Boundaries: A Sense of Security

What appears too rigid and restrictive and in reality brings life.

by Carl F. Phillips

People in the business of manufacturing, selling, and installing burglar bars, deadbolts, and burglar alarms never wonder where the next job is coming from. They wonder instead how they are going to manage to accommodate all the customers beating down their doors.

Obviously, personal security is important to our sense of well-being. I remember how an old Navy chief greeted a busload of new arrivals at boot camp in San Diego in 1951. “Men,” he said, “that fence around this place was not put there to keep you in. It was installed to keep people out who don’t belong here.”

At the time we all thought, Yeah, right. But it wasn’t long before we realized the chief was telling us the truth. As we discovered the joys of communal living, we soon appreciated leaving our things in the barracks and coming back to find them exactly where we had left them.

Obviously, physical security is important.

Deeper security

But security goes beyond our material possessions and our physical bodies. This deeper security is equally important to us because it establishes boundaries in our lives.

Just as that fence around that Naval base kept unauthorized civilians on the outside, so it established a point beyond which we could not venture without proper clearance. If we went beyond that boundary without permission, we were AWOL — Absent Without Leave. We felt a sense of security in knowing exactly what our limits were.

Breaking boundaries

People with no knowledge of boundaries frequently stray so far afield, they find themselves in trouble. When that happens, society’s response is to place them in an institution with walls, bars, fences, and armed guards to teach them to observe boundaries — boundaries of time, of space, of personal respect, and of consideration for other people.

If we have been taught the boundaries of our society, we already know when we’ve overstepped them, don’t we? We don’t really need anyone else to point a finger at us and tell us we’ve done wrong. Society’s response to our wrongdoing will be to further restrict us, to try to teach us to live within a smaller space, to punish us, yes; but at the same time, to help us learn to get along in a smaller personal space.

God’s law

God does the same things with us on a spiritual plane. He gave us certain laws of conduct, and these laws are as immutable as the law of gravity. Ignore them and the consequences are similar to ignoring the law of gravity.

Break God’s law, and a fall is not a “maybe” thing; it’s a dead certainty. For example, God’s law prohibited sexual relations between certain individuals, as well as some practices and relationships. Sex between men and certain women were prohibited, as was homosexuality. Our laws today prohibit basically the same relationships, except we have tightened some of them a little and loosened others somewhat.


In Leviticus 18:24-30 the Israelites were told that those occupying the land of Canaan were being expelled because they defiled the land with their sexual practices. The Israelites were warned that they, too, would be “vomited” out if they fell into the same abominable customs.

Canaan, you see, was the crossroads of the world; all travel and trade went through this little country. God wanted people in the land who would set an example for the rest of the world so the world might know that Yahweh, God of Israel, was the one true living God and that all other gods were false.

It behooves us to pay attention to the boundaries God established for His people back then, to perhaps gain insight into what He expects from us today.

Showing love

All God’s law, of which the Ten Commandments is but a summary, was established in love. Remember that Jesus said all the law and all the prophets could be distilled into the two love commandments: Love God and love your neighbor.

Because we love our children, we establish boundaries for them beyond which they cannot venture with impunity. Because God loves us, He does the same for us. God knew our hearts, and He knew that without the law we would kill and rape and steal and pillage. Even with the law in place, we do those things, rebelling against the God who loves us.

We are ambiguous about boundaries. When we get hemmed in, we feel claustrophobic, confined. But when we are free, we are frightened, unsure of where we stand with our neighbors, always testing the boundaries to see how far we can go.

Establishing boundaries

In my neighborhood a mockingbird gets up early every morning and makes the rounds of the territory he has claimed for himself. He sings his heart out, telling all and sundry other mockingbirds that they may come to this point and no closer. He spends an inordinate amount of his time marking the boundaries of where he lives.

Like that mockingbird, we, too, must spend a lot of time establishing and announcing the boundaries of our lives unless we observe the boundaries God has already given us.

We can write our government officials and tell them we would like the right to display the Ten Commandments — the foundation of our national law, the boundaries of our spiritual life — in the halls of our public schools and other government buildings. Then we’ll be truly free.