We have been hearing so much in the news about the contentious topic of whether our country should have a border wall or not. This strongly debated issue reminds us that we also struggle with whether we should have boundaries. Boundaries are deeply familiar to us. The word boundaries gives us an image of people wearing masks creating a subtle barrier suggesting that people desire to erect boundaries.
On the other hand, the quest for authenticity and the desire to be known cause us to feel constrained by boundaries. We have a desire for personal connection, hinting that we hope for a day when we have more open borders and can know and be known.
But when we look at boundaries in light of the Bible we note that separation is an essential ingredient of the fallen order and union is an essential feature of the gospel.
Jesus breaks one boundary wall after another so we can live without confinement of walls. He broke the wall between man and Creator by becoming like us. Ephesians 2:14-15 completes the picture. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, making peace…”
In essence we learn boundaries are not intended to be a dominant feature of relationships. Instead breaking relational boundaries is fundamental to life in Christ. We are to consider how to move toward one another in love, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
The problem is we set boundaries because we feel violated and seek to protect ourselves.
The boundaries image suggests that the problem is coming from outside of us. Yes problems, expectations, and demands can come at us. But Scripture emphasizes these problems come out of us. Let’s consider some motivations to our difficulty in saying no to things.
• Love does not always mean self-sacrifice. Although this is one expression of love, love can also mean discerning that it is wise to spend alone time with your spouse rather than staying home because the children don’t want you to go out. Love and wisdom can mean saying no to certain things.
• “We don’t want to disappoint others. Many of us want to please other people and fear disappointing them. This is good and normal. However, this desire can quickly go south and become an idolatrous desire in which our goal is to never disappoint. When our hearts are set on this, the other-oriented command to love is reversed so that it becomes a self-oriented goal to never disappoint, to always have people pleased with us, to never have conflict. What seemed like a desire to not disappoint can mask the desire to have everyone pleased with us. The goal of Christ followers is to love others more than need love from them,” (Ed Welch, Journal of Biblical Counseling, Spring 2004, p20.)
• We over-estimate our own importance and under-estimate God’s care for us. We live as if we existed as lone-rangers, frantically putting out fires as the wind blows sparks to start a new fire. (We might call this self-determined self-sufficiency rather than dependence on God).
• We overvalue how important we are and undervalue the gifts and talents God has given to others to serve us. It is an expression of faith to ask for help because we know we are limited creatures.
One of the important parts of wisdom is that it keep us focused on the 2 great commandments to love God and neighbor. Love can mean that we take a bullet for someone and on the other hand, it might mean we throw them out of the house.
Love is always willing to look at our own hearts first when there is trouble in a relationship.
Love is the reason why we establish a boundaries. Love says NO to evil. When possible it puts limits around sin and its consequences. The goal is always to bless enemies and lead them to repentance (Romans 12:14-21).
Boundaries can have both negative and positive characteristics.
We erect barriers between ourselves and areas of temptation.
We maintain boundaries when there are questions about physical safety.
In extreme situations we “do not cast our pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6).
And “expel the wicked man from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13).
We must be careful not to let boundaries become a lifestyle. We must be aware of when we are thinking more about self-protection than love. The guiding principle to think about is how we can break down the walls between ourselves and others rather than building them.