Eventually I asked my dad what it meant, and he told me that it was designated as a special place of safety for birds. I still wondered why birds were singled out to be safe in that area. Apparently in a Bird Sanctuary people are not allowed to kill or hurt birds. Over time I figured out that people could hunt birds in other areas, but if a bird was in the ‘sanctuary’, they were in a ‘no kill zone’. To this day I wonder how a bird knows where the sanctuary is. I’m sure birds that can read have a distinct advantage in the life expectancy department.
Anyway, I just kind of took my dad’s definition of a bird sanctuary for decades. It wasn’t until recently as I thought about going to church one morning and was thinking about what it meant to enter the sanctuary that I actually looked up the definition of a “Bird Sanctuary”. After all, it is one of the only cultural uses of the term. You just don’t see the word sanctuary very often in the world. Sanctuaries are hard to find outside of the church.
Apparently someone else had the same question about “Bird Sanctuaries”. This internet seeker was pointed to a town ordinance. Here is what the ordinance in Leland, N.C. says, “It shall be unlawful for any person to hunt, kill, maim, injure or trap any birds in the town or to destroy, rob or molest the eggs or nests and breeding places of any birds within the town. This section shall not be construed to protect any bird classified as predatory by the wildlife resources commission or by state law or to protect pigeons, crows, starlings or English sparrows.”
There are two main points to draw from this ordinance…
1 – It is unlawful to kill, hurt, or trap birds or their families in the sanctuary.
2 – Predatory birds are not protected in the sanctuary.
When we think of a Christian sanctuary, we often think of a church building. More specifically, a room in the church building set aside for worship services. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. Sanctuaries have been designed to provide shelter and quiet from the world outside. It is a safe place where you can come apart from your daily life to find peace and life. That is one of the great draws for most people who regularly attend church.
But a Biblical view of a sanctuary goes deeper. The apostle Paul told the early Christians, “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) Was Paul taking a page out of Leland, NC’s ordinance book? Obviously not. But look at what Paul says. You are the sanctuary of God. If you are a believer, the Holy Spirit lives in you. Your life is a safe place in which God can dwell. The enemy has no place in your life. You are set apart in a spiritually safe place. You are protected. But predators are not protected. If the enemy tries to destroy God’s place, he will be destroyed. If you destroy God’s place, you will be destroyed. That doesn’t sound compassionate… but God is a jealous God.
In another letter, Paul tells a church, “The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22) We aren’t only individually God’s safe dwelling place. Collectively we are a sanctuary. So on a Sunday morning, we are a sanctuary of sanctuaries. That is why it is so encouraging to be in the fellowship of believers. It is a place of protection and peace where we can worship God on a whole other level together. Even non-believers can recognize and experience this phenomenon.
As a side note to pastors and other church leaders… We should be diligent to make sure the sanctuary is a safe place for people… but not extend that guarantee of safety to the enemy.
Another great thought is what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. He told us that if God takes care of the birds, He will certainly take care of us, because we are more valuable than birds. (Matthew 6:25-26)
But what happens when we go back into the world on Monday? That large gathering… that sanctuary is not going with us. That’s when you remember that you are individually a sanctuary. You are a place where the Holy Spirit dwells and rules in peace. So you are safe as you walk with Christ. Not only are you safe from the predator who would destroy your soul, but you are a place of safety and peace for those seeking God.
A bird that flies into a bird sanctuary may have no idea that it is in a safe place, or why there is less trouble, but it can enjoy the benefits none the less. Today you have the opportunity to be a sanctuary for the God. Jesus Christ Himself has saved you and designated you a safe place, giving you His Spirit to enforce the spiritual ordinance. Now, go out and provide that peace of God wherever you go, and to whomever you meet.
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.