December 1, 2020

Love Without Boundaries

I am going to upset many today, but what’s new about that? I am going to field angry comments from counselors, pastors, and those who have been hurt. Yet what I have to say needs to be said. Prepare your firebrands and pitchforks.

Ready?

I don’t believe in boundaries in love.

None.

This goes against what most every levelheaded, certificated, authorized family counselor will tell you. “You have to set boundaries to have a truly intimate love relationship. You have to be able to say No when you want to.”  Your pastor would most likely concur with this while handing you a copy of Boundaries In Marriage by Cloud and Townsend. I could probably make as many good arguments as they why limits and fences are a good idea in relationships.

But now I think limits and fences are wrong. I’ll go so far as to say you can not truly love someone if you put up boundaries. At least you cannot love another with the love that Love Himself showed. God has no fences or walls that say, “As long as you follow these guidelines and stay within these painted lines I will love you and allow you to come near to me. Break one of the guidelines, however, and I will withdraw my love from you.” Now, of course, I have armchair theologians on the warpath by my saying this.

“No,” they’ll say. “God put up all kinds of boundaries in the Old Testament. Look at who was allowed in the Holy of Holies. Only the righteous priests could go in to the presence of God and live.” To which I will say, “Remember the Temple curtain that was torn in two from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross.” But let’s not start the fists flying just yet. Your turn will come soon enough.

I never see Jesus placing limits on those who approached him. Whores, thieves, tax collectors, lepers, the blind and lame—all were welcome. The only ones Jesus sent packing were those religious leaders who were trying to put up police tape around Jesus so only those the religious thought worthy could get to him. No lepers. No whores. No poor. No beggars. No crooks. None who were too fat or had withered limbs or bleeding disorders were to get to Jesus. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Yet Jesus erased that line over and over again. He held children in his lap. He ate with notorious sinners. He talked with loose women. He invited outcasts and misfits to follow him. He didn’t seem to get worked up that they crossed boundaries society had set up to get to him. Just what was Jesus thinking talking to that woman by the well? Everyone knew she was an outcast, an easy date, the kind of woman you didn’t take home to meet Mom and Dad. If anything, he should have observed proper protocol and sent another woman, like Mary or Martha, to speak to her. Jesus was a social misfit, not following community standards in many of his dealings with others.

A hated Roman soldier comes to him requesting help for his ailing servant. “Show him the road!” the crowd is thinking. “This is the enemy. If there are any boundaries to put up, it’s with the godless Romans.” Jesus healed the servant with just his word.  A woman caught in the act of adultery is dragged before him. “Now he has to follow the law. There is no way out of this one.” Only Jesus doesn’t condemn the woman, does he? A thief, caught dead-to-rights, is rightly sentenced to die and hangs next to Jesus. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he gasps. “Here, finally,” says the crowd, “perhaps he will have the sense to use his last breath to tell this criminal where to get off.” But Jesus only invites this man, a self-confessed sinner, to spend eternity in paradise with him.

I don’t see Jesus setting boundaries in love. But then again, Jesus’ love makes no sense to me. When I taught at a college I would often have students, usually female, come see me when it was getting close to graduation time. “Mr. Dunn,” they would say, “I think I found just the right guy for me. I like this and this and this about him, but I’m concerned about that and that and that. What do you think I should do?” That’s when I would tell them the following.

Love is not an accounting problem. Stop trying to have it all line up perfectly. Won’t happen. Love doesn’t make sense. True love does not make sense. Even the writer of Proverbs knew this when he said there were three—no, four!—things that he didn’t understand: How a hawk glides in the sky, how a ship sails on the open seas, how a spider can spin its web in the palace of the king, and how a man can love a maid. Love is a mystery, not a math equation.

The greatest act of love ever in the history of history was Jesus’ death on the cross as the sacrifice for our sin. That does not make sense to me. If someone rolled a hand grenade into this office right now, I would have no hesitation to jump on it to save you. But I’m sorry, I could not take my son, my only son, and throw him on a grenade to save you. I just could not do that. Yet that’s what God did for us. He threw Jesus on the cross to save our lives. And that makes no sense to me. So if the greatest act of love ever shown does not make sense, then how would you think love between a man and a maid would make any sense?

To this most would agree. Yet for some reason we still think we need to help out Love Himself. We tell others they can come only so far into our lives. They can take only so much. They can demand we give only to a preset limit. I think there are several reasons for this.

  1. Control. We loathe the idea of giving up control over our lives to God or to anyone else. We say we trust God, but in reality we trust in ourselves. We love to say that God is number one in our lives, followed by family, church, job, etc. What we are really saying is that WE are God, since we are making out the list in the first place. It is so hard to hand the pencil and paper over to him. “But what if he …” we say. What if indeed. What if God interrupts our plans by bringing someone into our lives who drains us on a daily basis? Is it time to take back the paper and list out some boundaries, or can we trust the Lord by leaving all—ALL—of our circumstances up to him?
  2. The zero-sum game. Is love in limited supply? Is it a zero-sum commodity, meaning at some point it can run out entirely? That’s what is thought by many who erect fences around their hearts. “Careful,” they say, “Or that person will take all of your love.” What these people don’t realize is, as followers of the Lamb, we no longer have our own love anyway. We are simply empty vessels made to hold Love, the greatest treasure of them all. And Love can never run dry. He is endless. True Love is never in danger of running out—only running over the lips of the vessels that hold it.
  3. Fear. This goes back to control. We fear what we can’t control. And love is uncontrollable. Watch the flame of a candle. Does it hold still? Can you tell it to go this way and not that way? No. Neither can you control the flame of love. And when you try, you only get burned. Love is very scary, but we don’t have to be afraid of it.
  4. Pain. Gram Parsons wrote, “Love hurts, love mars, love wounds, love scars.” Oh does it. And the more love you give, the greater chance you will get hurt. And the more love you give, the greater that hurt will be. You have to be prepared to be hurt by those you love.

These are all very legitimate reasons to lay down boundaries in any love relationship. Yet I don’t see this being the reaction God desires of his children. We are to trust him completely. We are to freely allow others to help themselves to the treasure in our hearts, treasure that has no end. We are not to try to hold love in one place. And we must be prepared to be hurt by love.

Once again, look at the greatest act of love ever. God did not limit himself, but died—really, truly died, as in stopped living, stopping thinking, stopped feeling. He did not try to control what happened when he laid down his life. He suffered great pain in giving love, but did not expect any less.

So you tell me, am I wrong in thinking that one cannot truly love another when barriers and boundaries are erected, when restrictions are put into place? Love will surprise you, will take you places you never dreamed of going. That sounds like something you would read in a greeting card until you realize the greatest thing about love.

Love is not a feeling.

Love is a person. His name is Jesus. And he does not limit you from coming to him now, as you are. Is that ok with you?

Comments

  1. Rebekah Grace says

    Oh Jeff, I’ve missed your words!

    In the last 6 months I have felt the nudging, the ever present, ever gentle nudging of Papa in having me reach out across decades of no contact, and even into a “I don’t want to ever reach out to that person” kind of nudging and in my child-like faith, or maybe it’s my stubborn pride, I do. I’d like to say it’s because I want to do what He wants me to do but……when there is no response, atleast the expected response my flesh had, I get all whiny and bratty about it all. Doesn’t sound much like someone who is ready and willing to do whatever and with whomever He asks.

    And when I’m busy telling Him how hard it has been on ME to reach out and be vulnerable with those people HE asked ME to reach out to, only to hear their deafening silence and presumed rejection, He so graciously and consistently reminds me….

    How He has reached out to mankind with His scandalous love and understands. And I put my tail between my legs, ask Him to forgive me, and then He embraces His prodigal daughter once again. And I’m all ready and willing to do whatever it is He wants me to do again.

    • Scandalous love indeed, RG. Keep reaching out to these others. Love love love them. Love them until they collapse under the weight of your love. Actually, love others is the most fun you can have without getting arrested…

  2. Charles Joshua Lake says

    The Holy Spirit is doing great things on this blog.

    In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
    (1 John 4:9-10 ESV)

    While reading this post, I keep getting reminded of a certain case of a certain pastor/church that denied certain members from taking the communion during service. Yeah, it happened.

  3. The boundary is exactly that… “you have to come” He does not place a limit on who can come, but still you need to come – there is no other way than “to come”. Without faith is it not impossible to please God? Who will hear one day those dreaded words – “Depart from me, I do not know you”?

