We are staring a brand-new series, Guardrails. Chances are, you know what a guardrail is and what they are for; On a bunkbed, it’s the rail on the top bed that keeps you from falling off. On a road, it’s a system designed to keep vehicles from straying into dangerous or off limit areas.
The interesting thing is that guardrails are not actually located on the most dangerous part of the road or the bed because the point of the guardrail isn’t to say, “don’t drive or sleep on this particular piece of real estate.” The point is to communicate that just beyond the guardrail is danger; oncoming traffic, curves, mountainsides, edges of bridges, or the floor.
The idea is that you will do less damage to your body, or car, if you hit a guardrail than if you hit what is on the other side . . . or if you fall off your bed.
Generally speaking, no one really pays attention to them until you need one.
What we’re going to do over the next few weeks is talk about this whole idea of guardrails as it relates to our lives. Because chances are, your greatest regret could have been avoided if you had some guardrails.
To help us get started, I want you to begin thinking of a guardrail as a personal standard of behavior, or behavioral rules, that you are so committed to that when you violate them, it bothers your conscience.
As you bump up against them, internally a little warning light goes on, red flags begin to wave, and there’s something in you that sounds a lot like the robot from Lost in Space, “Danger, danger, danger” because if you ignore it, it may lead you into areas of trouble from which you might not recover or you’ll regret for the rest of your life.
As we are wading through this idea of personal guardrails one of the challenges we need to address is that in our culture there’s an attitude that Christians are all about rules, silly barriers, and that we’re against everything.
We’ve been called legalistic and rigid, and sometimes not very fun to be around and maybe rightfully so but what we’re talking about has nothing to do with legalism and it’s not about setting a standard of behavior that the rest of the world must adhere to, and your role, as a Christian, is to hold people accountable to them.
These guardrails are personal, and they are about relationship and trust. Trusting that God knows the danger on the other side and he knows that if you enter the danger zone, it will hurt the relationships you have with God and with each other. In “Christianese” on the other side of the guardrail is sin.
Let me put this idea into a theological context to set the foundation for where we’re going . . .
When you read the narrative of scripture, what you will see is this amazing story of God trying to build into people an extraordinary confidence in him.
The pattern is this . . . relationship built on trust followed by rules or covenant.
In other words, “Now that you trust me, and we’ve established a relationship with one another, here’s how we will live in that relationship.”
Here’s how this plays out in scripture . . .
In the beginning, God created humanity out of his own image and placed them in the garden where they had a relationship built on trust and understanding that you are the creator and I am the created.
God gave them rules as to how they would live in relationship with one another in the Garden.
And the break between God and humanity wasn’t simply a matter of disobedience; where they did 3 out of 4, so God said, “Too bad, so sad . . . now get out.”
The thing that broke the relationship – the sin - was our refusal to trust God. We decided, “God you’ve put up a guardrail – don’t eat from this tree – and we think that you’re withholding something from us, you can’t be trusted.”
And ever since then, God has been reworking the trust thing.
In the Old Testament, God created the nation of Israel to show the rest of the world what it was like to be in relationship with Him. And long before he gave the ten commandments . . . he reached into Egypt and said to Israel “Trust me and let me deliver you out bondage.”
And when he did, they were like, “Wow, what a great God! We trust you.”
Once they had established a trust-based relationship God said . . . “Now, here are some rules, some guardrails, that will help us grow in our relationship with one another.”
When you look at the 10 commandments in this context, it makes sense, doesn’t it?
If we are in a trust-based relationship with God than don’t put other gods before him, don’t talk about him negatively, set aside a holy day to rest in your relationship with him and oh by the way, since you are in relationship with one another – don’t steal from each other, don’t lie and cheat, honor your parents, and certainly don’t kill each other.
So, when we get to the New Testament, we shouldn’t be surprised that the driving message is God saying, “I want you to put your trust in me because I’m trying to re-establish a relationship between us.”
All of scripture is God wooing people back in to a trust-based relationship with him.
This is so important to God, that he sent his only son to live among us and to die for us to re-establish the broken relationship. And this relationship is built on trust that Jesus is who he says he is.
So, if you were to ask me what I think God is doing in your life or where is God leading you . . . I can always tell you that he’s trying to teach you to trust him because that is the essence of relationship.
Good, healthy relationships are built on trust. If there is trust . . . the relationship can thrive. If there is a lack of trust, the relationship will struggle.
And one of the things that God wants us to do, is to create guardrails that will protect us from areas in our life that will hurt or break the trust-based relationship we have with have with God and each other.
Today, we’re going to look at a letter that Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus while he was in prison. While some of his other letters offer instructions for churches overrun with legalism and in fighting, Ephesians deals with topics at the very core of what it means to be a Christian—both in faith and in practice – despite what was going on in the community.
In chapter 5, he begins by telling us that we children of light whose lives have been illuminated by God’s love and that we should follow His example and walk in the way of light and love.
Then he goes through a list of things to stay away from, stuff that we would expect as dearly loved children of God; don’t be sexually immoral, don’t be greedy, don’t be obscene or tell dirty jokes, and don’t deceive people. Don’t do stuff that is going to hurt relationships.
And I think that Paul must have sensed what his audience was thinking, like many of us, “I believe that stuff and I don’t want to hurt my relationships, but how exactly do we pull this off?”
