Are Boundaries Biblical?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Far too many people have suffered abuse from others who claim to belong to Jesus. The church seems to offer both a feeding ground and a supportive environment for those who want to control others for their own purposes.

One of the tools used against people is the subtle idea that boundaries are somehow wrong, inconsistent with Biblical teaching. Christians are supposed to be submissive, forgiving, welcoming, and tolerant. All of that opens the door for abuse by narcissists and users. In fact, those believers in narcissistic relationships have heard this idea thrown at them when they dare to resist or even question the abuse.

I believe this is a perversion of the call to believers and must be addressed. No one should be manipulated into accepting abuse by twisted Scripture or corrupted teaching of the faith.

Are boundaries biblical? Of course. If you begin by looking at boundaries outside of personal relationships, you quickly realize that property definitions were an important part of Jewish life. The people owned their land by inheritance, and the boundaries of that inheritance were well-defined. Boundaries were an extension of identity.

I understand that some people might say that property boundaries are different from relationship boundaries. I would disagree. The point is both order and protection. Interlopers were identified by their breech of these boundaries. The Scriptures never suggest that just anyone should have the right to begin farming your land or cutting your trees or even allowing their cattle to graze on your property. No, your property is your own, and Scripture supports the right to defend your identity by enforcing boundaries.

Beyond the principle established by property rights in Scripture, Jesus gave us His own example. He often withdrew from the crowds and even His own followers to spend time alone. There is every indication that He expected them to honor this private time with the Father. He chose not to heal all those who were sick, but all those to whom the Father led Him. He chose not to fulfill the expectations others tried to put on Him. His life is an example of orderly and purposeful progression made possible partly by enforced personal and relationship boundaries.

Why do we even have a question about this? Where does the idea that boundaries are not biblical come from? Well, apart from the twisting by the abusers, we do have some rather unnatural or “unfleshly” expectations placed on believers. We are called to be submissive and generous and unselfish. We are called to help others even when it might present an inconvenience to ourselves. In other words, we are to live above the natural and self-centered life of the world.

But self-care is not selfishness. Stewardship of the resources the Master has given you is not lack of generosity. Allowing yourself to be manipulated out of your money or your time is not being kind. When the abusers use these good admonitions for their own gain, we have both the right and the responsibility to deny them.

Boundaries are part of the protection God has allowed in our lives. Next week I will look at some of those difficult expectations and how they are still consistent with good boundaries.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Are Boundaries Biblical?

  1. Amy

    How I wish I had heard something like this about boundaries years ago while living in an abusive marriage!
    I remember sharing with a woman from the church we attended at that time about the book I was reading called, Boundaries (Cloud & Townsend) because I was trying to figure out how to handle things in my marriage. She actually told me that there are no boundaries in the bible and that it’s unbiblical for a Christian to set boundaries, especially in a marriage. I was shocked and felt like one more thing had been added to the list of why a Christian wife was not allowed to stand up to an abusive spouse and/or leave an abusive marriage.
    I carried that with me for years and truly believed it all because this woman who had led bible studies and appeared to be the example of a Godly wife told me I had no right to set boundaries in my marriage.

    Later when I started listening to various Christians teaching on abuse, I came to see that setting boundaries is indeed biblical and often necessary. By that time, I was already out of that marriage, but I have often thought about that woman from years past and if she continued to share with other hurting women such untruths.

    Thank you, Pastor Dave, for speaking the truth and sharing God’s Word.

  2. Kay

    The entire story of exodus is God taking his precious people out of abuse. Also Matthew 5:37 says let your “Yes be yes and your no be no.” Matthew 10:14 tells us to “wipe the dust off our feet” after they haven’t listened to us. I believe that all of these things, and many more in the Bible, tell us about God’s character and his heart towards us: he wants to have boundaries. All of these verses helped me so much to get out of a very bad, adulterous, abusive relationship. I know I did everything I could to make it work, I even considered it to be the mission field when I was witnessing and loving the person so much in the end, that when he didn’t listen I was given permission to wipe the dust off my feet off and leave. Thank you for your wonderful heart Pastor, and for everything you write to us.

  3. Pamela K

    Excellent !! The whole church world needs to read this !!

  4. Tara McLaughlin

    Yes! Boundaries are very important and I teach them as a means to healing. Jesus had boundaries. He, as the Creator placed boundaries in creation. I have found personal victory and peace in boundary setting from narcissistic abuse. The narcissist hates boundaries. The Christian narcissist hates boundaries and will try to spiritualize the text. I thank God for showing me biblical truth. We need discernment and we need to use discretion with such people. God loves them, but we can’t fix them, so we set boundaries.

  5. Mark

    Deut 19:14 – “You shall not displace your neighbor’s boundary marker, which the ancestors have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.”