    • “He does not place a limit on who can come, but still you need to come ”

      Ah, but the only reason someone comes, can come, keeps coming, is because Love is unceasingly reaching out to meet that person where they are. Love(God) doesn’t wait for someone to come. Love(God) goes out and seeks, actively reaches out, consistently, enduring whatever obstacles come for Love(God) unconditionally continues to seek and reach each person, unconditionally continues to knock on the heart of each person waiting and hoping they will choose to reach back and be embraced.

      Only the Holy Spirit can open our hearts and minds to understand even in a minuscule way what Living Eternal Love is and how it acts. Only God Who is Love can enable someone to know this way of Love and live it.

      • That is very Lutheran. Love makes no demand. It’s only request is passive acceptance of its gifts. Since that’s how God loves us, that’s how we are to love our neighbor.

    • Death, the great boundary that God can’t or won’t cross?
      Where God goes suddenly from seeking, pursuing, knocking, to not caring how much you want to come in. It’s too late. You’ve crossed the boundary. Oh death, there is now thy sting.

      • David Cornwell says

        But– isn’t God’s love still present? Even on the other side of the boundary?

      • Cedric Klein says

        Scripture never says that & Peter in I Pet 3 & 4 at least hints that Christ did at least once cross that boundary with saving results.

        That said, I agree that God/Jesus’s Love ultimately & eventually recognizes no boundaries, but we are not God & do not have His Eternal capabilities & can not operate that way in Real Life on Earth. Or else the predators & parasites would totally exhaust us from perpetuating Love to those in real need.

        • “Oh contrare, mon ami'” Psalm 139:8If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
          You only get to either on the other side of life. Tack on a little 1John 4:8 and surmise again…

          • You need to distinguish between the resting place before judgment (sheol) and eternal hell. Christ comforts Christians in Sheol; think of the story Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.

  4. This is something I have been contemplating for quite some time…….and I could not agree more. In order to extend this kind of boundary-less love, we first need to know and experience it in our hearts in the way that Jesus did. By turning within and coming to know the Love of the Divine THAT WE ARE……then we can be not only a reflection, but a vessel of this love in the world in the way the Jesus was (and still is). We need to set aside our egos, lay down our resentments, and simply allow this love to flow through us into the world. And the test of this is when others “hurt” us. Here is where forgiveness comes in and as we know, forgiveness isn’t easy. Jesus was a wise man in saying, “Forgive seven times seventy times.” It sometimes takes that long to find the grace of true forgiveness.

  5. I remember a phrase from a sermon by my pastor from years ago. He may have quoted someone else, or maybe not.

    “Love is not a feeling…it’s a role you pick up and play.”

    Thanks, Jeff.

  6. The Wandering Fool says

    Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, I think there are cases when boundaries need to be set. In cases where a spouse is being beaten and abused, love is NOT staying there to take that abuse. When a child is misbehaving, then there are consequences of that misbehaviour. I don’t stop loving my child because I set boundaries for him, but there are behaviours I will not tolerate from him, for my sake, for his sake and for other people’s sake. It is the same with everyone else. Some behaviour is unacceptable, and love is not pretending that all behaviour is fine. It is standing firm and saying that there are boundaries, and I will not continue to tolerate behaviour that steps over that boundary.

    • I think it depends on what one’s definition of boundaries is; how they are using the term. The boundary Jeff is talking about is the fact that regardless of how your child acts, you still Love your child and will continue to be his/her father and provide for them and keep them safe and nurture and teach them. You continue to be there with arms outreached.

      Discipline, when done correctly, is a true form of love; it is not an act of setting a boundary on your love for your child. Can you actually say you are loving your child less when they behave wrongly? If you love your child less then your love is conditional and that condition is the boundary. If you love your child just the same your love is unconditional and has no boundaries.

      • Discipline can also be abusive. It can be manipulative, and it can be done in horriffic ways. I shrudder when I think of “discipline”. If that’s love…what I ask is hate?

        • That’s why I began by saying “when done correctly”. I know well first hand what abuse is and understand how just the word can bring up all kinds of thoughts and feelings. However, I’ve come to realize that loving instruction is true discipline, setting wholesome guidelines and rules in a loving kind and respectful manner is true discipline. Yelling, grabbing, beating, name calling leaving one without food etc., these are all forms of abusive behavior and not what Christ-like discipline. Bottom line it’s abuse and cruelty not loving instruction and formation of a person.

    • Those aren’t boundaries on your love. You wont’ stop loving your child if they cross your boundaries. Your love is why you give boundaries. Look at God in the Old Testament, he clearly loved the Israelites. Even though they rejected that love repeatedly.

      • It really boils down to ones use/definition of boundaries. If I construct a boundry on my property line between my neighbors house and mine that is a wall of separation through which the other cannot pass. Discipline, when done correctly( meaning not abusive) is an act of love not a boundary. You are still engaged with the other person, you have not cut off your attentiveness, you are still in their lives to provide and nurture; you have not turned your back on them, all of which are examples of what I see as a boundary – a dividing separating wall whether in concrete actual substance form or interpersonal, emotional, spiritual.

        We need to understand how each of us is using the word boundary to thus truly grasp what each person is saying.

  7. I’m not sure I’m understanding entirely, but I’m hearing here is a false polarization here: choose (1) to love without limits as Christ did, or (2) set boundaries that limit love. I see boundaries as an extension of love. Throughout scripture, I see both authentic love that is selflessly giving and clear boundaries (against sinful acts). It seems to be our own sinful nature that conflates the two: “I love you unconditionally…if…you respect this limit.” How about: “I love you unconditionally…and…please respect this limit.”

    As a counselor, I see boundaries as a way to give injured people permission to point out the consequences of sin and set an expectation that sin must stop. I’ll use extreme examples here, not to be dramatic or confrontational, but only to emphasize the point: “I love you unconditionally…and…your violent/sexually abusive/chemically dependent/etc. behavior is harming you and everyone you love. Please stop now! Although I continue to love you and maintain relationship with you, this sinful behavior must stop.” Notice, there is no mention of retaliation; there is no “or else…” Some counselors would say a boundary without consequences is no boundary at all, but that’s not my position. I may be misunderstanding your point, but, as I see it, boundaries as an extension of love is entirely consistent with scripture and God’s own character.

    Take this as a response from a counselor coming with open arms–and no pitchforks.

    • Apologies for responding to myself, but I did not study or pray this through before posting…

      Scripture _does_ provide for significant consequences (disfellowship) when sin is severe. I am wrong–there is an “or else…”

    • Dean, my first reaction was exactly what you said: there have to be some boundaries, there has to be discipline.

      But I think on reflection Jeff has it right. We can so easily slip into thinking love is conditional – ‘I’ll only love you as long as I can be proud of you’. I felt some of that as a child; that my parents’ love depended on me getting good marks at school, being a proper little girl (yes, they did compare me unfavourably to a neighbour’s child, with “Why can’t you be more like X?”) and so forth.

      The parents may not think that’s the message they’re sending but kids can pick it up. The important thing is to say – and not just say, but demonstrate – “I set these rules, but my love for you is a separate thing that is not affected by how well or how badly you keep them”.

      • “I set these rules, but my love for you is a separate thing…”
        I think we may be saying the same thing. And I certainly agree that the important thing is not saying but living that way, as hard as that is to do. Even in our response to severe sin (see my “or else…” above), we are to seek restoration. I would call that love and boundaries and more love. That sounds like the gospel: Love condemned and conquered sin through Love to restore those who never deserved Love so that we might live Love to bring glory to Love.

        • I think the two of you expressed my feeling….I have had to think about this post for a bit, because when I first read it, I was overwhelmed and confused.

          The difference really does seem to be in our definitions of words like “love” “boundary” and “unconditional”. Having had a wayward child (who has blossomed into a wonderful Christ-filled man) I know that I never stopped loving my son at his worst, but I sure as heck did not LIKE him or feel warm and fuzzy about him. I prayed for him, I wanted him to change, and was scared for his safety……and all of that results in his father and I clarifying what WE would and would not do, say, or support, which I call setting boundaries. In fact, we did what we did not ONLY for our own sanity, but because we loved him and felt he needed to see his OWN LIFE clearly in order to change. The love was without conditions, but we placed conditions on our behavior, location, and certainly on our financial support. As cliched as it is, we did it “for his own good.”

          I discovered years ago that I could love a person but not like the way they were living their life. The extent of the boundaries was directly related to my “place” in their lives. In other words, I think God called me as a mother to guide my semi-grown son, but correcting the behavior of an unrelated adult I share the world with may NOT be my job.

    • in my Divorce Care class, we do discuss the need to set boundaries…

      and in the case of my divorce, there is a definite ‘change’ to manner which ‘love’ is defined between myself & my ex-spouse…

      my boundary remains the same: no contact at all with her. that was my choice to maintain emotional health & get thru the process of post-divorce adjustments with the least confrontation or communication that would have only a negative impact on my recuperation…

      and since the element of love has been redefined, i would say the nth degree of unconditional love God expressed is in a divine category by itself. in other words, thank God He can, because we cannot…

      our love will always be with limits (boundaries) this side of the veil. i don’t feel any sense of inferiority because of that realization. that’s why God also expresses unlimited mercy & grace as well to those that recognize their brokenness & need. i do feel God is still at work in the transformation business & as i relax more with the personality he has made me to be, i find i am able to be more loving in ways i had not imagined before, let alone desire. this process of being a Christian/disciple is an amazing thing since i do know myself better than anyone else & i can state that yes, i am definitely the better version of myself now than i have ever been…

      thank you Jesus… 🙂

  8. I think there’s a difference between no boundaries = “Love a person as they are”- and a difference in “behavior”

    I see at the difference between living my abusive mother, and loving the abuse she infflicted on just about everyone who cared for her.

    Jesus loves the child abuser, but hates the pain and suffering of child abuse, loves the theif while hating the damage caused by the the their robbing the shopkeeper.

    • David Cornwell says

      Also try dealing with a person with Borderline Personality Disorder. You may be driven to madness yourself in the process.

      • David Cornwell says

        borderline = boundaries

      • One hundred percent yes on that. I have a (former) best friend who has Borderline Personality Disorder. For 11 years I loved him and tried to be a friend to him. He loved me as best he knew how. But the relationship ended up hurting both of us. I never felt like I could be honest with him about many things because I knew he would find a way of turning them back on me. I could rarely count on him to take my side on anything. Instead of a friend, I had a manipulative parent-type figure who tried to run my life as an excuse for not taking care of his own. And i know he felt frustrated with me because I was so inhibited and so tenative around him. It’s amazing it went on as long as it did. But I had (have) a Messiah complex: it was up to me to save him from himself. Instead of letting God handle him, I tried to be his Savior. And the harder I tried, the worse things got.

        Four years ago we ended our friendship. Over the past year we have reestablished limited contact. I love him today still. But I had to be realistic. My love was never going to be enough. God’s love would have to have priority in his life so he could have some measure of healing.

        • These types of mental illnesses can be hard to detect and can inflict so much pain on others. Yet, these people are ILL, every bit as much as if they had cancer or diabetes….

  9. Danielle79 says

    I guess I have to join in the chorus of persons who are going to bring an objection. I agree 100 percent that we should have no boundaries in our approach to categories of people, and should strive to love and forgive all individuals as much as possible.

    I am not sure why you imply that having boundaries *within* loving relationships is somehow unloving. Saying that in X area, I am going to make some necessary decisions of my own, is not really a “boundary” to “loving” the other person. It may be a boundary to attempts at abuse or control. In this case, establishing a boundary means loving someone while maintaining some necessary rights and respect. These are not matters of saying, “My love for you is conditional on this factor.” It is saying, “I understand that you want me to do X, and I love you deeply, but I am going to make this decision, because I too am a human being and this is what I need to do.”

    It should also be noted that there are certain relationships in which a person will demand continual forgiveness, constant attention to their emotional states or demands, and will blame every questionable action they commit on some shortcoming in the other person. (For example, failing to meet their demands.) Keep in mind that these will sometimes sound like humble requests, but they are actually controlling demands. If you deny the accommodation sought, the response of that “betrayal” will be some form of abuse. It is sometimes also the case that the person will, when feeling sorry (or trying simply to prevent the other person from leaving or establishing boundaries), say, “Listen, I just need you to love me. I need you to save me.” Sometimes the other person stays out of misplaced moral obligation to do just that, on the other person’s terms. Or because they get something out of playing that role. So…. I understand totally what you are saying, but in a very broken relationships this logic of “love” is frequently misused toward destructive ends.

    Keep in mind that I don’t mean that love itself has boundaries … only that a love for others can look very different in different circumstances. Sometimes, you tear down established boundaries. Sometimes, you have to erect them or people will simply stay on a course that is destructive to others and themselves.

    I hope that makes sense. I definitely agree with your overarching point!

    • Well, I’m not sure you get my overarching point. Perhaps that’s because I didn’t make it clearly. You say we need to set boundaries “because I too am a human being and this is what I need to do.” Yet this is exactly what Jesus did NOT do. Yes, he was fully human, and thus the pain he suffered was very real pain. But he put up no boundaries to protect himself against the most abusive abuse of all time. He laid down his life freely, with no boundaries. My point is this: I need to do the same with anyone to whom I say, “I love you.”

      Jesus did speak about changing one’s behavior, but not like we like to think he did. He said, “Stop being so stingy with your things. Give it all–even your last two pennies. There is always more where that came from.” Or, “Family values are not as important as you think they are. Don’t stick around to bury your father. Come follow me.” Or, “Those you think are worthless—children, in this instance—are extremely worthy in my Father’s eyes. Treat them as such.” (I think I just came up with an idea for my next post…)

      No, Danielle, I don’t see Jesus setting boundaries for those whom he loved. I do, and I want to not do that. I want to love freely as Jesus did and lay my life down without reservation for those I love. I can’t do that on my own initiative, and need the Holy Spirit to come and do that in me. (And yet another post …)

      • What about telling Peter, “get they behind me, Satan!” Sounds like something of a boundary being set with the goal of changing Peter’s behavior. Of course, Jesus’ love for Peter didn’t change because of the rebuke. It’s clear even after Peter’s denial of Him that Jesus loved Him.

        It is possible for us to be so guarded that we don’t ever let anyone hurt us, that’s true. I just don’t know if it’s possible to have any type of relationship with a person where you don’t have some kind of separation, otherwise we just become enablers for everyone around us.

        • The Previous Dan says

          +1

        • Being an enabler is not Loving the other person. Do you believe God enables people to continue in wrong choices. He allows them to choose to do so but He never stops reaching out to them and Loving them.

          We have to realize we will never be LOVE, we will never become LOVE, we will never LOVE as God Loves as GOD IS LOVE because we are not God.

        • And yet how many people think Christinaity is “behavior modification?” Fear can change people…and they do not need god to change behavior. There are plenty of other ways. Look at the Mormons, , hell I’ve known some athiests and agnositcs and people of other faiths who have changed behavior. The belief that you need Jesus to change is oversold.

      • No, Danielle, I don’t see Jesus setting boundaries for those whom he loved

        thought provoking post and thesis. The above seems to be a central point, along with the idea that ANY setting of boundaries is necessarily an afront to what real love is. I’m thinking on this one, I think those are very zero/sum type statements: perhaps there are times when the boundaries are themselves an expression of love, maybe love works thru boundaries sometimes (but not as often as we’d like to think).

        GregR

      • Jeff, I think you probably have a very different personality than the majority of people who are reacting against your “no boundaries” idea. What I hear you saying is that you look at your own life and see that you put up too many boundaries and too seldom take risks or make sacrifices in the name of love, so you feel called to tear down some of those boundaries in order to be more like Jesus. That sounds like a good call for you to follow.

        But many of the people who are trying to temper what you’ve said are people whose default action is to try to fix everything. I happen to be one of those people, so as I read what you’ve written it’s hard even to imagine myself in your shoes. Whenever someone needs help, I try to help them, often at a high cost to myself and those around me. Three times in my life I’ve invited homeless people to share my living space; every time it has resulted not only in damage to that space, but in really uncomfortable situations for the others I was living with. I’ve loaned out tens of thousands of dollars to friends who now seem unlikely to repay me any time soon. When street people try to scam me, I stop and talk to them and offer to get them food instead of giving them money – often I’ve ended up cursed at or even physically threatened as a result. I give away over 40% of my income every year, which has earned me a tax audit. I’ve used all my life savings and taken on debt to buy and renovate a house for forming an intentional community. And I’ve stayed in relationships that were unhealthy for both of us in a misguided attempt to help the other person. Some of these things are good and were God’s calling and have brought me a lot of joy; others were probably God’s calling but cost me a lot and left me exhausted; others were probably mistakes.

        To expect myself to always be able to keep giving and giving without setting _any_ boundaries is not reasonable. Even Jesus took time apart from the needy crowd – he didn’t try to heal every single person in all of Judea. And your “no boundaries” principle is deeply tainted by American individualism – yes, the church as a whole is the body of Christ, and yes, the church as a whole has the strength and the resources and the power of God to absorb any need it confronts, but to expect any one member of that body all alone to always be able to absorb those needs is crazy.

        • Aidan Clevinger says

          You have a point – this love is only capable in the community of the Church (as well as among family and close friends), where we can go to other people to be refreshed. I don’t think Jeff’s point is that it’s evil to ask or desire love in return, or to be hurt if we don’t get it. I think Jeff is saying that even in that place, even when we’re throbbing with pain because of unrequited love (in any form), our recourse can never be to throw up the shields and guard our hearts. We have to love anyway.

      • Cedric Klein says

        Sorry Jeff, when you put it that way, Ayn Rand (who sorely needed her husband, friends & followers to set some boundaries on her) in her criticism of Christiantiy looks realistic & credible. It enables the looters, predators & parasites & exacts the worst penalties on those who strive to be the most loving. Forget that. And if you say that in doing so, I say “Forget Christ” then we have totally different perspectives of what Christ expects of His faithful.

      • Wow, there are all sorts of interesting comments, including in this thread. Spice in the pot!

        Just to follow up on my prior comments: I agree with the article above, insofar as it is meant to say the following: Much of the time, we establish convenient and self-centered patterns and boundaries. These do not reflect Christ’s love. We should tear these boundaries down.

        What I do not understand is why the kind of boundaries that a counselor might bring up in a counseling session ought to be considered the kind of barriers that need to be disregarded. To pick an extreme example: One would not, I hope, tell a person to remain under the same roof as a person who is a physical threat to them, in order to express “love without boundaries.” And certainly not by pointing out the Christ accepted abuse unto death? (I’m being a little silly/disturbing here, but I think its necessary to notice that there’s some serious danger in not being clear on points like this.)

      • Jesus did ultimately let people kill Him, but what do you make of all the times He deliberately avoided this. Sounds like a boundary of sorts. At the very least it is a different type of behaviour that we see in the garden.

        He also resited the crowds attempt to fill their ‘need’ for a king.

        He would set limits on how much He gave and find quiet times alone.

        He certainly spend the first 30 years fo His life holding back from fufilling peoples’ ‘needs’.

        All of this sounds like boundaries to me.

        • I can spell, but only on days that my brain works.

          ‘than’ not ‘that’
          ‘resisted’ not ‘resited’
          ‘spent’ not ‘spend’

    • Danielle – I think you make some excellent points here. Our goal is not to limit love, but because we are finite beings with multiple responsibilities we may have to limit how we interact with others. For example if there are those “certain relationships in which a person will demand continual forgiveness, constant attention to their emotional states or demands” then in order to be loving and responsible to my kids and family(for example) there would have to be some limits placed.

  10. Scott Fisher says

    The people who will struggle with this post the most are those who have been abused, whether physically or verbally. While I agree with some of what is said in the post, I believe that in a discussion of boundaries we need to have clear definition of what “love” is and what a “boundary” is. There is alot of truth in this post in terms of the call to sacrificial and grace-giving love which is modeled after God’s own love for us in Christ. However, people who have been abused often don’t even have a clear sense of who they are as individuals and “love” has been a twisted form of manipulation from others. True biblical love involves a choice to reach out to others beyond oneself. A person with no defined emotional boundaries does not know where he ends and another begins. Despite the comments in the opening paragraph, I am not “angry” or interested in picking up a “pitchfork,” I just grieve at the tone in the post and the lack of definition and clarity.

    • You’ve expressed very well the thoughts churning in my mind as I read this post late last night (or very early this morning) before anyone had responded.

    • I can see how this post has struck a cord with the wounded, which is all of us by the way. Love without boundaries is a very appealing and that is why I need Jesus because He’s the only one who can give it. He was sent to bind up the broken hearted and set the captives free. He demonstrated God’s love for us in that while we were yet sinners He died for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves or for anyone we know, regardless of how much we might love them. Jeff said that he could not give his own son to die for someone he loved. But God did and only He could. If I didn’t know that Love, I couldn’t even begin to love someone else in a sacrificial way. He took away all the boundaries in order to make it possible to bring us into His Kingdom. We can’t be Jesus and we need to stop trying. We are HIS workmanship. When I finally truly believed that God loves me (and I still struggle with unbelief at times), that love began to spill out of me onto others. The boundaries I set to keep people out and from hurting me, begin to soften and bend as I live by faith and not by sight. As soon as I sense rejection or possible rejection, I draw up like a frightened turtle and only Jesus can draw me out of my shell again. He’s everything to me, He is the air I breathe and I can love Him with no boundaries…He is safe.

    • I think of some of the fundagelical expereinces I had in the past. I pulled away from the church and many Christians due to those experiences. I created boundaries in the following ways:

      1. I ditched some of the Christians or chruches that played up End Times theology, or blowing up 6 day literal creationsim.
      2. I ditched some Christians whose idea of “grace” was to spiritually beat the shit out of you and and hold your sisn against you, and threaten your future.
      3. I ditched and burned bridges with my Crusade accountability partner who lived a double life while I was creamed.
      4. I severed contacts with the Third Wave charasmatic individuals I knew…
      5. I ditched those who purchased the “prosperity gospel” happy thinking in everything that happens in life.

      Boundaries in the context of spiritual mainipulation and abuse are healthy. I would venture to suggest they keep me sane and have kept me away from people who have been highly manipulative in the first place.

      • Eagle said “Boundaries in the context of spiritual mainipulation and abuse are healthy”. I would agree with you on this because Jesus did tell us how to deal with this. Forgive our enemies, pray for them, but treat them as an unbeliever when they continue in sin toward you. Totally a biblical principle. I have had to severe a relationship like this recently and our church did as well. These two people were choking the life out of our church, and were extremely manipulative and divisive. But they claimed to “love” everyone while wielding their ax of “speaking the truth in love”. Jesus set boundaries. He knew the scriptures and maintained his position about who He was: God. Healthy boundaries are ones that do not allow us to be swayed from the truth but do allow us to love those who seek forgiveness and acceptance. If our boundaries are set according to the Spirit’s guidance and in accordance with the Word, I think were on track.

      • + 1

  11. Jeff, this is an amazingly beautiful post with incredible depth. A depth that I believe can only be truly be understood when someone has been totally immersed in the personal experience of their own broken humanity. Teresa of Avila always exhorted her sisters to “know yourself”. The spiritual journey to utter self knowledge is painful and hard. But emerging from one’s own reality truly disables one from not having a attitude of acceptance and open heartedness towards others regardless of their condition. One can experience a reality of love within them even for the worst of prisoners who have done the most heinous of crimes. It is a living reality of love within that cannot really be explained because it is not one’s own. It is not a feeling as we know the experience of feelings, but it can be felt as an aching passionate desire for the good and well-being of another person that will lead one to action. Everywhere from the action of prayer to physically meeting another’s needs, to being there for them to listen, to care, to embrace, to encourage, to guide, to instruct – the Spirit of Love Loves the other through our own broken vessel and inspires us. One has to be willing to let God give them even just a taste of the depth of His own Love – a Love that embraced and experienced the hatred. cruelty, rejection and physical torture of the very people He Loved. If we contemplate Jesus crucified, from the cross He tell us, ‘this is what Love does, it dies.”

  12. I would say that there are some boundaries that are necessary in life in order to merely function. For instance, it would be insane to insist on not locking one’s house door at night. It would be ridiculous to allow a 9-year old to drive a car. It would be stupid to allow one’s extended family to come along on one’s honeymoon. All of these examples are boundaries of some sort or another, which brings me to my point. There’s nothing inherently against love in the idea of “boundaries”, per se.

    Several years ago, our pastor gave my wife a Cloud and Townsend book on boundaries when her mother was being especially emotionally destructive and manipulative (she’s always been that way on some levels, but things were getting extreme in a period of several months, and it was becoming very difficult for my wife to handle). I can’t say that the book itself helped all that much (I found a lot of the stuff to be pretty obvious), but I don’t recall reading anything that stood out as hindering love, though there may have been.

    Boundaries are inevitable in life. While I agree with a lot of your points, Jeff, some of it seems too sweeping and could easily be turned into legalism:

    “You’re not letting your spouse beat you? Then you don’t really know what self-sacrificial love is?”
    “What, you don’t do everything your mother demands of you? I don’t care if you are married and have children, this is the woman who gave birth to you, and besides, Jesus said we need to go the second mile!”
    “What do you mean you don’t have time to do what the pastor asked of you? If you were really following Jesus, you would find time to help out those in need.”

    My concern is for those spiritually sensitive folks in abusive relationships who may take your words and allow their abusers to continue their destructive behavior.

    • Hi Josh,

      As one who knows first hand what severe abuse is I agree that steps need to be taken when there is such situations. At the same time I also believe Jeffs point remains valid and true. It clearly shows the far-reaching depth of God’s Love verses our ability to Love. We as human beings will never be able to love to the extent and reality God Loves. But pondering how God manifested Himself as Love and what He was willing to embrace and endure because of His Love can shed light on our own lives. It can help us discern if our acts of love are selfless or self-centered(done because it makes us feel good or gives us recognition/praise for ex.) If our love is not of ourselves, but we allow the Holy Spirit to Love through us we will find ourselves reacting to people and situations in such a way that we don’t recognize ourselves because we will not act as we in our humanity would act and respond. We will find ourselves being able to and willing to endure and embrace people and situations that we know we of ourselves would not choose to do and could not do even if we chose to. It helps us to see where we lack and be open to allow God to stretch our hearts and be willing to even suffer to help another. It can also shed light on when we choose our own comfort our wants our rights when there is a need( or person)
      that we have the ability to reach out to.

      If we are suffering because of God’s Love, God loving through us, our spirits, our inner selves, will not be crushed and destroyed by the situation. If we are being crushed and destroyed and find ourselves not being able to endure we may need to consider being involved in a situation as we are is not the will of God for us at that time.

  13. Interesting discussion.

    Might I add that this is not an either/or situation. It is not a black or white issue. One size does not fit all. At times, as Danielle pointed out, some ‘boundaries’ — for lack of another word — may be necessary. But in the purest example of how we should live — as demonstrated by Christ — Jeff’s points are sound and valid.

    I would caution, however, that the focal point is NOT love. The focus is Jesus. As the late pastor, Ron Dunn, said at a series of messages to a group of Campus Crusade for Christ staff in the early 1970s: (a loose quotation from memory…I wasn’t there…I heard the tapes.)

    “If you go to seed on doctrine, theology, the Great Commission, the Holy Spirit, love, or any other good thing, you will fall out of balance and your point of focus will become twisted from what it was meant to be. But if you go to seed on Christ, then all these things will be manifest as God intends them to be.”

    Never have I seen this to be proved more truly than during a year I spent in Afghanistan, working with Afghan Muslims. During that year, Christ taught me to “sit back and watch him work.” Ahhh, the stories I could tell you…but that’s another subject.

    Blessings,

    Michael

    • but Michael, God IS LOVE…. which means Jesus IS LOVE, the Father IS LOVE, the Holy Spirit IS LOVE. That is who they are in their essence. That can’t be separated from them because that IS them. A concept that is hard for our finite minds to comprehend because we are not love – we are persons and love is a reality out there that can become a quality of ourselves but we will never BE LOVE though we can do acts of love. The word Caritas, Agape,
      are better terms which are not really used and understood today. Our word love has been so widely used in various contexts that it doesn’t really bring us to capture what Scripture says with “God IS LOVE”

      • but Michael, God IS LOVE…. which means Jesus IS LOVE, the Father IS LOVE, the Holy Spirit IS LOVE. That is who they are in their essence. That can’t be separated from them because that IS them.

        THIS: Jesus IS love in the flesh. One thing I do appreciate about the post is that the direction of discerning what life and love are all about should start/end with Jesus. Cant’ argue with that.

  14. When I look at Jesus, I see that he did indeed welcome all people and never shrunk back from being present in the darkest and most painful places. But I also see that he was very intentional about finding time for prayer and solitude, and also balanced time serving the crowd with time alone with his friends. And even Jesus at times got so exhausted that all he wanted was for needy people to stop bothering him.

    So there has to be some balance in our own lives too, some recognition that we’re _not_ superhuman and that even if God’s love is infinite, our own physical energy is not. And we can’t be everything to everyone. Offering a space in your house to one homeless person, for example, is a lot different than offering a space to every single homeless person you meet. And sometimes even having one homeless guy sleeping in your living room is more disruption than your house can take (I’m dealing with that situation right now).

    I don’t know if “boundaries” is the right term for that, but part of trusting in God’s love is trusting that God’s love is working through more people than just me, as an individual: that when my own strength or resources are insufficient, or even just when I fail to trust God enough to act out God’s love, that God has other people and other means for helping.

  15. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    I’m reminded of the words of John 6:60b

    “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

  16. “armchair theologians”? As if they have no right to speak?? Shame on you Jeff.

  17. One thing that has come to me in reading responses is this: we need to keep before us that our limitations in Loving does not define what Love is. Our lack and inability to embrace and endure does not define LOVE. Our love and ways of loving do not define Love. We will never love others as God LOVES because we are not God. This however, again, does not define what Eternal Authentic LOVE Does nor what “it” is…. because it is not an “it” but a person – God Himself.

  18. I like an illustration that Brennan Manning used in one of his talks about God’s love being indiscriminate (based on Matthew 5:42-48) – without boundaries: “a tree will provide shade for anyone, even for the person who comes to cut it down.”

  19. Atheist Gladiator says

    I shall now respond to your vague rhetoric with a pointless quibble.

    • The Previous Dan says

      I know, I know. I should be smart like everyone else and not take the bait, but I can’t help myself.

      So, as an atheist you consider thoughtful discussions on how one human being ought to love other human beings as “vague rhetoric” and “pointless quibble.” That does not speak well of your personal thoughtfulness or belief system.

      • Atheist Gladiator says

        To say we should “love everybody without limits” definitely qualifies as vague, and possibly meaningless, rhetoric.

      • Atheist Gladiator says

        It is meant to sound good, without actually saying anything. As such it qualifies as “bullshit” (as described in the philosophical book, “On Bullshit”).

        • Thye Previous Dan says

          I would, of course, disagree. The original post may not go into great detail on all the practical applications of the topic, but if you will read through the responses, it is a very practical topic indeed. It applies to the way a person daily lives their life. You will find that many here are not only involved in showing love to family, friends, and co-workers but also involved in reaching out to prisoners, hungry/homeless, physically ill, mentally ill, etc.

          So when a person reaches out like this, how much of yourself should be given and at what cost to yourself and those closest to you? It is a very important question worthy of thought and discussion.

          • Dan……I, too, learned the hard way to ignore our “friend” and his/her comments. They are not seeking dialogue, just a forum for ugliness. I jumped in a few weeks ago and it just gave me heartburn!

            NEVER TRY TO TEACH A PIG TO SING. IT WASTES YOUR TIME AND ONLY ANNOYS THE PIG!

          • The Previous Dan says

            Pattie – Deep down I really do enjoy these sorts of discussions. Conversing with someone who has a view radically different from my own helps me to see through their eyes and maybe helps them to see through mine. Though, that depends on their willingness.

          • That’s the problem when s/he is NOT looking for theological back-and-forth, but just buzzes in to troll with off topic statements intended to mock others!

    • your hip & cool response puts my teenage cynicism to shame -_-

  20. It took longer to get through the responses and rebuttals than the premise but, WOW! Thank You for the courage to say the truth in Love. As God’s neat way of speaking through multiple folks at the same time would have it my post this morning was on His overwhelming Love. (No gratuitus link here, If you know me, you’ll find it)
    So many folks speak of being hurt and it is true that we hurt and we hurt each other. We also love because we are loverd. It is worth the risk of being hurt to love without boundaries. Jesus thought so (thinks so) and so do I.
    I love Him and I choose to love each one He died for. I love and forgive everyone who has every been unlovely to me. It is so much more appealing to live without any “watchin’ ya, gotcha” boundaries.
    John 3:30 – more of Him means less of me to put boundaries on His love.
    In His love He is Holy, Just and Lovely Revelation 20:15

    SMHG John

  21. Jeff, if you love us, you will permanently disable all moderation on this website, and add my offshore pharmeceutical corporation to your links.
    No boundaries!

  22. I’m with you about 90% of the way on this, Jeff. I know from long experience that following Jesus is in the main about breaking down boundaries and bariers, including the false social-economic-cultural ones that surround us. I agree that we should love without reservation. But there are some types of boundaries that are not only compatible with love, but required by it. These mostly involve sinful behavior. Such boundaries when raising children are one example. Another is when people are being destructively sinful and are harming others. Jesus, incarnate love, certainly set some boundaries with such people during his ministry; he didn’t take counsel with the bulk of the pharisees and saducees and such.

    I’ve had such experiences in my own family. There is a sibling that I love but who was engaging in sinful actions that were harmful to the whole family and especially my aging mother. Drawing some boundaries was necessary to protect someone who was not able to protect themselves; failure to do so would have allowed the sin and destruction to continue. One can love a person without condoning their behavior. I’ve also had some such experiences with Christian brothers and sisters I love. If there had been no sin, if all parties had demonstratied sacraficial love, we wouldn’t have had to set any boundaries. But this side of Heaven, we sometimes do.

    We need balance and and the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit to give us generous hearts and love always even as we muddle our way through this sinful world in which we do have to draw some boundaries.

    • Perhaps it would help to say that there should be no boundaries TO love, but there must be boundaries drawn by love. And when love requires drawing a boundary — in teaching my children right from wrong, for example — if I fail to draw the boundary, I’ve failed in love. None of this contradicts Jeff’s point.

      • David Cornwell says

        Well put.

        • Maybe I misread Jeff’s post. I’m 100% behind Damaris, here, esp. with the bit about failing to draw a boundary can be a failure to love. This is my “world” lately in dealing with geriatric issues. Forgive me if I’m harsh on this or prone to rants. I’ve seen where the “no boundaries” road tends to go…. and it smells like pet urine.

          GregR

          • I think we’re all falling into the same trap that Tolkien describes in Chapter 14 of “The Two Towers”:

            “‘I did not mean the danger that we all share,’ said Frodo. ‘I mean a danger to yourself alone. You swore a promise by what you call the Precious. Remember that! It will hold you to it; but it will seek a way to twist it to your own undoing. Already you are being twisted. You revealed yourself to me just now, foolishly. Give it back to Sméagol you said. Do not say that again! Do not let that thought grow in you! You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Sméagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care, Sméagol!’

            Sam looked at his master with approval, but also with surprise: there was a look in his face and a tone in his voice that he had not known before. It had always been a notion of his that the kindness of dear Mr. Frodo was of such a high degree that it must imply a fair measure of blindness. Of course, he also firmly held the incompatible belief that Mr. Frodo was the wisest person in the world (with the possible exception of Old Mr. Bilbo and of Gandalf). Gollum in his own way, and with much more excuse as his acquaintance was much briefer, may have made a similar mistake, confusing kindness and blindness.”

            Up to now, Sam has thought that Frodo’s mercy to Gollum is nothing more than soft-heartedness and ignorance; good ignorance, noble ignorance, but ignorance all the same: if he knew what Gollum was ‘really’ like, he wouldn’t be kind to him. This revelation of Frodo’s character is a revelation to him; that Frodo isn’t foolish or ignorant, but his mercy comes from suffering.

            So we (like Sam) are so anxious to set boundaries and not be taken advantage of, that we also confuse kindness with blindness. But that is not what Jeff is recommending 🙂

          • I think I’m spinning my wheels and thoughts, somewhat. I’m OK with suffering for love’s sake (at least in theory…) but not so OK with a boundary-less world that allows those who twist love to 1)hurt themselves 2)hurt others 3) and yes, sometimes hurt me. I will not WITHDRAW myself from these folks (and sometimes I am one of these “twisters” myself); but I will not use, I would say MISUSE the meaning of the crucifixion) to give the twisting of love a free pass and say “this is what Jesus meant by love….”.. Again, maybe I’m not understanding Jeff’s post and definitions of both “boundary” and “love”. Love is extended to ALL, but Love does not mean “anything goes, because Jesus suffered so much…..”

      • Maybe I’m just confused….but boundaries have helepd me in dealing with past fundagelicals, and have kept me on gaurd from encountering new ones.

      • I think Damaris is correct and would also add that not only must there be boundaries there must be distinctions.

        A lot of people try to love everyone in general while never loving anyone in particular. It is like living by the creedo of “How can I be faithful to one woman without being unfaithful to all the rest”.

        People who are given the charge of loving people by protecting them must often do things that are rather unloving to fufill that duty.

  23. But I’m sorry, I could not take my son, my only son, and throw him on a grenade to save you. I just could not do that. Yet that’s what God did for us. He threw Jesus on the cross to save our lives.

    But God the Father knew that His Son would be raised from the dead and sit at His right hand.

    What did it cost God for Jesus to die? Did Jesus’ death effect a change in the essence of the Godhead?

    And one could argue that Jesus’ cry of “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” from Psalm 22 evoked the entire Psalm, not just the despair of the first half, where the one who cries out to God is heard and delivered and saved.

    • Ooooooh, you’re delving into some deep complicated, cosmological theology there. No one can really understand the full implications of what happened on the cross. To simply say that Jesus’s resurrection in anyway negates or even mitigates the actual suffering, pain, and separation he endured on the cross doesn’t take into full consideration what actually transpired.

      People have this weird idea that dying and coming back to life is some easy and harmless process. Umm…unless you’ve been through it, I don’t think you can really understand what the whole process is like. You make the whole thing sound like some cheap, effortless gimmick.

  24. If it costs nothing for Jesus to die on the cross then how cheap was that effort? Is it Great Love which costs nothing?
    Yes Eric something did change in the eternal Godhead, Jesus eternally gave up His ethereal form for the corporal. John 4:24 “God is a spirit…” Luke 24:39 “… for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”

    SMHG John

    • But by definition, God’s essence is unchangeable.

      • His eternal essence is not what “we” think it is or was but rather what it is. Putting God in a box (again boundaries) limits us not Him. Explain the unexplainable, reach the unattainable, love the unloveable, be a man, the child of the Most High God.

        SMHG John

  25. Jeff,
    Richard Beck (http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com) has a superb series going, called “The Slavery of Death”. The whole series is awesome. I immediately thought of part 14, which is on the first page at the site; scroll all the way down. Yes, you are correct; Jesus’ love accepts everyone without reservation. And love is not the only dimension at work here. I think to some extent you’re positing a false either/or. There are some differences between us and Jesus, and I think the one Beck highlights in part 14 is really the most significant.

    I have more thoughts, but I’ll stop for now, as I don’t want to comment from inside that false dichotomy.

    Dana

  26. “If someone rolled a hand grenade into this office right now, I would have no hesitation to jump on it to save you. But I’m sorry, I could not take my son, my only son, and throw him on a grenade to save you. I just could not do that. Yet that’s what God did for us. He threw Jesus on the cross to save our lives. And that makes no sense to me. So if the greatest act of love ever shown does not make sense…”

    See Jeff, I don’t believe that scripture teaches that that’s what God the Father did. The Father and the Son were not at cross-purposes. Jesus on the Cross was displaying the Father’s love, not suffering the Father’s punishment. You’re right; God doesn’t change and his love for us is constant. The Fall didn’t change that; our so-called offenses against God and his holiness don’t change that. That was one of the big things with which I was grappling when I was in the Evangelical Wilderness, because you’re right; *it doesn’t make sense*. The only hermeneutic I could find in Western Christianity was precisely that Father vs Son thing.

    But there is a Christian hermeneutic that does not pit the Father against the Son, where God is not required to punish because of something in his nature (which, if taken separately in that manner, becomes something “above” God, as it were, “forcing” God, so that God becomes *lesser* than and “beholden to” that aspect of his nature). It is found in Eastern Orthodoxy, and that’s one of the big reasons I’m there.

    Dana

    • And one problem I had with Eastern Orthodoxy was its problem with the wrath of God passages in the New Testament (and they are not few). It turned it into the burning fire of His love (e.g., the popular essay “The River of Fire”) and other things that I felt misinterpreted or misrepresented the Scriptures.

      • Well, that’s one way that we see things differently, Eric. Again, hermeneutic.

        A blessed Christmas to you & yours.

        Dana

        • I think both East and West are perhaps unbalanced on this issue such that neither is as right as they think or claim they are on why Christ died and what that means and what consequently happened.

          Perhaps each side has too much invested in the way they’ve historically addressed the issue to be able to radically reform or reformulate things so as to incorporate what the other side has that would be a proper balance.

          Perhaps the issue is unresolvable.

          • Perhaps so.

            For me it comes down to what kind of god God is, and how far his love does actually extend. I’m at the far end of the Orthodox spectrum wrt eventual universal restoration, too. Maybe I’m wrong about that; until the fullness of the age to come, and we all find out what all this really is, I’ll stand in the shadows of Isaac of Nineveh, Gregory of Nyssa, the Aeropagite and Maximus the Confessor.