And so, in these verses we’re going to read today, Paul is explaining how a person avoids going in to the danger zone and in doing so, he explains this principle of the guardrail and the example he gives is probably going to make a few of us squirm.
Let’s listen to our text: Ephesians 5:15-20
He begins with, “Be careful then how you live”. A better translation reads, “be careful how you walk”.
If you have pets you will understand what I’m about to say because here’s what it literally means. When people come to our house and want to go in to our backyard, we have to tell them to be careful.
Why? Because that’s where we let the dogs out in the morning so there are danger zones. The rest of the yard is fine but be careful how you walk in the backyard.
Then he says, “not as unwise – or careless – but as wise – with your eyes wide open. Making the most of every opportunity”. This is the idea of being very intentional with our time.
Because of the life God wants you to lead and because God wants to protect and direct you, be careful. Don’t be careless. Pay attention to how you’re living your life; pay attention to how you walk and pay attention to how you are using your time.
Here’s the reason, “because the days are evil.” In other words, there are danger zones all around you. If you are not careful, you’ll roll out of bed or wreck your car, or you’ll step in dog stuff.
Then he gives his first directive, “don’t be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Paul is saying, “I want you to embrace what you know in your heart is God’s will for your life.”
For some of us, this is a two by four upside the head because we tend to play as close as we can to the edge of disaster. We know exactly where the little yellow line is, we know right from wrong, but our tendency is to get as close to the line as possible – to dance on the edge of chaos.
Paul is saying, quit flirting with disaster and face up to what you know in your heart God wants you to do and be . . . quit messing around!
And then he gives us an illustration.
He says, “Do not get drunk on wine.” Why? . . . because it leads to debauchery.
How many of you would say that in the last three weekends you were debauched? Any debauchers here? Most of us don’t even know what that word means so I’ll explain what it means in just a second.
But first I want to reassure those of you who are thinking, “Uh-oh, here we go. Time for the guilt”. It’ll be OK. You can make it through the rest of this sermon. I promise.
And for those of you who are looking for the loophole, “Ok, he only said wine”, I don’t miss the point.
What Paul is explaining here is a guardrail.
He is saying, I want you to set a personal standard of behavior that you decide you’re not going to get drunk, and the reason is not because being drunk is a sin but because being drunk can lead to something that you don’t want to be a part of . . . debauchery.
The official definition of debauchery is “extreme indulgence that results in loss of control”.
As you read scripture you’ll discover that whether it’s lust, greed, anger, food, material possessions – anything in our lives that leads us to a loss of control, God doesn’t want us to be involved in because on the other side is disaster.
What Paul is saying is that in any area of your life where you tend to hand control over to somebody or something, you need a guardrail. And since alcohol, by its very nature, can lead everybody to a point of loss of control, you need to set up a boundary.
He’s not saying that it’s a sin. He’s not saying that God won’t love you any more if you get drunk. He’s saying, it’s a guardrail and I think he chooses this one because it’s common to all of us.
But it’s just one illustration of what he’s teaching when he says, “Be careful how you walk, because the days in which we live are dangerous.”
Don’t get drunk on wine because it leads to loss of control, and the loss of control has led you to some of your greatest regrets. A loss of control in someone else’s life has been a disaster in your life.
Don’t ever do anything that leads you to a point where you, “just can’t help yourself”. That’s the problem, so you need guardrails.
And then he contrasts this idea of losing control and suggests . . . “Instead, be filled with Spirit”
God wants to be the preeminent influencer in your life and he wants us to stay clear of those things that will negatively affect the relationship with have with him and each other and he helps us with this . . .
When you enter a trust-based relationship with God through Jesus, the spirit of God comes to live with you in a unique way. God’s spirit lives within you to guide you, prompt you, and direct you.
And as we get closer and closer to the edge of disaster the Spirit of God nudges us. It’s not a megaphone of guilt but instead, it’s a still, small voice in our conscience that says, “Ahem”.
That’s why Paul says, “Come on, face up to what you know God wants for you and quit playing games and quit hiding in the dark because although you can convince everyone else around you that your life is under control, you can’t fool God because you are children of light whose lives have been illuminated by God’s love”.
Your life is too important, time is too short, the world is too dangerous, so pay attention to God’s spirit and be careful because none of us plan to mess up our lives. We just don’t set up guardrails to prevent us from doing so.
What I’ll be challenging us to do over the next few weeks is to think about areas in our lives where we need to set up personal guardrails that will protect us from entering danger zones; places that will hurt the relationship we have with God and with each other.
But as we wrap up, I want to remind you that these guardrails we’ll be talking about over the next few weeks are personal. These are for you. This isn’t, “get on the street corner with a big banner and megaphone telling everyone what to do” stuff.
These are personal standards that become a matter of conscience for you. And when everyone else around you question you and says things like, “Oh, what do you mean you’re not going to do that, is it because you’re a Christian and you think it’s a sin?”
Then somehow through your personality, you’re able to say, “No, I’m not saying it’s a sin and I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I’m just saying that for me, this is as far as I’m willing to go in this area of my life. This is my boundary because I have decided that this is how God wants to guard me from something that I might regret and I trust him!”