Boundaries, Self-Control, and the Desire for Revenge

Matthew 5:38–42: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and
tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If
anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat
as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who
wants to borrow from you.”

Many of us have known people who, after years of being passive and
compliant, suddenly stop acting like a victim. This reactive phase
of boundary creation is a first step to get a person out of the
powerless, victimized place in which they may have been forced by
physical or sexual abuse, or by emotional blackmail or manipulation.
We are happy that they are no longer victims. But when is enough
reacting enough?

Reaction phases are not the same as maturity; they are necessary but
not sufficient for the establishment of boundaries. Even though in
finding our boundaries, we might find ourselves reacting. Eventually,
we establish connections as respectful equals. This is the beginning
of establishing proactive, instead of reactive, boundaries.

In Matthew 5:38–39, Jesus compared reactive persons to those who are
freely and proactively setting their own boundaries. Through his
teaching, we see that power is not something we demand or deserve;
it is something we express. How does withholding a counterstrike after
we’ve been harmed show our power? The ultimate expression of power is
love. Proactive people are able to love their neighbors as themselves
(see Mark 12:31) and respect others (see 1 Peter 2:17). They are able
to die to self (see 1 Peter 2:24) and not repay evil for evil
(see Romans 12:17). They have gotten past the reactive stance of
the law — “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” — and are able to
love rather than react.

When we truly have the power of self-control, another person’s evil
does not mean that we “have to” get revenge. We are free to do
something more redemptive and more constructive. In that way, we have
power to turn bad situations into good ones and not be dragged down
into the mire of bad behavior.

This devotional is drawn from Beyond Boundaries, by Dr. John Townsend.