Loving Boundaries

Do not hate your brother in your heart.  Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.    (Leviticus 19:17, NIV)

 The Bible has much to say about how we should treat those around us, and how to maintain loving relationships.  Sometimes this can involve setting healthy boundaries and confronting wrongs.  Leviticus 19:17 is a short verse, but it gives important insights into why setting boundaries is so important in our relationships.

 The first part of this verse recognizes that where a transgression or offense has occurred, hidden resentment can lead to a breakdown in the relationship.  Unspoken or unresolved hurts block healthy communication and allow wounds to fester.  Keeping quiet in order to “keep the peace” may harm the relationship in the long run. 

 Somehow the offense needs to be addressed openly.  Leviticus 19:17 commands believers to openly and clearly address the wrong with the other person.  Webster’s Dictionary defines rebuke as reproving, reprimanding, or forbidding.  It is the setting and expressing of boundaries.  If we fail to rebuke those who transgress against us, we will share the guilt of harming the relationship, and fail to promote the kind of love God wants us to have for our neighbor or brother.  Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson points out in his book Love Must Be Tough (Word Publishing, 1996) that maintaining strong boundaries and limits with those who have boundary or self-control problems is a loving thing to do. 

 Can a wife speak up about a husband’s abuse or disrespect and still be in godly submission?  1 Peter 3:5-6 says that wifely submission is based on doing right.  Of course, obeying scripture would be “doing right”, and scriptures such as Leviticus 19:17, Matthew 18:15-17, and Luke 17:3-4 make it clear that all believers are to confront those who abuse or disrespect them, in order to resolve the situation.  Ephesians 5:22 tells wives that submitting to their husbands should be like submitting to the Lord: submitting to abuse or sin would not be submitting as to the Lord.  Dr. Dobson points out that in marriage, a passive approach can lead to an escalation of abuse and disrespect, and eventually divorce.

 What if an abusive relationship makes confrontation unsafe?  Jesus’ teaching on loving confrontation in Matthew 18:15-17 provides a four-step procedure that incorporates increasing safety measures.  It is also wise to have a safety plan worked out, if safety is a concern.  Some situations are too dangerous to allow discussion of problems.  In such cases it can be helpful to seek the advice of domestic violence professionals.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you describe a situation in which you tried to confront an abuser about how they mistreated you?  If so, how did you do it?
  1. Can you think of a relationship in your life that might be improved with a frank discussion of a problem?
  1. Webster’s Dictionary describes relationship as “having close connection; a state of being mutually or reciprocally interested.”  Can there be “relationship” where it is too unsafe to discuss a mutual problem?

Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy