(RNS) — I’ve been studying the life of Jesus a lot.
How he reacted when people hurt him deeply. How he handled the whiplash of being loved one minute and tossed aside the next. How he knew Judas was going to betray him, and he washed his feet anyhow.
I want to be like Jesus. I want to hold fast to his Word. But if I’m honest, it can feel so challenging to apply biblical principles when I’m experiencing relational hurt at the same time. Especially when commonly used Bible verses get weaponized against me or appear to be unclear with their instructions.
I’ve been bumping up against this as I’ve been learning about establishing boundaries in some of my relationships.
And here’s what I’ve begun to realize: Just like our bank accounts can get overdrawn, so can our emotions. Just like spending that gets out of control can bankrupt a person’s finances, expending too much emotionally can bankrupt a person’s well-being. We have emotional limitations.
In the past, I think I’ve tried to work around this. I’ve thought things like …
- The more I do for people, the more Christian I am.
- If I know about a need, it’s my moral duty to meet that need.
- If someone hurts me, wrongs me or takes advantage of me, instead of addressing it head-on, I should just manage my feelings and see it as an opportunity to demonstrate unconditional love.
There are good intentions in every single one of those statements above. And on the surface, many of those mindsets have a noble sense of self-sacrifice and Christian character. They even hint so closely at some well-known Bible verses that they seem like the right way to react. However, there’s more context and truth we must consider here.
Let’s take a look at John 15:13, for example. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” You see, in the past, I thought this verse meant the greatest act of love I could show is to lay down my own life for the good of others, even when it’s to my own detriment.
Yes, Jesus literally laid down his one glorious life and it was for a high and holy purpose. But Jesus didn’t lay down his life to enable evil, to perpetuate unholy or irresponsible behaviors or to try to keep others happy.
When Jesus makes this statement in John 15, he is speaking within a context when friendship in the ancient world was truly valued and sought after. This type of “friendship involve(s) the sharing of confidences, (and) possessions.” Love expressed and experienced between friends is a beautiful thing and shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked. In our daily lives, we should want to share, and, within reason, give to our loved ones and friends. But here’s the caution: We can be a resource for others when needed, but we should not become the source of what sustains them.
The instruction here isn’t so much about our willingness to literally lose our life or sacrifice our needs to the point of self-detriment. Rather, Jesus is reminding us to have a willing spirit to show and extend a type of love that is honorable and willing to be self-sacrificial when necessary.
And from that place, I’ve come to understand having boundaries in our relationships isn’t selfish. It’s actually exercising self-awareness by realizing only God is limitless in his capacity. We as humans are limited.
Friend, if you have struggled with wondering if setting boundaries is biblical, please know I’ve been in your shoes. But here’s what I want you to know:
- It’s not un-Christian to come to terms with our limited human capacity and set healthy parameters in our relationships.
- It’s not un-Christian to require people to treat you in healthy ways. And for us to do the same for others.
- It’s not un-Christian to call wrong things wrong and hurtful things hurtful.
We have to know how to spot dysfunction, what to do about it and when to recognize it’s no longer reasonable or safe to stay in some relationships. But we can do all of this with honor and kindness, learning how to love others well without losing the best of who we are.
And isn’t that we really want? After all, God’s ultimate assignment is for us to love him and love others. And this is exactly what Jesus taught and modeled. John 13:34 says: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (NIV)
Love must be honest. Love must be safe. Love must seek each person’s highest good.
And, ultimately, love must honor God to experience the fullness and the freedom of the sweetest connection between two humans.
(Lysa TerKeurst is president of Proverbs 31 Ministries and the author of more than 25 books, including her latest, “Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)