            May the Lord help us all to love.

            Dana

      • Cedric Klein says

        It’s funny because the Eastern Orthodox ‘River of Fire’ teaching (which btw does not seem to be a doctrine held by all EO’s) keeps me from denying the possibility of Eternal Conscious Hell. Without it, I’d be an Annihilationist or a Universal Restorationist.

    • Hmmm…interesting. How would the Eastern Orthodox tradition then understand Leviticus and its emphasis on atonement and sin offerings? Also, how would the tradition interpret Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, Isaac? Just wondering, as I never really understood the Eastern Orthodox’s position on the cross.

  27. If there is a legitimate, God-approved boundary to love, I would have to say that boundary is truth.
    I believe that if I steal my neighbor’s lawn furniture, my loving Father will forgive me if I confess my sin with a repentant heart. And even if I don’t confess or repent, He’s still going to keep on loving me. However, His love for me does not extend to a willingness to withdraw “Thou shall not steal” as His commandment or to impart forgiveness of my sin in cases where I’m not in the least bit sorry that I did it and have no intention of repenting.
    Jesus could have told the rich young ruler, “That’s okay. You don’t have to go sell all you own before you can come follow me” — and I’m sure that young man would have been relieved to hear it. But the “truth” was that the rich young ruler loved his money and possessions more than He loved God, and he would have been following Christ under false pretenses.
    Jesus was willing to suffer and die for our sins — but it would have been much easier for Him simply to void the category of sin altogether. And, truth be told, this fallen world would have been much more at ease with the option of a loving and infinitely tolerant God, rather than a loving yet uncompromising God.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that while we have a God who holds nothing back in His love for us, His love cannot be held hostage to a lie or used to to get Him to compromise the truth of who He is.
    Or maybe it would be better to say that His love is like a river that always follows the course of His truth.
    And while we are also called to hold nothing back in our love for each other, we should be careful to express that love in ways that are in line with the truth. After all, it is very possible to do something that is ultimately harmful to another person with extremely loving motives and intentions. That’s one of the reasons we need both scripture and the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our daily lives.

  28. Aidan Clevinger says

    I needed this a lot, Jeff. Thank you. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung, and possibly be broken…The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” – C.S. Lewis

    • Love the Lewis quote!

      I just really think reading all through this that we just don’t have the vocabulary to express the Love of God or how to channel it thorugh us earthern vessels…

  29. Jeff wrote:

    These are all very legitimate reasons to lay down boundaries in any love relationship. Yet I don’t see this being the reaction God desires of his children. We are to trust him completely. We are to freely allow others to help themselves to the treasure in our hearts, treasure that has no end. We are not to try to hold love in one place. And we must be prepared to be hurt by love.

    Well, then they aren’t really very legitamate reasons, then if GOD”s not OK with them. I think we have some big false dichotomies at work here. One of them is that if I set up or enforce boundaries, then I am not trusting GOD. Another one that pops up in the post a few times is that somehow sacrificial/Christ like love = setting no boundaries. We might be using laguage in different ways, maybe what is a “boundary” to you is not a “boundary” to me, but I would say, in general BALONEY.

    OK, true confession: I’ve been abused in maybe about a million ways. OK, statement of the obvious: so have you. This need not poison your observation or interpretation of what is true and what really represents Jesus. Enough of the name calling and labelling.

    Christ going to the cross and suffering the unimagineable need not mean that everyone gets what the are asking for or demanding, even by subtle or not so subtle manipulation. The cross shows us WHO love is, but it will be the Spirit of the living GOD, the same Spirit that Jesus sent us to show us exactly HOW to live that love out. It will most always be painful and always sacrificial, but that need not mean that everybody gets what they want or THINK they need when they deal with us. We will be asking “what is LOVE in this situation…..?” And sometimes LOVE means saying in no uncertain terms: “HECK NO”.

    I’m currently dealing with relatives who do not respect others and live by a “me first” mantra, while convincing themselves that THEY are the anointed, altruistic ones. Yes they need my love AND some very durable, understandable, discipline (limits). And a hug and some hot (free) food. And much, much more.

    Jeff, your post is , to me, mostly an ill attempt at counterpoint to Dr. Cloud’s over-scripted description of the Christian life. We don’t need more “Boundary” books, IMO, but this post isn’t the answer either.

    Pax
    GregR

    • Amen to your reply, Greg. I think my biggest gripe about today’s post is that it is doing violence to the concept of “boundary” at best–to make using the word unintelligible–or at worst, Jeff’s position sounds like legalism (i.e., if you were really following Jesus, you would let yourself be abused by all of those around you). And yes, Jesus clearly set boundaries (notice that not all the apostles were invited to the Transfiguration, nor even into the house where he raised the girl from the dead, nor even into the Gethsemane). Does that mean that his love was limited? Of course not. By becoming a man he set a boundary. I think that is the biggest example of a boundary set to accomplish something in love; Jesus became a finite human being and was only able to touch so many souls at once, but in doing so, he was also able to lay his life down for all of us–something he would never have been able to do in his boundless divine nature. Paradoxical, isn’t it?

      • While I agree with the spirit and general thrust of Jeff’s post, I agree with you, Josh, that he maybe should have better defined what he means by “boundaries” and the variety of ways God’s love can be shown in different situations.
        I believe there’s a real difference between a person who lays down their life in love to care for a sick or disabled spouse or relative and someone who lets a shamelessly mooching friend or relative wreck their finances and the well-being of their family.
        Living in the love of Christ doesn’t mean you have to let somebody crash on your couch and eat your groceries forever. Once that extra mile has been walked, sometimes the most loving thing we can do for a person is to show them the door and sever their dependency on your generosity.
        Sometimes you have to play the loving yet firm parent, even with adult friends and relatives, and realize that giving them everything that they ask for whenever they ask for it will ultimately do them more harm than good.
        This can be especially true in cases of people with chemical addictions. Your kindness just might kill them.
        Like I said in an earlier response to this post, we should strive to be boundless in our love for others, but when it comes to how we show that love, we need to be uncompromising when it comes to the truth and careful to seek some wisdom from above before we decide on a course of action.
        With all that said (and in defense of Jeff), I would dare say that most of us (myself definitely included) more often fail to show love like we should — and then look for rational (even biblical) arguments to justify our failure.

        • Well said, HS, and sometimes that “biblical” picture of love is a Thomas Kincaid painting, cute but not at all useful, honest, or workable. It would be interesting to know the context and background of Jeff’s post, what lead up to it, and what fueled it. It’s also quite possible to use many textbook approaches to boundaries and love to actually avoid the ;messy business of real personal involvment. Life and love are beautifully, horribly messy.

          Maybe his post reminds us of that.
          GregR

  30. Jeff,

    I am wondering if setting boundaries might also be intrinsically tied to forgiveness, or actually our ability (or non-ability) to forgive. To the extent we let our hurts linger in our lives, these can fester to the extent we don’t forgive. We then put up barriers, which we can also label boundaries, then we limit our ability to love like Christ. Some of his last words were “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” And I don’t seem to recall any boundaries on the cross.

    Perhaps this is worthy of another wonderful post. Thank you for expanding my heart today.

  31. Pardon me if I misconstrue.

    The comparison to Jesus doesn’t really hold water. Jesus was on a mission. He didn’t stay anywhere very long, not really long enough to form relationships with all the people he encountered. He gave them a word – sometimes a hard word – and moved on. There was no need to erect boundaries with people he would never see again. And we really don’t know enough of his day to day interactions with his family or disciples. Too much conjecture here.

    We are not Jesus. Try living with an alcoholic spouse and all the insanity and danger that accompanies it. Or a raging father who threatens to sell you (as a child) in exchange for two boys. How ’bout a sibling who is critical of absolutely everything about you? Boundaries are necessary for mental stability.

    Sorry for the rant, but this type of teaching is what kept me with the alcoholic far longer than I should have been.

    • I believe leaving an alcoholic or abusive person is not only loving children that are involved as well as yourself , it can also be an act and expression of loving the other person. Staying can sometimes be a way of enabling the continuation of the behavior. Leaving can often be a wake up call for the offending party. Praying for this person, not condemning them, not initiating gossip about how horrible they are, being open to forgive are all ways of continuing to love such a person.

