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guardian angels

In recent years angels have become a popular subject.  TV shows, movies, and books present images of angels and portray their works.  All too often they are wrongly depicted, and most often there is little or no mention of the One who created the angels.

While we know that God’s angels are ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14), Scripture is unclear about whether we have an angel specifically assigned to watch over each one of us.  Historically there was a theology and belief in guardian angels that was developed by the Jews sometime after 400 BC, and the early church father Thomas Aquinas held to the belief that everyone has a guardian angel assigned to them at birth.  However, scriptural support for such beliefs is weak and the extent of an angel’s involvement with our everyday lives is speculative.  Most people’s beliefs and concepts about angels come from books, TV, movies and the Internet.  Not surprisingly, most of what is found in such media conflicts with what Scripture tells us about angels.

There are verses and passages in Scripture that give reasons to believe in guardian angels, but they also raise questions.

In Matthew 18:10 Jesus tells His disciples,

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

 Note that this verse speaks of “their” angels in a possessive manner and refers to “these little ones.”  This verse is used to support the belief that each child has his or her very own guardian angel to protect them.  But in a careful reading, we find that the verse says nothing about the assignment of an angel to an individual.  Nor does it specify if the phrase “these little ones” is a reference to young children (Matthew 18:4-5) or to those who are God’s children—who have “become as little children.”  These verses indicate how “little children” could be a reference to all who belong to God:

Matthew 18:3-4   . . .Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:5  And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

 The first verse referenced, Matthew 18:10, also tells us that these angels in Heaven “always see the face of God.” Does that mean these angels are always in Heaven and not on the earth? Or could it mean that when they are in Heaven they are always before God, perhaps ready to be assigned to minister and care for “these little ones?”  Scripture does not answer any of these questions that come from a careful reading of Matthew 18:10.

Another thing to note in Matthew 18:10 is that it says nothing about angels protecting “these little ones.”  The verse really centers on Jesus’ warning not to “despise” those who belong to Him

Another passage that some will claim supports guardian angels is Acts 12.  In this passage, Peter is in prison and is awakened by an angel who frees him and leads him out of the prison.  When Peter “was come to himself,”  or fully awake, he proclaimed with certainty that the Lord had sent this angel:

Acts 12:11  And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

 Peter then went to a house where believers were gathered praying and told them about the way in which “the Lord had brought him out of the prison.”

 Acts 12:17  But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go show these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.

 Although this passage tells of an angel that freed Peter, it really doesn’t support the idea of a specific angel assigned to a specific person.  It does, of course, illustrate that angels are sent by God to minister to us and to keep us, just as we are told in these verses:

 Hebrews 1:14  Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

 Psalm 91:11  For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

In trying to better understand the role angels play in ministering and keeping us, we must be cautious and remember that it is the Holy Spirit who is our teacher.  He is the One who was promised to be given to us, to reveal to us all truth, and to guide us in life.  Whatever role angels might serve in the life of a believer, that role is subservient to the work of the Holy Spirit. Remember that angels are created beings—created to do the will and work of God, to serve Him and magnify His name.  And, while they are given as a blessing to us, remember that we have been given an even greater gift—the power of God living in us through His Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who performs the work of God’s grace in our hearts.  He is the one who is conforming us to the image of Christ….and  He is conforming us by His power:

 Zechariah 4:6 …Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.

We are not to be dependent on angels for help.  We are to call on God in all things, for He is the One who will deliver us:

Psalm 50:15  And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

 Perhaps when we are in need, God will send one of His angels to minister to us (Hebrews 1:14).  God can deliver us in any way He desires and He can use anyone (a human or an angel) to accomplish His work. Therefore, it is not wrong to ask God to send a ministering spirit.  It is similar to asking Him to send a friend.

This petition clearly asks for a ministering spirit in a God-honoring way:

Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth.

We are not to think highly of angels for their ministering work, but to think highly of God who is good, kind, merciful and gracious in sending an angel to minister. We are not to give glory to any other, including God’s angels.

The song All Glory Be to God Alone, beautifully lifts high the name of Jesus and proclaims that the angelic beings glorify God.  Take a minute to enjoy two verses of this hymn from long ago.  The enduring words magnify our great God

Thou only art the Holy One;
Thou art o’er all things Lord alone.

O Jesus Christ, we glorify
Thee only as the Lord Most High;

Thou art, the Holy Ghost with Thee,
One in the Father’s majesty.

Amen, this ever true shall be,
As angels sing adoringly.

By all creation, far and wide,
Thou, Lord, art ever glorified;

And Thee all Christendom doth praise
Now and through everlasting days.

All Glory Be to God Alone

Martin Luther (published in 1541)

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[1] Book of Common Prayer

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