Healthy Boundaries

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Today’s Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3

As Christians, being told to “stay away” from someone can feel like a direct violation against how we’re called to live. We’re called to love everyone, to forgive everything, and to turn the other cheek when dealing with difficult people—how can we justify staying away from someone? And yet, in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, Paul gives this command: “Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us.”

How can we defend avoiding someone, especially a fellow believer? Jesus himself said he came for those who are sick, didn’t he?

Well, in essence, yes—but maybe not exactly.

Mark 2:17
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

All sick people need a doctor. However, a doctor can’t help someone who, like the Pharisees, refuses to see him or insists they’re not sick.

Of course, the people Paul is referring to in today’s reading seem to have acknowledged that they are sinners and have found salvation—after all, they are called believers. Still, even as believers, sometimes we don’t notice when we are straying.

As lead pastor Ben Snyder addressed last weekend, people who resist feedback, adjust the truth, and generally divert any blame away from themselves often fall into the category of mockers, scoffers, and fools. They’re not evil or wicked, but they’re not wise either.

Personally, I think Paul was dealing with some fools here.

For some context, these people had already been warned about their behavior in a previous letter from Paul.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 (emphasis added)
Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

That sounds a little more like loving everyone, doesn’t it? In these words, there’s an echo of our current theme verse, Ephesians 4:2, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”

However, when the foolish won’t listen to warnings, what can we do? Well, we’re certainly not going to stop loving them. We won’t stop caring about them. But if we care about them, we can’t turn a blind eye to destructive behavior. Instead, we have to place limits. As Paul said, “Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 emphasis added).

It’s a hard thing to define—that line between loving and setting boundaries. Here are a couple thoughts to help guide you:

  1. It’s not love to let someone settle for less than what God wants for them.
  2. While we are called to sacrifice for the sake of other believers, we are not called to risk our character or personal integrity.

Which category do most of your friends fall into: the wise, the mockers, or the wicked? Which category do you fit into? Do you have any friends who are both foolish and believers?

Next Steps:
Do not immediately cut off any friends who are mockers. However, do consider some boundaries you can set if you recognize these friends are draining you or having a negative influence on your spiritual journey. If you’ve set boundaries and talked to these friends about some of the negative patterns you’ve seen in their lives, and they still haven’t changed, consider setting up stricter boundaries.

Heavenly Father, I know I can be foolish, maybe even wicked—thank you for loving me anyway. Help me to love others the way you first loved me, but also to recognize my limits and weaknesses. Teach me to see when people are willing to change and when they’re not—help me to keep my arms and heart open for when they are ready. Above all else, may your will be done. Amen.

This post was written by Payton Lechner. Payton is currently the apprentice copywriter at CedarCreek. In her spare time, she freelances as a writer and editor. Besides the English language, Payton loves swimming, cats, and a good cup of tea.

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1 reply
  1. Julie
    Julie says:

    Thank you Peyton for your clarification, and encouragement. I think that I am wise, but sometimes lean toward foolish. I want above all else for my life as a Christian to honor God and move others to do the same.

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