left the caretaker instructions, pertinent phone numbers, and a pot of mac and cheese; then you walked out the door, trusting that the babysitter would keep the kids safe and sound. If you’re a believer in Christ, you’ve entrusted something to God as well—something of far more value than even your children.
Near the end of his life, Paul wrote a final letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. Imprisoned and suffering for his Gospel ministry, the apostle knows that the same fate probably awaits Timothy. But Paul isn’t concerned for his own well-being, or the comfort of his protégé. He’s concerned that the Gospel be proclaimed without shame or equivocation. Though in chains, Paul writes these words to Timothy: “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed” (2 Tim. 1:12a). Paul isn’t suffering because he mouthed off to the wrong person or got caught with a smoking gun; he’s suffering because he’s been a faithful minister of the Gospel (see vv. 9-11). He says, though, that he’s not ashamed. If he had to do it all over again, he would do nothing differently. Rather than fighting against it, he has greeted his suffering like a friend. Why? The second half of the verse gives the answer: “For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
Paul knows His God. He knows the One to whom he has entrusted his most valuable possession: his soul. He recognizes that no prison cell, flogging, or fetters can overpower the Guard of his soul. He says it this way in Romans 8, after a lengthy discussion of suffering in a sin-cursed world: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38-39).
Suffering has a way of tempting us doubt this promise. Our circumstances often influence our view of God. When we enter a valley and the sun hides behind a cloud, the whispers begin to make themselves heard: If God really were good, He wouldn’t allow this. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen to Christians! Maybe God forgot about me. I must believe that Paul heard these whispers too, yet rather than giving them purchase in his thoughts, he banished them and stayed anchored to the One he knew, the One who was able—and is still able—to guard what he had entrusted to Him until the day of Jesus Christ.
Though you may be thrown into a tailspin by what seems like a blind-side hit, God is still on guard. He hasn’t been hacked or lost the keys to your safe deposit box; neither has He unwittingly let in thieves. He absolutely will keep your soul until the day of Jesus Christ when all enemies will be done away with.
He Guards Me from the Evil One
Perhaps you’re not currently in the valley of suffering, but you feel the oppression of evil all around you. Let’s face it, our world can be pretty bleak. From scandals and shootings to abductions and abuse, the evil in our society seems to rival Noah’s day, when men did “only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). You find yourself wondering, “How far can this go? Surely we’ve got to be close to the end!” Of course, we’re not the first generation to think that way. In fact, Christians have been feeling it since Christ left two thousand years ago. The apostle Paul was likewise concerned with “perverse and evil men” who were out to sabotage his ministry (2 Thess. 3:2). However, he didn’t allow that concern to cripple him because, once again, he knew who was on guard duty: “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thess. 3:3).
Here we see the second thing God guards us from: the enemy himself. This is played out in dramatic fashion in the book of Job. Chapters 1-2 allow the reader a glimpse behind the scenes of what seems by all human accounts to be a tragedy in the making. Satan has shown up (apparently uninvited) on a day when the “sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD” (Job 1:6). When Satan tells the LORD that he has been roaming about the earth, God asks whether he has considered His faithful servant Job. Satan scoffs at Job’s faithfulness, claiming it to be merely a byproduct of God’s generosity to him and posits that Job would turn away at the first hint of trouble. Thus, God allows Satan to take any of Job’s possessions and loved ones, but forbids him to touch Job’s body. Satan responds in dramatic fashion by wiping out all of Job’s livelihood and offspring in one day. Yet, Job remains faithful and continues to worship Yahweh. Satan returns to God’s presence, and again God asks if the tempter has considered Job’s faithfulness. Again, Satan claims that Job will turn from God if his health is attacked. So God allows Satan to attack His servant’s health, but not take his life. Though racked with painful boils and sores, still Job does not curse his God.
Maybe you’re thinking right now that this proves exactly the opposite of what I say it does, that Satan attacked Job like teenage boys at a pizza buffet. God wasn’t guarding him! Look again. The sovereign God allows Satan some leash, yet never drops the lead. He knows exactly how far the enemy may go, and will never let him go farther than He wants. He absolutely protected Job from the evil one, never for one second allowing Satan to do more than God wanted. So it is with us and our world. Read Paul’s words again: “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” Just as God was faithful to Job and strengthened him in the midst of Satan’s best efforts to undo him, He will do nothing less for you and me.
He Guards Me from Stumbling
Jesus’ brother Jude wrote one of the great benedictions in Scripture: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, [be] glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (vv. 24-25). Jude gives us great hope and a beautiful picture of our future. However, this glorious promise comes with some questions. What exactly does “stumbling” mean? Surely it doesn’t mean that we will never stumble into sin. If it does, it would seem that God has fallen asleep at the wheel. Not only does my experience tell me that, but another brother of our Lord, James, tells us that we all stumble with our mouths (James 3:2). It seems, then, that this type of stumbling cannot be what Jude is referring to. The word for stumbling that Jude uses is found nowhere else in the New Testament, so we can’t glean any help from other writers of Scripture. But this seems like a big promise. We need to figure it out.
Notice that stumbling is in contrast with the word stand found later in the verse. Jude says that we won’t stumble, but rather stand in the presence of God. This standing is described a bit more: we will be blameless and with great joy. As blood-covered believers in Christ, we will each stand this way before the Father one day. Our blamelessness has already been purchased by Christ. Yes, we may stumble toward the finish line, but when we stand before the Father, we will not fall. Our God and Savior will guard us from stumbling and instead look on Christ and allow us to stand before Him, robed in the blameless holiness of Christ, beaming with joy, and enter into His eternal presence.
We rely on guards, whether human or mechanical, to protect our most valuable assets, but we must admit that no matter how sophisticated and advanced, they may fail. However, we can, like Paul, be convinced and fully persuaded that our God is fully trustworthy to guard us until the day of Jesus Christ, just as He has promised.