"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Boundaries and Love

Depending on your point of view, the word "boundaries" elicits a positive or negative response. The word came into fashion in the counseling and self-help field about 20 years ago. Most understand it to have to do with assertiveness and the ability to set limits. For example, when you say you don't want someone else raising or influencing your child or treating your spouse disrespectfully you are asserting a boundary.

Some object to the term, stating that nowhere in Scripture do you find the command: "Thou shalt have boundaries." It is interesting to me that the same people tend to have very strong boundaries in their lives--no one is going to tell them what to do! Paradoxically, by rejecting the word "boundaries" they are asserting a boundary. Interestingly, they would usually not take issue with the word "communion" or "trinity" though these words, strictly speaking, are not found in the Bible.

In my counseling practice the filter for skills and ideas is, "Is this practice congruent with Scripture?" So I think the question is, (as with the principles of communion and the trinity), is the principle of boundaries found in Scripture? Consider these:

  • God set limits in the form of the 10 commandments. These are given for our benefit and because violating them offends God. Exodus 20

  • Paul encouraged his readers to speak truth in love so that we can all grow up into the image of Christ. Truth implies clear ideas of absolutes in teaching and behavior. Love is the filter that takes into account not only the command, but the heart of the Commander, Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4:15

  • If someone is overtaken by a fault, a spiritual person should gently confront them with the goal of restoring them to fellowship with God and the Church. This would not be a necessary practice if there were no boundaries on behavior and attitude. Galatians 6:1

  • Jesus, the most loving man who ever lived, clearly understood that not all people are trustworthy. He cautioned his followers to beware of some who are "wolves in sheep's clothing" or "swine" who will trample spiritual pearls and kill the messenger. This is an internal boundary based on discernment. Of course, human discernment is not perfect but, the principle remains--don't trust everyone! Matthew 7:6; Luke 10:3

  • The risen Christ, in his letters to the churches in the book of Revelation, chastens them for tolerating false teaching. The charge is serious enough that he warns them He will remove his Spirit unless they get some boundaries and reject falsehood. Revelation 2-3

It is important to remember that our every personal preference does not translate into a legitimate boundary. Biblically, boundaries are not an excuse for selfishness, entitlement, or control. Boundaries are meant to protect us (as Jesus taught of wolves and swine) from false teaching, spiritual abuse, and unnecessary harm.

When you feel tension rising, a good rule of thumb is: Check under your own hood first! Are you coming from a place of flesh (selfish, competitive, vindictive) or a place of Spirit (e.g., agape love, fruit of the Spirit) Galatians 5:22-23. This sorting process would eliminate many conflicts, just be careful not to sacrifice discernment under the guise of being "loving." Withholding a needed warning is not loving and is often self-serving because we don't want the hassle of a loving confrontation.

When you have prayerfully considered the source of your tension, whether or not to change or enforce boundaries in the relationship becomes clearer. Remember not to measure the confrontation by the other person's response or reaction. Jesus confronted many who turned away from Him, but it was still the right thing to do. Sometimes things are revealed in a relationship, over time, which were not evident in the beginning. Don't waste a lot of time wishing it were not so. Move on--cling to fellowship with Jesus and those who encourage you in your relationship with Him.