Biblical Concept of Boundaries

Written by: Megan Ryan
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As an educator of young people, I talk about the concept of boundaries often with my students. I like to give an analogy in the form of a question. I ask:

If today, when driving home, all traffic laws suddenly no longer existed, how many of you would feel the same way about driving as you felt on the way to school today?

Almost without exception, every single student says they would not feel the same. Most report that they would feel “super afraid” or “overwhelmingly anxious” about being on the road, and some report that they simply wouldn’t drive at all.

This is because any rational person (including my high school students!) understands that removing these boundaries is not to their benefit. Healthy, proper boundaries on the road don’t hold us back—they actually enable us to freely to get from point A to point B without an overwhelming sense of anxiety.

In light of the modern emphasis on mental health, some have come to understand that healthy boundaries are not something to be escaped or rejected, but to be valued, shared, and upheld—and this understanding is also applicable to the concept of boundaries found in Scripture.

Which brings us to an important point: When it comes to the kind of boundaries God encourages, they are always rooted in protection, goodness, and human flourishing—never restriction or repression.

Let’s take a look at some passages in the Bible that give us insight into the types of boundaries that God desires for us and at how we can experience greater freedom, joy, and peace through them.

Boundaries on Time and Energy

As Christians, it can be easy to overextend ourselves, especially when it comes to service and ministry. The desire to serve others is good, but as human beings, we have limited resources. As we seek to follow Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, we would do well to take some cues from how he lived and ministered: Jesus had boundaries on his time and energy, and encouraged his disciples to do the same!

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they went away in the boat by themselves to a remote place…

Mark 6:30–32 CSB

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After he said good-bye to them, he went away to the mountain to pray.

Mark 6:45–46 CSB

Despite how many people could have used Jesus’ miraculous healing, spiritual guidance, and personal comfort, Jesus took time away to pray and be with the Father—to “recharge,” in a sense, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

How much more should we set appropriate boundaries on our time and energy, making sure that we are allowing ourselves margins in our lives to do likewise?

Boundaries in Friendships

Whether or not we are consciously aware of it, our friends influence us. The more time we spend with a person, the more we become like them—in language, speech, and conduct. This is why Scripture makes it clear that we need to be intentional and discerning about the kinds of people we choose as friends.

Don’t make friends with an angry person,
and don’t be a companion of a hot-tempered one,
or you will learn his ways
and entangle yourself in a snare.

Proverbs 22:24–25 CSB

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

1 Corinthians 15:33 CSB

The Bible encourages us to be loving to everyone, but to be selective about those who we are most vulnerable with and connected to. Unhealthy relationships can be harmful to our own flourishing. In them, we are liable to allow our own boundaries to be crossed and more likely to shift our speech, conduct, and values in a negative direction.

But true friends will respect our boundaries and convictions—and often share many of them!

Boundaries on Personal Liberties

It is an amazing thing to know that as followers of Jesus, we are under the law of grace, no longer bound by the law of the Old Testament. We also take comfort in the fact that our ability to “follow the rules” does not make God love us any more or less. We are free to make decisions based on our values, love for God, and love for others. However, this does not mean anything goes when following Jesus and committing our lives to him. At times, placing boundaries on our personal freedoms and lifestyle will create greater freedom for ourselves and others.

For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.

Galatians 5:13 CSB

“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. No one is to seek his own good, but the good of the other person.

1 Corinthians 10:23–24 CSB

A key mark of those who follow Jesus is that they are willing to do what Christ did for us: lay down their rights for the benefit of others. Paradoxically, this will also promote their own flourishing. Because of this, we’d do well to keep in mind how our choices may affect others.

Honoring the Boundaries of Others

One of the most important aspects of boundaries as taught in Scripture is honoring those of others. The primary call of a Christian is to love, which includes respecting the personal space, time, energy, and convictions of others. This respect is a crucial way we can love our neighbors as ourselves.

Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house;
otherwise, he’ll get sick of you and hate you.

Proverbs 25:17 CSB

“‘The one who moves his neighbor’s boundary marker is cursed.’”

Deuteronomy 27:17 CSB

Instead of being presumptuous, demanding, selfish, or excessive, we should care enough about others to ask what their boundaries are and strive to keep them. This way we can better love and serve them. We should demonstrate humility, compassion, interest, and deference; and, when someone shares a personal boundary with us, we should respect it!

As we seek a healthy relationship with boundaries, let us continue to seek the discernment, wisdom, and guidance of Jesus, knowing that he has “come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10 CSB).