  32. I come from the perspective of one who has both experienced situations that I believe do call for the setting of real boundaries (to cease reinforcing evil behavior) and who has felt the sting of “boundaries” used to avoid love. I think the guiding light has to be Love – the person and the attitude. We have to be prepared to sacrifice for others … not only prepared, but expecting to. We don’t like that, and we can construct amazingly spiritual reasons for avoiding it. But there’s a difference between sacrificing *for* and sacrificing *to.* I think that people who are abused or otherwise subjected to harm due to the unrepentant bad behavior of others need to know that it isn’t only permissible for them to take a stand, IT’S GOOD THAT THEY DO SO. But I fully agree with Jeff – a love that’s more concerned with its own security and comfort than the real well-being of the other isn’t really love at all. There’s a real need to expose the pretty, even well-meaning counterfeit and let the real thing shine among those claiming the name of Love himself

  33. Are we, in many of these posts, equating love with acceptance and condoning behavior? Are we saying that if you do not accept my version of morality and my values then you do not, cannot love me?
    When I am responding to this proposition I am defining love as the fulfillment of the innate desire for your greatest good in spite of the cost to me, short of making me not me. The behavior may be despised while the exhibitor of the behavior is loved.
    If I die in the course of that process, and if it has achieved your greater good (BIG if) then I have loved you as Jesus has.
    I love you but for your greatest good I am not willing to expose others I love to your voracious selfish appetites for sin and selfishness. That is not a boundary that is the measure of who I am as a father and protector, as a loved one and as a friend. Unbridled capitulation is not love otherwise God would have moved over when Lucifer desired His throne. To allow you to consume yourself in self destructive behavior without attempting to influence your path either physically, verbally or prayerfully does not seem to be a choice of love but rather of selfishness and self love.

    Jesus allowed for His physical human life to include the pain and suffering to achieve the glory of redemption without boundaries. All according to the scripture, all in love. Yet He never changed from being God.

    SMHG John

  34. Randy Thompson says

    It seems to me that the only one who can love without boundaries is God. This comes easily to Him because He’s infinite.

    As for non-infinite me, the only way I can love without boundaries is by staying within God’s boundaries. For me to love you well, I need to spend some time away, focused on loving God, or, better, being loved by God.

    Consider these words of Jesus to his disciples: “Come with my by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31, and maybe 3:7-13 too).

    Then, consider a really wonderful irony: Jesus and his disciples head off to a quiet place, and are followed there by 5000 people! Jesus saw the need for boundaries, if you will, but the needs of people came first. In other words, when the crowds showed up, it was a ministry time, not a retreat.

    Serving trumps retreating, but don’t dump the retreat!

  35. The problem here Jeff is that you have pitted boundaries against love and made them antithetical, so you’re implying that “boundaries = lack of love”. Since you haven’t explained (an annoying habit of yours if I might add) what kind of boundaries you’re talking about, one can only deduce that boundaries and love don’t mix in your view.

    Nothing could be further from the truth and off the bat you’re in a head-on collision with Hebrews.

    Remember this?

    “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
    6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

    7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. (Heb 12:5-8)

    So here’s my question then. Does discipline introduce boundaries? YES would say those with a PhD in rocket science! So if boundaries in discipline are an expression of God’s unconditional love, why do you oppose them?

    Furthermore, the Hebrew passage exalts discipline as a legitimate mark of sonship, the absence of which makes you a b…d (love the old King Jimmy there).

    If we are to overlay that concept in our earthly relationships, we would say that a parent who raises a rebellious and self-destructing child, should not set any limits and boundaries on them because that would be unloving. What nonsense! Love would motivate you to place boundaries for their own good! Or a wife that loves her husband who has become abusive, is unloving toward him if she demands that he stops the abuse before she agrees to take him back. Good luck with that one.

    Also Jeff, your portrayal of Jesus is one sided. The SAME Jesus who didn’t place limits on “whores, thieves, tax collectors, lepers, the blind and lame”, also said of the pseudo prophetess Jezebel that he would “cast her on a bed of suffering, and make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways” and that he would ”strike her children dead.” Spine chilling and eerie I know, but it came out of the lips of the same Jesus!

    Having said all that, something tells me that this is NOT what you had in mind when you wrote the post, but your point is more on when you love you should love unconditionally. That’s fine, but explain yourself. See, distinctions matter Jeff. If intellectualism is what you’re trying to avoid in your posts, oversimplification is not the answer.

    And finally… I thought it was a very cheap shot to caricature those who disagree with you as “armchair theologians”. If we throw the Bible in the mix of the discussion on a Christian forum, are we being “armchair theologians”? Should your posts hold up to biblical scrutiny or doesn’t that matter?

    And what’s with the “firebrands and pitchforks”? Why frame your post in an adversarial tenor from the outset when you invite comments? Is anyone who disagrees with you a KKK fan and “of the devil”?

    (John from down under)

    • Gee John, don’t feel it necessary to hold back. Why don’t you tell me what you really think of me?

      By the way, the tone of this essay was very similar to many Michael Spencer wrote. Oh yeah—he got hammered in the comments as well.

      But I’m glad you are reading and thinking and speaking your mind. You are always welcome here.

  36. Buks van Ellewee says

    Still have not heard anyone explaining love in the context of Jesus saying to some that do “come” to Him in the last days ” Depart from me, I don’t know you”. Maybe we should remember that perfect love without perfect justice would be meaningless.

  37. Having read through all the responses of this post one thing I believe is making if hard to understand what each person is saying is what is meant by the term boundary as well as what love is each person really referring to: filio/brotherly love or Love – Agape. Our english use of the word has collected over the years may different connotations and variations in meaning. The Italians have a word amore which is our word love. However, they also have another way of speaking about love; volere bene – to want what’s best /good for another person.

    Wanting what’s best for someone(Love) does not equal – giving into their every want. It does not equal – not confronting someone about bad behavior. Wanting what’s best for someone is not – allowing them to never experience the consequences of wrong choices they made – it is not keeping someone from ever taking responsibility for their actions. Yet, at the same time, keeping someone from experiencing the full consequences of their choices can be an act of love for that person. God alone knows what is truly going on within another person. The Holy Spirit will enlighten us to what is the most loving response to any given person within the particular moment of interacting with them. The more we desire God to Love others through us the more attentive and open we will be to the stirrings of His Spirit within us.

  38. I do think the essay and many of the comments would benefit from defining the terms. For example, the opening salvos in the essay make a rather impressive jump from “boundaries in marriage and interpersonal relationships” (what counselors are interested in discussing) to Jesus erasing social boundaries (inviting all to come to him)… and back again to the counselor’s office.

  39. I think John makes some valid points, many of which have been made by others in various forms, but the tone sounds adversarial. Maybe the last sentence of the post put him in the mood for fistacuffs. Each point, isolated from tone and emotion, is worthy of discussion. I say this in the interest of robust discourse.

    • Sorry ChrisS I just read your comment again and I realized I misunderstood you. You were referring to the last sentence of Jeff’s post but I thought you were talking about my last sentence.

      Mea culpa!

      Apologies and blessings.

      John

  40. ChrisS – if the author of the post is calling those with opposing views “armchair theologians” and asks them to get ready for their “firebrands and pitchforks” (without having even heard what they have to say), who sets the mood for adversarial discussion?

    My whole point with the last sentence was to highlight that even though Jeff wouldn’t call us KKK fans and “of the devil”, his labeling and caricaturing implies just that. Demeaning others who may not share your point of view is no way to have a fair discussion. So let’s not cry wolf here!

    And for the record, Jeff, I disagree with what you SAID. I have no reason to begrudge you as a person. Why would I? I don’t even know you and chances are with me living on the other side of the earth, we’ll never meet. So the question “why don’t you tell me what you really think of me?” is irrelevant. It’s not about YOU but about what YOU SAID.

    John

  41. Hey John,
    Just glanced at this one again and saw your quotes together. You got me right on the second go-round. God bless!

  42. I’m late to this post and website…but here now and just want to say, “thanks.” I love on some marginalized friends (who are greater in God’s eyes than the world’s) and I cannot fathom how LOVE is conditional. It is not easy, NO. I feel like I fail much…but for any tiny bit of change in my heart and change in my actions and attitudes…God gets the glory. Love God. Love Others. Follow Jesus–that’s my “motto” since finding the real Jesus of the bible after a rocky marital crisis and religious rejection. We may never get back good feelings or good will for loving those who need love (all of those who need love), on this earth, but greater reward awaits. True disciples love like no others and they can because of who they are becoming…more like Christ. Peace out.