When I was a little boy, my grandfather would take me on long walks through the woods surrounding his home. We would climb up steep ridges and through underbrush. Whenever we went walking, he would tell me, “Watch your step.” Why? He didn’t want me to miss one moment of the joy on this journey.
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV)
Paul is calling us to watch our step in our life and relationships. With careful exactness, we rescue every moment for the good in God’s purposes (“redeeming the time”), and we avoid the bad (“the days are evil”). This is what boundaries in life and relationships are all about. We receive the good and keep out the bad.
1. Let in the good and keep out the bad.
God made us to need relationships (Genesis 2:18), but not every relationship is one that we need. God, therefore, establishes boundaries for our life and relationships. He establishes a boundary for us letting in the good, which is His love (Ephesians 5:2). As we let in His love, God also establishes a boundary to keep out the bad, which Paul identifies in verse 3.
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:3–4, ESV)
“All impurity” (akatharsia) is everything that is outside God’s will. Before we can have health in our relationships with others, we need to acknowledge any and all “impurity” that we have in our lives. When the Spirit pinpoints impurity in us, we need to be immediate in our repentance. Through repentance we set up a boundary, declaring that we won’t walk that way again. In the same way, if we have a relationship that leads us into “impurity,” then we need to set up a boundary, refusing to share our journey with that relationship (Ephesians 5:7).
“Covetousness” (pleonixia) is, in essence, being greedy for oneself. It means we chase what we want regardless how it hurts or harms another. If we are supremely selfish, then we need to confess it as sin and repent. If we’re in a relationship with one who is supremely selfish, then we need to set up a boundary, telling the selfish person that we will limit our relationship with them as long as they are greedy for themselves.
Another boundary that God establishes is “filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting.” In essence, this amounts to making demeaning comments about others. If we demean or disrespect others, then we need to set a boundary with repentance of our sin. If we are on the receiving end (or in company with people who demean others), then we need to set a boundary and limit our relationship with those individuals.
2. Ask the right questions when setting the boundaries in relationships.
We are children of light because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. But we need to ask the questions to see if the fruit of our lives reflects the right boundaries set by God toward healthy relationships.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10, NKJV)
“Is it good?” Because we are followers of Jesus, we live to bring benefit and blessing through extravagant generosity to others. We set up a boundary for ourselves and in our relationships. If it doesn’t bless others or invite God’s blessing, then we don’t let it into our lives.
“Is it righteous?” Because we are followers of Jesus, our lives and relationships should align with God’s commands. We set up a boundary for ourselves and in our relationships. If it doesn’t align with God’s commands, then we don’t let it into our lives.
“Is it true?” Because we are followers of Jesus, our lives and relationships should be true to Christ’s character in us? We set up a boundary for ourselves and in our relationships. If it doesn’t fit in the character of who we are in Jesus, then we don’t let it into our lives.
“Does it please God?” We must first and foremost discern what God wants. We must give our heart, mind, emotions, and actions to do what honors Him. Through discovering what is acceptable to Him, we walk in the light. If our relationship, or any part of it, isn’t pleasing to God, then we need to set up a boundary.
The key to setting the boundaries in our lives and relationships is to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-18). To be filled with the Spirit means that we are completely consumed and controlled by the Spirit. The Spirit illuminates the Word of God and the way of God for our lives. The Spirit determines our direction, showing us the truth and the lie in our lives and our relationships.
So stop, take a breath, and pray:
God, by Your Spirit, give me the wisdom and courage to submit to the boundaries that You set in my life and my relationships.