To the Word

Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

My Photo
Location: Mud Creek, Tennessee, United States

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A Biblical Foundation for Setting Limits

As Christians, we are called to bear one another's burdens (Gal 6.2) and to share our worldly goods with the saints (Acts 2:44, 4:32). Most of us would do well to strive to live these examples more fully. Still, it is good to remember that limits are an important part of Christian relationships.

By setting limits in a relationship, a person is basically saying, “I will help you in certain ways, but I will not take on the responsibility of living your life for you.” Setting limits is simply a way of acknowledging that each human being is responsible for living his or her own life. At the same time, limits allow us to help others while showing proper respect for both others and ourselves. Limits in interpersonal relationships help both the helper and the one needing help
  • Limits keep the helper from becoming too wrapped up in the problems of the one needing help to the point that the helper’s life suffers.
  • By refusing to take responsibility for another person’s life, limits encourage the person needing help to take responsibility for his or her own life.
You won’t find the term “setting limits” in the Bible. The idea, however, is consistent with a biblical view of helping one another. The New Testament is full of instructions for Christians to love and serve one another. We are called to instruct one another (Rom. 15:14), encourage one another (1 Th. 4:18), and serve one another (Gal. 5:13). In his book, Prepare Your Church for the Future, Carl F. George identifies at least 59 of these “one-another” passages in the New Testament.

In Galatians 6:2, for example, the Apostle Paul exhorts the Galatian Christians to "Practice carrying one another's burdens. In this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Yet three verses later, Paul tells them that "everyone must carry his own load." In this short passage, Paul is showing us both sides of the coin of helping one another. On the one hand, the church is not supposed to be a collection of independent individuals, each going about his own business. No, we are to help one another grow in the faith. That is why we must help each other with our burdens. At the same time, there are some burdens we must carry ourselves, which is what Paul reminds the Galatians in verse 5. He made this point even more clear to the Thessalonians when he told them, "If anyone doesn't want to work, he shouldn't eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). In other words, there are limits to what we should do for others and what we need to do for ourselves.

For the most part, God leaves it up to Christians to decide where those limits are in each particular life and each particular situation. Jesus was, in a way, talking about limits when he urged each person to take the beam out of his own eye before trying to take the splinter out of his brother's (Lk. 6:41). Helping our brother doesn't mean being a busybody. Ultimately, each one of us is responsible to God for living our lives in godly discipleship. Still, God has sent us here to, within limits, help one another in that life of discipleship.

Some Christians have a heart for helping others, but they help to the point of neglecting their own needs, especially their emotional needs. They seem to have forgotten the words of Jesus, who told us to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:37). You notice Jesus didn't say, "Love your neighbor better than yourself." Jesus assumed that we would love ourselves and take care of ourselves. Jesus set the example by taking time himself to rest and refresh his soul (Mk. 4:38; Jn 4:6). Jesus also promised rest to those who are heavy laden (Mt. 11:28). In Mark 6 Jesus had compassion on both his disciples (whom he urged to rest) and the multitude (whom he fed).

At the same time, Jesus showed us that there are no limits in serving God. He told us that if we want to keep our lives, we must lose them in serving God (Mt. 10:39, 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24, 17:33; Jn 12:25). Jesus set the example by giving his own life in obedience to God to be our salvation.

Copyright 2004, New York Avenue Church of Christ


Blogger moluv said...

I like your sermons. I've given up on going to Church. Bad church environments can be worse than a physical illness, and I tend to get too emotional in good ones. Reading words like this on the web is a nice balance. Please keep going. :-)

11:54 AM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for your kind words. Sorry to hear your experiences with attending churches have been bad. Oakland is a long way from Oak Ridge, but you're still welcome at New York Avenue if you're ever in East Tennessee.

9:51 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home