If I put my hand on a hot stove, then I feel the pain of that action. That’s just common sense. The same principle applies to other areas of our life. It is the biblical principle of “sowing and reaping.”
1. The law of sowing and reaping.
Whatever a person sows, he’s going to reap (Psalm 126:5; Prov 22:8; Gal 6:7-8). This is a biblical principle of cause (what we sow) and effect (we will reap). For example, imagine that one of your friends is a constant gambler. Day after day, week after week, and year after year, they gamble and get into financial trouble. They have sown irresponsible behavior, and they reap the financial pain.
This law of sowing and reaping is important for healthy relationships. When we understand the pain associated with specific actions, we are less likely to repeat the action. But, if we intervene to take away the negative consequence of bad behavior, then we create an unhealthy environment for our relationships.
For example, if a child doesn’t study or do homework at school, he or she gets a bad grade. That’s also common sense; unless the child somehow believes that his or her parent should intervene with the child’s teacher and “get” a good grade. Some parents feel that it’s their responsibility to take away the consequence of irresponsible actions of their children. The problem is that we set our child up for continued bad behavior. Because they haven’t felt the pain, they continue to put their hand on the hot stove.
2. A biblical example of establishing boundaries.
Boundaries show us where we end and someone else begins in our relationships. God marks the boundaries to show us what is our responsibility and the things aren’t. We see Paul addressing these issues of ownership when he writes to the believers in Thessalonica.
“But we urge you, brothers, to do this [love one another] more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,” (1 Thessalonians 4:10b–11, ESV)
There were people in the church in Thessalonica who were sowing irresponsible behavior. They weren’t working to make a living of any sort. Sitting around idle, they would use spiritual platitudes and phrases to excuse their laziness. The consequence of their behavior was financial devastation. They were touching a hot stove.
But, instead of the irresponsible people experiencing the consequences of what they had sown, they depended on others to bail them out. The principle of “sowing and reaping” didn’t change, but the one who sowed irresponsibly didn’t experience the painful consequence of their behavior. Someone else stepped into the situation and took the financial burden for them.
So, Paul calls us to reorient our way of relating to one another. In love, we should set up boundaries (live quietly, mind your own business, work with your own hands), so that those who sow irresponsible conduct reap the fruit of hardship. Instead of owning the consequences of their bad behavior, we love them enough to let them feel the pain of their irresponsibility. We don’t own the consequences for them. If they touch the hot stove, then they feel the pain so that they don’t touch the hot stove again.
“Establishing boundaries helps codependent people stop interrupting the Law of Sowing and Reaping in their loved one’s life. Boundaries force the person who is doing the sowing to also do the reaping.” (Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries, p. 85)
In our relationships, we should set up these types of boundaries, so that whoever puts his hand on a hot stove would feel the pain of that action. When people behave irresponsibly, then they should reap the consequences, so that the pain of the consequence would help them see the problem with bad behavior. Sometimes we’re like the people in Thessalonica: we take ownership of the consequences for those who have sown the consequences.
Boundaries tell us to stop interfering, to mind our own business and work with our own hands. Boundaries help us understand that we do not own the consequences of another’s actions. Boundaries make sure that the person who behaves irresponsibly experiences the consequences of their behavior. Boundaries force the person who is doing the sowing to experience the reaping.
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.”