Tough Love & Boundary Setting

Protecting Yourself and Others From Those Who Would Hurt You

In addition to the radical love ethic toward enemies (the FIRST WORDS), there are two more exceedingly important pieces of guidance. This guidance is also in the Bible. Because they are closely related, I’ll describe them together.

You can and must (1) practice tough love and (2) draw boundaries against enemies as part of tough love. When enemies are hurting people you love, and even yourself, you do not need to endure it. You may endure it in the redemptive ways Jesus teaches in Luke 6:27-37, but when threatened, you can also respond with tough love that defends those being harmed. You can also draw protective boundaries to prevent the abusive person from harming others.

Jesus displayed tough love against the Pharisees (see Matthew 23:13-39 for his stern words against them). When the enemies of Jesus tried to trap him with theological arguments, Jesus turned the tables on them. Jesus overturned the money changers at the Temple.

The Apostle Paul spoke strongly against false teachers and apostles who were ruining the genuine faith of the gospel. These people were also smearing Paul’s name and credibility. He responded vigorously against their attacks. Paul also drew boundaries when he asserted his rights as a Roman citizen in Acts 16:37-40, and similarly when he protected himself from official flogging in Acts 22:22-29.

Abusers are often skilled manipulators. Abusers not only hurt others, they make them feel guilty about it! They trick the abused so they stay in abusive situations. They twist the words of the Bible to legitimize their abuse. They manipulate the situation to get control over those who are being abused. It becomes a terrible cycle of pain. You can and should take strong and immediate steps to get out of an abusive situation. So what can you do?

FIRST: You can and should use legal, financial, and other official means to protect yourself and others. That is why laws, police, and court systems exist. They are for your protection. They do not work perfectly, but they do work, and you should use these God-provided resources as needed. Protection from abuse (PFA) orders can be used.

SECOND: As you use these legitimate and often necessary systems of law, order, and protection, you want to guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23). You don’t want to protect yourself physically, but end up damaging your heart with vengeance, anger, bitterness, and vengeance. The biblical warnings about how deadly these forces are to your soul are clear (see Romans 12:9-21).

Without forgiveness on your part, your enemy retains power to harm you. You fixate on them, you ruminate over them, you rehearse evil thoughts against then, you nurture a grudging vengeance . . . and all this hurts you emotionally and spiritually. Even if they cannot harm you physically, they continue to control your emotions. You still have no peace because of them. You will find true freedom (and emotional protection) as you are able to forgive them, even if you must do so from a safe distance.

I have had to draw boundaries and keep a distance from some who became oppositional, attacking, angry, and even vindictive against me. But I had to do that with a spirit of love and grace. I have had to choose not to retaliate (Romans 12:17). When I nursed anger, mused on pain, and entertained getting even, I only hurt myself.


Over the years, as I have learned to more fully follow the way of Christ, I find my anxiousness about enemies fades, emotionally and spiritually I flourish, and relationships that were painful become bearable and neutral.

Rarely have I experienced an enemy becoming a real friend, but I have seen them cease to be enemies when I followed the way of Christ. Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes that you are blessed and you flourish when you are a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9-12). Or, at least when you do everything you can to be at peace with those who are not at peace with you (Romans 12:18).  Remember, you don’t win when you become an enemy to your enemy. No one wins except Satan when that happens.

The Counseling Center and ministry of Living Word is able to help you if you are in situations that are dangerous and relationships that are abusive.

Together in all this with you,
Pastor Brian


Brian Rice

What I love most about my job:

Having the ability to empower and resource leaders to bear much fruit that lasts. Being a part of a team of friends and missional servants committed to changing the world.
Brian Rice

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