Answer: A boundary is a “dividing line.” In geography, a boundary is that which marks the end of one property or jurisdiction and the beginning of another. In interpersonal relationships, a boundary is what divides one person from another, so that each can have separate identities, responsibilities, and privileges. A boundary creates necessary “space” between individuals. Healthy boundaries define expectations and show respect for others.
Biblically speaking, boundaries are related to self-control. The Bible commands us to control ourselves, whereas our human nature desires to control others (Titus 2:12).
If left unchecked, our natural desires run roughshod over others.
Personal boundaries help to limit our selfish inclination to control or
manipulate others. Likewise, boundaries protect us from those who have
no self-control and who wish to control us. A person with clear, healthy
boundaries communicates to others what is and is not permissible,
saying, in effect, “This is my jurisdiction, and you have no right to
Boundaries can be used in healthy ways and sinful ways. The way to know
which boundaries are godly is to examine the motive. Are you protecting
yourself or someone weaker from potential harm, either emotional or
physical? If so, then you are setting healthy and needful boundaries.
However, if you are maintaining distance simply because you desire to
exclude someone, that is sinful. Boundaries that maintain cliques or
prohibit ministry opportunities are unhelpful.
Proper boundaries aid believers in keeping out worldly influences.
Children of the light have no fellowship with darkness and are thus
separate from the world (2 Corinthians 6:14). Being kind and friendly is Christ-like, but we are not to embrace the world’s way of doing things (James 4:4).
Our wish is not to keep people away, but when people are being
destructive, the boundaries we set can limit the evil they commit
Boundaries are about taking responsibility for our own lives. God gives
us freedom to choose to live within His boundaries or outside of them,
and to live outside of God’s boundaries means to accept the
consequences. Living inside God’s boundaries brings blessing, and living
outside of them brings destruction and death (Romans 6:23). Adam and Eve had had one boundary in the Garden of Eden: abstain from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The Lord gave them freedom to remain within His bounds, but they chose
to overstep the boundary and sin. Their response to God’s revelation of
their sin was to blame someone else rather than take responsibility for
their lack of self-control. Eve blamed Satan, and Adam blamed Eve (Genesis 3:12-13).
Boundaries limit destructive behaviors, and that is why both God and
society have laws and consequences for those who overstep those laws (Romans 13:1-4).
A healthy marriage requires boundaries. Marital boundaries keep sex and
intimacy within the relationship while respecting each person’s needs.
Violating these boundaries will quickly destroy trust.
Boundaries are also helpful in parenting. Setting healthy limits for children will protect them (Proverbs 22:6).
Unhealthy boundaries tend to be controlling and selfishly motivated.
Boundaries should guide a child to individuate into the person God
created him or her to be. Boundaries allow children to develop an
identity separate from their parents within the safety of their family.
Without an identity, people “vanish” into other people or expect them
not to have any differences.
Children often feel boundaries are “mean” when they are immature. When
they grow up, they usually realize the boundaries were to keep them
safe. Adults who were raised without protective boundaries often feel
that someone saying “no” to them is “mean,” because they never learned
self-control. Naturally, when children do not get what they want, they
are disappointed, but learning to accept “no” from others is essential
to godly character; however, setting boundaries with children must be
done in loving ways in order for the child to feel loved (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21; Titus 2:4). The Lord’s instruction for parents is that they teach a child boundaries (Proverbs 19:18).
Boundaries help a child see that life is not about pursuing what he
wants but surrendering to the Lord and following Him. Boundaries set
with unconditional love will teach children to surrender to the Lord
because they trust God knows what is best and will bring true
Learning boundaries as a child is important. It is more difficult to
learn boundaries later in life. Children will not grow up to respect
God’s boundaries if they do not learn boundaries in their home. Modeling
is necessary; parents cannot teach boundaries and not abide by them
A person with healthy boundaries takes responsibility for his own life
and allows others to live theirs. The goal of boundaries is to make
sacrifices for people when appropriate, but never in a destructive
manner. We should be available for people in a crisis, but unavailable
to indulgent demands. Being gracious is not a blank check for others to
continually drain our emotional account. Saying “yes” out of fear of
rejection is really a selfish motive for being kind. Being kind in order
to gain someone’s favor smacks of hypocrisy and shows a need for
boundaries. Fear of man’s approval can lead to codependency, the unhealthy alternative to interdependency.
Boundaries teach us to accept one another as being different yet still
valuable. God uses boundaries to help us appreciate the differences in
people rather than be upset by them. A godly friend tells us what we
need to hear, not necessarily what we want to hear (Proverbs 27:6).
We are free to be ourselves with others if we control ourselves.
Boundaries are not selfish when we use our freedom to serve and love one
another because we are keeping our own flesh under control (Galatians 5:13).
In a godly relationship, both people are free to love each other and to
be themselves because neither is using or manipulating the other.
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, so it is not something unbelievers can achieve (Galatians 5:22-23).
A believer who sees his need for self-control so he can take
responsibility for his own actions and not encroach on others will seek
the Lord’s help for growth in this character trait. Boundaries are a
fruit of submitting to God’s will, and He will enable us to make godly
Being Christ-like means we can say “no” in unselfish, helpful ways.
Sometimes, love requires us to say “no” to those we love. For example,
if a family member is abusing alcohol at a family gathering, then it is
Christ-like to tell him not to do so. A proper boundary has then been
set. If the response is to get angry, leave, and never come back, then
that person simply was not able to respect the boundary. It is not
sinful to say "no" to someone if he is crossing personal boundaries in
harmful and destructive ways. Every boy or girl on a date should have
clear boundaries that must not be crossed.
Boundaries can be difficult to establish because saying “no” may have
been off limits or mistakenly taught as being ungodly. God says to tell
the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). God tells us to humbly control ourselves, lovingly confront sin, graciously accept others, and overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Plus, He promises wisdom in every circumstance (James 1:5).
Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend.