And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me - everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
- Philippians 4:8-9
Boundaries. We’ve all heard of them, and at some point we’ve had them put in place for us by people who hold authority in our lives, whether we asked for them or not. Because of that, I think boundaries have become an idea with some negative connotation. So often we approach them as rules that tell us what we can’t do, that keep us from doing what we want, that restrict some sort of freedom. But is that really true?
In Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath, she cites a study by a sociologist who found that children placed on a playground “with no railing or fence” chose to stay closer together and avoid venturing out onto much of the playground, but when those children were introduced to a fenced-in playground, they eagerly explored its entirety. What this suggests is that boundaries - instead of being oppressors that prevent us from better things - can be beneficial, providing protective parameters that allow us freedom to safely and fully enjoy the gifts we receive.
One area I hear boundaries mentioned more than any other, especially in conversations with other Christians, is in dating relationships. Men and women alike ask questions such as:
How much time should we spend together?
How much of our stories should we share with each other?
How deep should our conversations be?
How committed should we be to one another?
And, of course, the infamous How far is “too far”?
The thing is, for each of these, there is not necessarily one “right” answer that will be 100% true in every couple’s case. People have different redemption stories, may be more sensitive to different temptations, and grow through different stages of spiritual and emotional maturity.
While the Bible may not provide us with a chapter titled “How to date before marriage,” it is clear about what God expects from people who bear His name and are Christ’s ambassadors. Rather than wondering what is off limits or how much of what you are allowed to do, I want to challenge you to consider this: if you are a Christian dating a Christian, your job is to help each other be more faithful ambassadors for Christ.
One passage of scripture comes to mind that provides a solid set of guardrails for us as we do this individually, in community, and yes, sometimes in pairs: Philippians 4:8-9. Above, you’ll see that Paul is urging the Christians in Philippi to fix their thoughts on, think about, and keep putting into practice the good, holy things of God they’ve been taught. These are your boundaries. These are your guidelines. They are meant to show you the best way to flourish as a believer, to delight more deeply in God, and to enjoy His good gift of relationships (and potentially later, the precious gift of marriage) more fully than you could hope for on your own.
When considering those questions we mentioned earlier, I encourage you to look at them in light of this passage. When you spend time with your significant other, are both of you fixed on what is true, honorable, right, and pure? Are your conversations excellent or worthy of praise? Are you putting into practice the holy things of God? And overall, are you seeking to know and love Jesus more and to help them do the same?
If the answer isn’t yes to one or more of these, evaluate why. Agree together to remove thoughts or practices that make the answers no. There you’ll find the balance of what thoughts and practices are going to be most beneficial or ultimately detrimental to your bodies, souls, and minds as you build one another up in Christ.
1. If you’ve found yourself questioning the extent of physical or emotional boundaries in relationships, do you think it comes from a place of wanting the most out of your relationship for God or for yourself?
2. If you’re in a relationship, how can you and your significant other apply this passage to one area where you may have questions or be struggling?
3. Have there been times when you’re pretty sure you and/or your significant other may have dropped the ball on the guardrails mentioned in Philippians 4? If so, know that there is grace for you in Jesus. And if so, how can you commit now to honoring Him with your relationship?
God, thank You for giving me freedom to be who You call me to be through Christ. Thank You for giving me Your Word so I can know what is good, true, honorable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Please forgive me for when I’ve viewed Your call on my life as a fence meant to keep me from better things; help me to remember that in You there is fullness of joy and abundant life - there are no better things and You are worth sacrificing the things I’m tempted to view as more. Help me to seek to please You in my relationships, and help me to embrace and extend Your grace when I or others fail. Amen.