A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on love and made the point that love does not give up, which prompted several hallway conversations – and questions from you asking, “Are there limits? And how do we set healthy boundaries?”
The best book on this subject is Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. This is a classic on the problems of living a life without boundaries and how to set appropriate boundaries in most areas of your life. I would certainly recommend you read it.
Boundaries are important, and Jesus gave us ways such as shaking off our sandals to enforce those boundaries. We humans are crushed with limits (like only 24 hours in a day), and it’s important that we recognize those limits. But we have to be careful when protecting our boundaries.
There are two concerns I want to point out:
- Often people talk about boundaries when they’re really looking for a reason not to love someone. In Matthew 18:21, Peter came to Jesus and asked Him, “How many times do I have to forgive my brother?” In effect, the question was, “What is the boundary? How many times do I have to do this?” Jesus said, “Not seven times, but seven times seventy.” His point was not that you count to 490 and you’re done. The issue is that we keep forgiving as Jesus keeps forgiving us. Too many times, in the name of boundaries, people are actually acting with an unforgiving and angry heart. Jesus certainly doesn't give us permission to do that.
- Jesus does, however, teach us by example that we should know what our mission is and judge every demand by that. The reason we face this frustration with setting boundaries is that we do not accurately follow the life pattern of Jesus. Here’s what I mean by that: There were outrageous demands on Jesus’ life. People were trying to touch Him, grab Him, pull Him. They were looking for Him all the time. But Jesus lived from a God-focus at the center of His being. Out of His prayer time, out of His Scripture study, He understood who He was and what the Father wanted for Him in His life. So when someone tried to infringe on this boundary or to get Him to do something He did not want to do, He was free in His obedience to God to say “no” to the false demands of other people.
We have a story in Luke 4:42-43 where the Galileans try to keep Jesus from leaving them. Jesus says, “I need to go to these other towns, because I need to preach the gospel there as well.” Now if that request had been brought to us, we would've responded immediately to the people who were looking for us. But Jesus follows the mission God has given to Him; He goes and preaches somewhere else. Another time, in John 6:15, people wanted to make Jesus king. When He saw that, Jesus slipped away from them, because that was not the God-purpose in His life.
- How many of us have worked on our own lives to that extent?
- Do I understand who I am in God and for what purpose I've been created?
- Have I aligned my life with God’s purposes and work in my life?
- Have I said “yes” to that with my total being?
- Now I am free to say “no” to anything else and everyone else that takes me away from the God-purposes in my life.
The problem for most of us is not that we have a problem saying “no.” Most of us have never fully said “yes.” Find your “yes” and the “no’s” will take care of themselves.
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