Healthy Relationships - Welcome to the community of the Trinity, Chapter 8
“Good fences make good relationships.” Ephesians 5:15-20, “Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Do you have a fence on your property? Joni and I walk around our neighborhood often and we see lots of different fences. Stone walls, plastic privacy fences, wood plank fences, wood post fences, and chain link fences. Some are quite attractive and secure, while others are in various states of disrepair and definitely needing some tlc! Joni and I have a plastic privacy fence blocking the view into our courtyard. We’re not real crazy about nosy neighbors.
So, why do we put up fences? Some are decorative, but there are two basic reasons for erecting a fence: 1) for privacy (we don’t want others to have an unobstructed view into our property), and 2) for protection (there some people we don’t want having access to our property). Robert Frost in his poem “Mending Wall” quoted his father as saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Fences can be a good thing!
As we continue to focus on how to develop healthy and satisfying relationships, in this chapter we are going to zero in on the importance of boundaries. Just as good fences may improve relationships between neighbors, wise boundaries (fences) can enable us to build healthier and more satisfying relationships. In Ephesians 5:15-20 Paul shared the rationale for 4 wise boundaries to erect around our lives and relationships. So, let’s see how we can build them into our friendships, homes, and churches.
The first boundary is a procrastination fence. Paul wrote that followers of Jesus are to live wisely. Specifically, that we must make ‘the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.’ Time passes faster than we would imagine, so we need to seize opportunities to live wisely while we can. That is, don’t procrastinate when a request is made of you by someone who needs/desires your assistance. Do it immediately. Respond to the request as soon as you are able. Or you may forget to follow through. And that will disappoint someone close to you and/or lessen their trust that they can depend on you to do what you say/what they need! Intimate, comfortable, and safe relationships are greatly aided by fencing out procrastination.
The second boundary we need is a personal agenda fence. In verse 17 Paul challenged us to focus on God’s will. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus taught his followers to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” In our lives and relationships, we are to seek God’s will first. First before what? Before our own personal agenda. Self-interest vies with devotion to God for control of our lives. Selfishness (what - ‘I want’) is problematic in our relationship with God and in our relationships with each other. If you sense that I am more interested in getting my way instead of helping you, you will be suspicious of what I say or do. If I conclude that you are just trying to use me to get what you want, then I will be disappointed by our relationship. Selfishness sours our relationships, so it is wise for us fence it out!
The third wise boundary to erect for better relational health is a detrimental influence fence. Paul wrote that Christ-followers should avoid getting drunk on wine, but rather be filled with the Spirit of God. He didn’t write that Christians can’t drink any wine. He condemned drunkenness. Obviously, stoned people are not going to relate to others or to God in a healthy way. But the real issue here is the substance/influence controlling one’s life. If the Holy Spirit of God (who produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control – Galatians 5:22, 23) fills (controls) you, then that will make your choices/relationships decidedly healthier and more satisfying. But if we allow detrimental influences to fill (control) our lives everything and everyone is going to be affected in a negative/destructive way. How many marriages, families, churches, and communities have been devastated by individuals struggling with alcoholism, pornography, gambling, and materialism? Wise Christians build fences to keep such destructive influences out of their lives and are blessed with healthier relationships because of their discipline. And when those fences are bolstered by an effort to be filled up with the Spirit/the things of God (the Bible, prayer, worship, service, and fellowship) our relationships/ lives thrive.
The final wise boundary Paul commended in this passage is an ungrateful attitude fence. He wrote in verse 20 of the value of ‘always giving thanks to God in everything.’ An attitude of ingratitude is a relationship killer! We all remember Charles Darwin as the father of evolutionary thought. But someone claimed that he was, also, an overly critical man. The story is told of Darwin and his wife going to a restaurant for dinner. He complained about the entire experience. There was a draft at their table. His water was warm. The soup was cold. The service was slow. The meat was overcooked. The vegetables were mushy. The waiter was unfriendly. The meal was overpriced. As they left, the owner apologized to his wife, “I could tell Mr. Darwin was disappointed in his evening.” His wife countered, “Oh no, Charles was delighted. He found something wrong with everything!” Sadly, most us know someone like that.
An ungrateful, critical spirit is toxic to relationships. People tire of constant complaining. No one likes to be criticized excessively (even constructive criticism). If you want to see your relationships improve over night, regularly give thanks to God, and show gratitude to those who put up with you. One of my favorite verses of Scripture is Philippians 2:14. It reads, “Do everything without complaining or grumbling.” Put that Biblical admonition into practice and you’ll be amazed at how much more satisfying and healthier your relationships become! Wise Christians fence ingratitude out of their lives.
When Joni and I walk around our neighborhood we can’t help but notice some ratty looking and porous fences. They need to be fixed, replaced, or fortified. They are of no practical use. I don’t know if Robert Frost’s dad was totally right….that ‘good fences make good neighbors.’ But I do know the Apostle Paul had it right when he suggested that good fences/boundaries lead to healthier and more satisfying relationships. So, with God’s help, let’s start building those fences today!