What does the word ‘safe’ mean to you? What does it feel like? Where does it take you in the bible? And how about the word ‘guard’? What feelings does that evoke? Where does it take you in the bible?

Because it’s those two words that I want to talk about. Safe and Guard – both separately and then when we put them together into Safeguard and Safeguarding. Because Sunday (November 19) is Safeguarding Sunday, and I want to unpack some of the ways in which our commitment to safeguarding isn’t just a technical, tick-box exercise that we have to go through, but a gospel imperative which comes from the very heart of our faith in Jesus.


So let’s start off with the word safe. In Hebrew the word is betach. It’s the word used in Psalm 4:8 – ‘In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone O Lord, make me dwell in betach – safety

It’s also in Proverbs 18:10 – ‘The name of the Lord is a strong Tower; the righteous run into it and are betach – safe’ and also Proverbs 3:29, Do not plot harm against your neighbour, who lives trustfully (betach) near you

Or in 2 Samuel ‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in betach – safety.’

I could give you many more examples, as it’s a very well used word, but I think you get the point. Betach is both a passive and an active sense of security and trust. It’s passive in that God provides places and communities where we can be safe; where we can sleep in peace and confidence. Places and communities, perhaps in a dangerous world, in which we are secure and able to be who we are called to be.

And more actively, there’s a sense of God acting to bring safety – of ridding the land from danger and threat in order that safety and security can be provided.

Perhaps the fullest sense of betach, both active and passive, is in Ezekiel 28:26 which says They will live there in betach/safety and will build houses and plant vineyards; they will live in betach/safety when I inflict punishment on all their neighbours who maligned them. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.

God’s people are safe, because God makes it so.

But there’s much more in the word for us as Christians. Because we know that the world often isn’t safe. It’s not safe because of the broken and sinful nature of humanity; because we are – all of us – so easily drawn aside from the way of Christ, which is the way of justice and mercy and peace; and because we – all of us – are so capable of behaviours and thoughts and actions that cause harm, and which fail to prevent harm. And so the world isn’t always safe.

And so what we need is a save-er – someone to save us – a Saviour. And what we need from a Saviour is salvation. And in Greek that’s all the same word – safe, save, saviour, salvation.

God longs to bring safety and security to his world and to his people; the world is often neither safe nor secure; and so we need a Saviour, and, praise be to God, we know that we have one. There is a Saviour who has come to save us that we might live in safety again. Safe with God and safe with one another.


How about the word ‘guard’.

In Greek there are two words which are translated ‘guard’ and like betach, they have subtly different meanings. The word phrureo has the sense of guarding to keep something or someone in or out, it could be translated as protect – it’s the word that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians when he says that the Governor set a phrureo / guard to make sure he could not escape Damascus (which he only managed to do by getting out in a basket through a window in the city wall).

The word phulasso on the other hand is the sense of keeping watch. It’s the word used of the shepherds who were ‘phulasso’ over their flocks by night’ in the Christmas story, and it’s what Jesus says he has done for his disciples in John’s gospel ‘I protected them in your name that you have given me. I phulasso them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.’

So ‘to guard’ in the bible is both to stand guard, to protect and defend; it’s to keep something good in, or something bad out. It’s also what you do to something you care for or love – you keep watch, you tend and support, making sure that the thing you are looking after is protected from harm; to ‘cherish’ we might say.

And there we have our two words – safe and guard.

Both of them deeply biblical. Both of them pointing to God’s purpose in the world and the action he’s taking to get us there; a world that is safe, secure and trustworthy for all; a world in which what is precious is protected, cherished and kept safe. And to get us there, a Saviour who has come to save and to keep watch over his creation.

To safeguard us, we might say.

So that’s God’s great vision for his creation.

And ever since it went so horribly wrong and creation itself, and all of us who belong to it, were fractured by sin and disobedience, God’s great work has been to restore what was broken; to save, and to guard what he is saving.

And throughout Scripture, on almost every page, his commitment is clearly and particularly towards those that have been most hurt, and most wounded by the brokenness of the world. And in the Old Testament that concern and commitment is expressed most clearly in the phrase ‘the orphan, widow and stranger’. One scholar suggests that Scripture as a whole includes ‘more direct and indirect references to helping these vulnerable groups than to tithing, communion and baptism.’

And sometimes those references are a clear statement of God’s priorities – like in Deuteronomy 10 – ‘He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing’

And sometimes those references are commands to us to support ‘widows, orphans and the stranger’ – like in Exodus 22 – ‘Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.’

And sometimes those references are very practical instructions about how to support those groups – like in Leviticus – ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’

And sometimes, those references make clear the consequences of failing to support those who most vulnerable – like in Deuteronomy again, this time chapter 27 – ‘There is a curse upon the person who withholds justice from the alien, fatherless or widows.’

In each of those ways, it is the most vulnerable that are the focus of God’s attention, and are therefore meant to be the focus of the attention of his people.

And that all makes sense, doesn’t it.

Those most affected by the vulnerability of death, those most vulnerable to the power of others and those who are dependent on the goodness of others are all suffering as a result of the consequences of the Fall, when sin and death and injustice become part of the fracture at the heart of creation. And if God’s single minded purpose is the restoration of creation to the new Eden that was re-planted in the garden of resurrection, and which will come to maturity at the end of time, then of course, while we wait, he wants His People to be committed to saving and guarding those who are most affected.

If God is a safe-guarding God, of course he wants us to be the same.

That’s our great calling as disciples – in the power of the Spirit and by the grace of the risen Jesus, to be partners with the Father in His great work of restoring all things. And we do that by protecting the vulnerable, by working for their provision and by standing against injustice.

We do that by safeguarding the widow, the orphan and the stranger.

So what does all that mean for us, when we get to the practical details of safeguarding – here in Holy Trinity, and in other churches and communities that we belong to?

The most important thing that God’s safeguarding priority for the vulnerable tells us is that this must be a priority for us. That giving attention to the widows, orphans and strangers of St Austell; to the homeless, the addicted and the unemployed; the voiceless, the grieving and the hope-less; to those who suffer most because of the sin and brokenness of the world, is a gospel priority.

And not just a theoretical priority, but a real, practical, daily priority. That our task is to introduce people to God’s great vision of a safe world, which he cherishes and loves, and to live as if it were here already. As far as possible, to design and shape our lives, individually and as communities, around the vision of a world in which all people are safe and secure, in which everyone is guarded and cherished.

It means taking Safeguarding seriously

And that means paying very close attention to our Safeguarding policies and practices. It means making sure that we nurture cultures that are aware of the vulnerabilities of different people – both children and adults; it means being insightful about power and how it can be used and abused; it means making sure that we recruit and train carefully. It means taking Safeguarding seriously, not because there are some boxes that need to be ticked, but because it’s who we are called to be.

God is safe, and he longs to save all people.

God guards and cherishes every one of his people.

God is in the safeguarding business.

And if it’s what matters to him, it matters to us too.