Updated: Nov 17, 2018
You may have seen him on a stain-glass window. Docile, mild-eyed, hippie-era locks cascading limply over his shoulders. One might call him "wimpy Jesus." But, contrary to popular belief, Jesus was not a doormat. And neither should you be.
You see, as Christians, we can fall into the trap of believing that having no boundaries and letting people walk over us is expected, even godly. After all, didn't Jesus say to, "turn the other cheek?" Well yes, but...to have a proper understanding of what Jesus meant, we need to firstly understand the difference between meekness and weakness.
Weakness is powerless. Meekness is power, restrained. When you put boundaries in place, you are not showing weakness- quite the opposite. You are showing that you know who you are, where you end and where the other person begins.
Jesus was a passionate person, but was always in control of himself. He had clearly defined personal boundaries. He had many opportunities to "lose it" in the face of people trying to trespass these boundaries. Time after time, others attempted to manipulate, push and control him. But every single time, he withstood them. We can learn how to as well, by watching the Master.
Jesus' Tips for Setting Boundaries
1) Be committed to God's will, above all else.
Jesus was never swayed in the wrong direction because of his laser-like focus on God's plans and purposes. When Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross, Jesus did not entertain the thought, even for a second. He let Peter know on no uncertain terms that he was going to stay with the program (Matt 16:23). When you know who you are and what you are called to do, your boundaries will be able to withstand outside pressure. For example: Dear pastor, when someone in your congregation arises and tries to steer the ship in a direction you know is clearly against the vision God gave you, take heart- activate your boundaries!
2) Be mindful of "soul ties" and respect the Biblical principles for maintaining healthy ones.
Dysfunction in relationships is often caused by ungodly soul ties, perpetuated by a lack of boundaries. Healthy soul ties, on the other hand, grow out of an understanding of order and seasons:
Order: Healthy soul ties respect the natural orders established by God.
For example: James is known in his church as being prophetic. He approached Kent one Sunday after church and gave him a "word" that he was to quit his job immediately to enter full time ministry. Kent's wife, Sandy, didn't feel that it was the right timing for such a drastic step and tried to warn him. Kent had been indiscriminately listening to and following James' "words" for a while however, and ignored his wife's concerns. Six months later, they found themselves in financial dire straits and Kent was left feeling bitter and disillusioned. Now, please don't mistake me, I am not saying that every person opposed to a word given over you is necessarily speaking in truth. You could very well be called to enter ministry immediately. But in Kent's case, he allowed James to violate the natural order of soul ties between a man and his wife and let down his boundaries. In this way, he fell prey to spiritual abuse and manipulation.
Seasons: Soul ties do not always stay the same. Some are for life, but others are designed to change with different seasons. For example, the Bible clearly states that when a child marries, they emotionally, physically and spiritually leave their birth family;
"For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." Matt. 19:5
If the parents and/or child do not recognize this transition and hold onto the old soul ties, bondages arise in the absence of boundaries. On multiple occasions, Jesus had to assert his boundaries to his family, who did not recognize that the old soul ties had changed. For example;
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
When Jesus' understandably shaken parents quizzed him about why he stayed behind in the temple, (rather than coming home with them on the family road trip) he responded mysteriously: "Did you not know I had to be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:24)
While this may seem a touch precocious to us, Jesus was actually preparing his parents for the changes to come. He was indicating that his soul-ties with them would undergo a transformation in the near future as he began to step into his role as the Son of God.
A Grown Man
At the Wedding in Cana, Mary seems not to have understood that this transition was complete. She tried to push Jesus into demonstrating his power at her will. His response seems almost harsh, until you understand what he was really saying:
"Woman, why do you involve me, my hour has not yet come?" (John 2:4)
Jesus was asserting his boundaries. By calling his mother "woman" he was effectively saying "Mum, I am a grown man now. I am required to obey my Father's orders first. I am speaking to you as an adult man to an adult woman. I will not allow you to push me into doing something until God has given me the green light." Only when Mary defers to Jesus and tells the servants to do whatever HE says, does the miracle happen.
Who Are my Brothers and My Mother?
"Go inside and get him mother, urge him to come home." We can only imagine the family discussion that took place as Jesus' ministry began. "He is disgracing us all in there, disrespecting the Pharisees to their faces. If we don't do something, soon we will all get kicked out of the synagogue." When Jesus was told that his brothers and mother were waiting outside to talk to him, he again delivered what seems like a harsh response:
"Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48,49) Rather than bowing to public pressure, Jesus defines his boundaries once more, in effect saying, "I have left my natural family. I am no longer just Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter. I have a new family, a 'kingdom-family.' I will not be distracted from the will of God by the wishes of my natural family."
3) Respond, Don't React.
A reaction occurs when a person is faced with a situation and lacks the boundaries to respond appropriately. In other words, if someone pushes your buttons and you don't yet know your own boundaries, you are bound to react. Jesus was never taken by surprise by people's behavior and never reacted, not even once. When the Pharisees tried to trip him up using intimidation, he was unflappable. Fear is your worst enemy when it comes to setting healthy boundaries. When you find yourself reacting, ask yourself- is fear involved here in some way?
Even in Jesus' most impassioned moments, like when he made a whip and drove the money-changers out of the temple, he was not reacting. No one goaded him to act, he looked around him and assessed the situation before taking action. This is evident because he took the time to make the whip first (as oppose to snatching one up.) His response was premeditated. If you ever want to discern whether you are reacting or responding, it is worth noting the speed you take action with. Often it is when we instantly fire back at someone that we are reacting.
4) Recognize that you can never have all your emotional needs met by people.
The only One who will never let us down is God. A thirst for acceptance and affirmation will always create weak boundaries. Jesus understood this well;
"[He] would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person." (John 2:24,25)
A note here for those in ministry: it is particularly easy for us to allow the fear of man to produce weak boundaries in our lives, particularly if we long for the approval of those we minister to. Let us establish the good discipline of checking in with God periodically and making sure we are not allowing our boundaries to be violated. In this way, we can lesson the risk of abdicating the ministry He has entrusted to us.
Right now, I encourage you to ask God to show you any people in your life you might be allowing to violate your boundaries. Ask Him for wisdom and insight as you actively plan how to set stronger boundaries in place.