If there’s one thing I’ve learned after being a wife and mother for a certain period of time, it’s that I don’t know that much about what it means to love. It seems simple enough when you first think of it….but am I the only one who feels like loving well can actually get really complicated in certain situations???

I mean, if you had to describe what love was, how would you explain it? Many couples have a reading of I Corinthians 13 at their wedding – I did! But I can’t tell you I had any real idea of what it meant at that time. Or how to apply it! It states that, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”.

That’s a lofty list!

There are other clues in the Bible about what love is, but perhaps the most direct is when Jesus himself said in John 15:13 that “there is no GREATER love than to lay down your life for another”. So if we wanted to add to the I Corinthians list, we would also add sacrifice, suffering, and humility. Then what about when Jesus tells is in Matthew 5 that we are to “Turn the other cheek, give to those who ask to borrow from us, and to literally go the extra mile with anyone who asks”?

YIKES! This list is getting long. Is it just me or does that begin to paint a very difficult picture…one that looks like the calling on us is to essentially roll over and be a doormat at any time to anyone??? Can I say that out loud??

But what about “boundaries”? That’s a big buzz word today – in Christian AND secular circles. The idea of boundaries seems to be as difficult to understand as love! IF I asked you to describe boundaries, what would you say? Some would say it’s like an invisible fence that we put around ourselves so we can determine who we let into our space and when. Another definition claims boundaries help to protect us, so we can “avoid being a victim”. Boundaries seek to establish healthy detachment from people who could otherwise harm us.

But this isn’t always easy to reconcile with those lists we just read above. Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend are Christian authors of a book appropriately called, “Boundaries”. On the back cover of the book, they write:

“Often, Christians focus so much on being loving and unselfish that they forget their own limits and limitations. When confronted with their lack of boundaries, they ask: Can I set limits and still be a loving person? What are legitimate boundaries? What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries? How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy or money? Aren’t boundaries selfish? Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?”

I would have to agree with the doctors here that the idea of boundaries can initially seem to fly in the face of what Jesus described to us as love. I personally read their book and really struggled to grasp this concept at first. How on earth do we love sacrificially and yet “protect ourselves” at the same time???

I think we will all face a moment in our lives where knowing the right way to love could be of infinite importance. I encountered a situation recently where loving well seemed absolutely crucial. I felt overwhelmed with what love was supposed to look like in this particular area. I just kept asking God to show me. I begged him to empower me to love the way He would love. And I couldn’t stop thinking about that verse: “Greater love has no man than this than to LAY DOWN HIS LIFE”. It just kept repeating over and over in my mind. If we want to be like Jesus, then we are called to sacrifice. We are called to lay it all down for the sake of another person. It’s undeniable. So where does this idea of boundaries come in? How do we lay it all down without being a doormat or enabling bad behavior??

Then God reminded me of a very interesting verse in the Bible. When I read it, it was like a light bulb went off. Jesus says in John 10:17-18. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

I have read that verse so many times, but it stunned me when I saw it this time around. Jesus himself was a picture perfect example of good boundary-setting here! Why did he feel the need to make it clear that no one was TAKING His life from Him??? I think there are many reasons…but I believe one might be because he himself defined love as LAYING your life down, not simply allowing it to be TAKEN.

Jesus wasn’t tolerating bad behavior. He wasn’t just allowing people to walk all over him. He had spent his life being VERY clear with the religious leaders on what he thought of them! He did not mince his words, he expressed what he believed, and he upheld truth – over and over.  He wasn’t a victim – He was the King of the Universe for cyring out loud! God had given him full authority to lay his life down of “his own accord”. And Jesus was completely aware of this authority. He was aware of his choice, AND he made sure everyone else was aware too…

But then he does some remarkable…He CHOOSES to lay down and die for those very people who hated him. What a display of STRENGTH and LOVE! Isn’t it just beautiful?!?!

Jesus didn’t make the decision to sacrifice out of any other motivation than love. He didn’t do it out of weakness, neediness, guilt, or desperation! Those are often the true reasons we end up as doormats to people. We can NOT love someone because we feel guilty. We can not love someone because we have been manipulated into it. Or because we’re trying to obey some list. Or because of our own weakness or neediness. Jesus was so whole and complete in God’s love for him, he didn’t need anything from anyone else. It was a choice!

We learn something else from this scripture as well. Jesus had a choice because God gave Jesus a choice. God gave Jesus his freedom. True love is all about freedom.We need to get our acts together and access the freedom and self control God intends for us to have! :) It is only when we gain control of ourselves that we can make the CHOICE to love. That’s what boundaries serve to uphold. In other words,

We don’t set boundaries out of fear for the sake of self-protection, we set boundaries out of love for the sake of FREEDOM.

Boundaries can serve as a means to get ourselves separate enough from others that we are complete in God alone. We are then free from the guilt, manipulation, or harm of others. But then with that freedom, we can truly CHOOSE to lay down our lives for others when God asks us to. I believe that love is still the ultimate, end goal. It will look different in different situations…we might be called to lay our lives down physically one day – or it might be emotionally. But the call to love in some way is always there – with the same POWER and STRENGTH that Jesus had.

So how do we do this? It might seem tough to love so sacrificially, but we have a Helper. We have His Holy Spirit to empower us to love in incredible ways!!! Thank goodness!  As 2 Timothy says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (fear), but a spirit of power, of love and of self-control!”  God’s perfect love casts out all fear and empowers us to love boldy. When we abide in His love, we will have the ability to love others in a way in which the world will take notice. We will love like we have nothing to lose, because we won’t!

And ironically, I think it will end up looking a lot like that list in I Corinthians :)


(Linking up to Faith-Filled Friday on www.beholdinghimbecomingmissional.com!!!)



5 Responses to “No Greater Love…”

  • This is incredible Nicole!!!

  • Amy:

    Nicole, this article you wrote is potent with revelation and understanding. Cloud and Townsend should read YOUR article. I think you’ve gotten to the HEART of the matter in a way that I’ve never seen, heard or learned before. AMAZING…keep writing, dear.

  • Jamie Mathews:

    I love this! The part about boundaries and doing things because we want to as Jesus did, not because we feel guilty or manipulated really stood out. Awesome job. I’m glad you’re writing again!

  • Motherhood Confessions:

    Thanks girl!!!! I’m glad you liked it!! :)

  • Annie:

    Again, I have read some wise words here about love. It’s a great reminder of God’s truth and how we are supposed to love. Definitely wise words to live by. Thank you again!

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