    Deut 27:17 – “‘Cursed is one who displaces his neighbor’s boundary marker.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

    Hosea 5:10 – “The leaders of Judah have become like those who displace a boundary marker; On them I will pour out My anger like water.”

    I agree that it’s very applicable, especially when you ponder what God is saying in Hosea. The abuser wants more of them and less of you, so they move the boundary marker and claim what was not theirs to begin with. We are taught to accept persecution for the sake of Jesus from non-believers. So, first, it has to be persecution, not simply abuse. We don’t accept “police brutality” in the name of Jesus. Second, it’s unbelievers. If a church wants to use this teaching, then they should first excommunicate the abusive spouse, because Christians should not be persecuting Christians.

    “But I say to you, do not show opposition against an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also” – note the EVIL person. If a church tells you to turn the other cheek, they are admitting that the other person is evil, so why is that person a member of the church?

    • Z

      Hi Mark,
      I appreciated your comment and the Scriptures to support your take on the subject of a “Christian Abuser” (as if there could be such a thing!).
      But I got stuck on the phrase “it has to be persecution-not simply abuse”.
      Can you explain what is meant by that? I just don’t understand.
      As a lifelong victim of “Christian parents” who were my physical abusers/criminally violent attackers & felons/persecutors/revilers/spiritual & mental abusers/false accusers/liars/…until I cut off all contact with them for my safety, I don’t understand abuse that can not be persecution. That is “simply abuse” whether by a false Christian or a non-believer. Believe me, through all the abuse I suffered, I felt persecuted!! And their darkness HATED the Light of Jesus in me. They were and still are children of their father the devil. The father of lies. My abusers STILL persecute me with smear campaigns of lies, defamation, playing their usual act of “being the victim” to dupe others. They wear masks and sheep costumes to outsiders but are ravenous wolves for real. They should NEVER be allowed in any church! Yet, they are welcomed by the various churches they hop around to-the more the merrier-more congregants and pastors to fool with their act and with whom to smear me. To ostracize me with everyone and punish me with isolation since everyone is “willfully blind, deaf and mute” when it comes to their LOOOOONG history of DV and child abuses as well as continuing with adult abuses. All “Christian enablers of the evil of abuse”. Which makes them complicit in that evil! Because many of them lived near us when I was a child and many heard the violence. Children’s screams. Some saw the violence. Some saw the results of the violence. Bruises, black eyes, lumps on children’s heads..Yet they are embraced by all the churches and the congregants. The pastors know because many of their congregants have told them what they know. A badly kept secret. So I don’t feel a desire to worship my God of Righteousness and Truth and Justice among such hypocrites.
      So if you would, can you expound more upon the difference you meant between “persecution and simply abuse”? I’m not taking offense. Just really want to know. Thanks.

      • Mark

        I don’t want to minimize your experience in any way. I thought about how I would separate persecution from other abuse. I think of persecution more in terms of a hate crime. There is nothing “personal” against you, but because you are part of a hated group, you are targeted. The early church was persecuted because they followed Christ. Persecution occurs in many countries because those countries have laws against becoming Christian.

        What you faced is no less demonic, but it was not persecution in that sense. It was horrific emotional, physical and spiritual abuse. I think our society likes to blur the meaning of words, so persecution loses its specificity and just becomes “horrific abuse”. I don’t think that’s what the word means in the Bible, and that’s why I say that we are taught to accept persecution – hatred and violence against the name of Christ, but not directed personally at us, but we are not taught to accept abuse – personal attacks meant to maintain coercive control and manipulate. Abuse may be horrific and systemic, and personal horrific abuse is, IMO, more evil and hurtful than persecution.

        My argument is that if the church tells you to accept abuse, then it has to define the abuse as persecution, which means that the abuser is not a Christian, and the abuser is targeting you as a Christian, and that raises the question, why does the church acknowledge this person as an enemy of Christ at the same time welcoming the person as a fellow believer? Makes no sense.

        Does that help?

      • Z

        Thank you Mark. Yes, that does explain what you meant by differentiating between persecution for following Christ and abuse against a person by a demonic false Christian who means to do satan’s bidding to steal, kill, destroy us. Of course they belong to satan because their whole life is a lie-predators using churches as hunting grounds for prey. Because of all the false teaching about abuse and forgiveness, etc. Many churches IDOLIZE marriage and family or parents and accept those who abuse within those systems. And they are willingly duped by the false Christian’s’ lies and masks. Instead of a safe place for victims churches are often a place where MORE abuse happens. Spiritual abuse. Enabling domestic and child abuse. This should not be in the House of the Lord!
        Thanks for the clarification and your comments which I appreciated.

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