Laban caught word that Jacob, along with his wives and children and servants and livestock, had left Haran and was headed for Canaan. Laban went in pursuit (a la Pharaoh after the Israelites leaving Egypt) and caught up to Jacob in the hill country of Gilead. Old habits die hard. Laban and Jacob had a toxic relationship that was twenty years in the making. Laban would deceive, manipulate, and control while Jacob would comply. But God had called Jacob out of Laban’s reach and to the freedom of a pilgrimage with Him to and through the promised land of Canaan. God has called us, too, to leave behind our own sinful natures, to pursue redemptive boundaries with others who would seek to control us for their own selfish gain, and to journey with Him by the Spirit as free persons in Christ Jesus. Make no mistake, when we are on this journey with Jesus, we will be pursued by our old sinful natures and by people with whom we previously had toxic relationships. We must stand firm in Christ walking humbly, yet boldly, knowing that He is and will be our protection.
Godly Boundaries and Living Peaceably with Others
In Romans 12:18, Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” True peace has been won by Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave. By grace through faith in Him Christians have been reconciled to God. Not only has Jesus won peace for us with God but by implication we have hope for real reconciliation with others who are in Christ. Paul also acknowledges the fact that peace, in the here and now, is not always possible with all people.
Laban was such a person. No matter what Jacob might have done, it would never have been enough to satisfy Laban. Laban was someone who did not understand proper, godly boundaries. He was what Cloud and Townsend call a “Controller” (see their book Boundaries). Controllers do not know how to take “no” for an answer. Some of them are abusive – either physically, verbally, or both. Others are manipulative – using seduction, deception, or passive-aggressive strategies to get what they want from others. This is what Laban did to Jacob and his daughters for twenty years. He used them, manipulated them, and controlled them for his own gain. This is evident even in the words he spoke to Jacob at Gilead. He played the pity card, “Why did you flee secretly and trick me… I might have sent you away with mirth.” He played the threat card, “It is in my power to do you harm.” He finally showed his hand and played the selfish card, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.” He sounds like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.
The scary part is that we can be like that. When we fail to live in the peace of Christ we feel out of control. We struggle to control our own lives so we foolishly try to control others too by all manner of means – pity, threats, claims of possession, etc.
Who knows what Laban’s ultimate intent was when he set out in pursuit of Jacob. Did he mean to harm him and to take Jacob’s wives, his children, and his livestock back to Paddan-aram? Did he mean to seductively or deceptively convince Jacob to return in “peace”? We do not know, because God intervened before the encounter occurred, “God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream in the night and said to him, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.'” God had called Jacob to journey to and through Canaan. With that call to return came a promise of His presence, protection, and provision for Jacob. Twenty years of a toxic relationship with Laban was not something that Jacob could leave in his own strength. He could not flee fast enough or far enough to escape Laban’s controlling ways. BUT! God could and did provide the protection Jacob was incapable of providing for himself and his family.
Do you have trouble establishing and maintaining healthy, godly boundaries? Are you easily manipulated by others? Are you a people pleaser? Do you feel, not just responsible TO others but, responsible FOR others? Your schedule is too full, you do not have any margin left for error, and yet you just keep saying “yes” to everything and everyone because you do not want to fail nor to disappoint yourself, them, or God. There is Good News! Jesus has won peace for you with God. You do not have to earn that in anyway. If God has called you to Canaan then “no” is the most godly thing you can say to Laban. Perhaps you have been serving a Laban, or many Labans, for far too long in your life. Maybe some, if not most, of the Labans in your life are not other people but your own sinful tendencies. These are the Labans within you that pursue you when you are walking with the Lord, threatening you, manipulating you, and calling you back into their control. No doubt there are things you need to say “yes” to but you can’t until you say “no” to some of your Labans. Know that you can do this in Christ who is your strength! You can say “no” to your sin. You can say “no” to others who might seek to control you. The cross is the “pillar” and the stone rolled away is the “heap” to remind us of the boundaries. Sin and death, our greatest enemies, cannot do us ultimate harm if we are in Christ. The Lord watches between our greatest enemies and us.
Discuss & Pray
- Are there tendencies within you to control others? How so?
- How can the peace of Christ help you to deny this tendency?
- Are you inclined to say “yes” in order to please others? Are you saying “yes” to those people and things that God has called you to, while saying “no” to those things He has called you out from? Discuss.
- How can you grow in having healthy boundaries by trusting more in Christ?
Because of a technical difficulty with the recorder this past Sunday, the sermon was not recorded. We apologize for this inconvenience.