the weblog of Alan Knox

Fences Make Good Neighbors – Part 1

Posted by on Nov 30, 2009 in blog links, community, fellowship | 10 comments

The title of this post comes from a poem by Robert Frost called “Mending Wall.” But, even before Frost included the line in his famous poem, “Fences make good neighbors” was a 17th century proverb. In this post and the next, I’m going to consider the “fences” that keep us from having fellowship or building stronger relationships with other people.

The impetus for this two-part series was a very good post (and following discussion) by Lionel Woods (at “A Better Covenant“) called “There’s Fellowship and Then There’s Fellowship.” In his post, Lionel recognizes that there are different levels of fellowship and relationship. He suggests that these three tiers of fellowship can help us live in unity. Here is his description of the three tiers of fellowship:

I think approaching the body from a three-tier circle may be beneficial for us to maintain unity and promote the oneness that we are to promote to be a witness of Christ’s work in the world. So we have the outer circle. These are loose but still connected relationships we have with Christians, we deal with them on a less intimate level; however, this interaction is not superficial. We serve them help them, encourage them and even correct them, but because we understand that they are in the outer tier we understand that their are limits we will not cross. This may be Jesus with many of His disciples.

Then we move to the second tier this may, but not limited, those we actually go to church with on a weekly basis, we sing with them, we go to Sunday School with them, we may be involved with outreach with them, from time to time we may hook up outside of the weekly fellowship, but there is no expectation to this day to day gathering. These people we see more and are involved a little more, sort of like Jesus with the 70. He sent them out, often times they would travel with Him, but they were not like the 12.

That leads to the inner circle or the third tier. Here we find our closest confidants. These people stay over night with us, watch our children, no are spending habits, they know all of our flaws and cover them with grace. These people can do great danger to us so this relationship takes much grace and love. These are the relationships that hurt like when Judas kisses Jesus on the cheek. This is Paul and Timothy here. These relationships just aren’t based on our like faith but an undeniable connection and love. These are those we see ourselves growing old with.

In response, I asked Lionel what or who defines these three levels of fellowship?I mean, it is certainly true that we have deeper relationships with some, lesser relationships with others, and very little relationship with others. But, what filters do we use to decide whether or not someone is in level one or level three, or whether we would even allow someone to increase to a different level?

These boundaries (“fences” to use Frost’s proverb) define who is in level 1, who is in level 2, and who is in level 3. So, the boundaries are very, very important.

Do we set the boundaries? Should we set the boundaries? Do other people set the boundaries? Should we allow other people to set the boundaries? Are there boundaries beyond our control? How do these boundaries aid or hinder unity among the church?

I’m going to attempt to answer these questions in the next post, but for now, I would love to hear your thoughts.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-30-2009

    Boy I need an editor LOL!! Did you see the their for there and the are for our, horrible my english teachers would have me arrested and hung.

    I look forward to the comments.

  2. 11-30-2009

    I would love to hear your thoughts.


    These are only thoughts, not any sort of claim about what is and isn’t biblical:

    Do we set the boundaries?

    Some of them, yes.

    Should we set the boundaries?

    Definitely. Just because someone else wants initimacy doesn’t mean it is wise to grant it to them.

    Do other people set the boundaries?

    Yes, those that we don’t set ourselves.

    Should we allow other people to set the boundaries?

    Definitely. A request for greater intimacy should always be tentative; we can’t decide for someone else that it ought to be granted.

    Are there boundaries beyond our control?

    Yes. There are boundaries set by others. There are geographical and temporal boundaries. Deeper levels of intimacy may be hindered by matters of class, ethnicity, education, temperment, or even areas of interest.

    How do these boundaries aid or hinder unity among the church?

    The boundaries can aid unity to the extent that we strive to transcend them based on the only important thing, namely our mutual bond in Christ; making the effort is a vital part of our sanctification (or so says Bonhoeffer in Life Together). The boundaries can hinder unity to the extent that we use them as an excuse not to seek greater intimacy with our brothers and sisters.

  3. 11-30-2009

    If Jesus is the example of the structure I wonder where we all figure into it. What i wonder is which circle i would be in and are some folks closer to Christ than i am? Maybe that is a misunderstanding and that principle only applied to his earthly ministry but it seems to me that the ultimate goal is to be as close to Christ and each other as possible.

  4. 11-30-2009


    As long as it was understandable… and it was. 🙂


    If someone wants to build a deeper relationship with us (“get more intimate”), for what reasons would you say we should refuse?


    You said, “the ultimate goal is to be as close to Christ and each other as possible”. I agree… and I would add, “The ultimate goal is to be closer to Christ and each other.”


  5. 11-30-2009


    My position was more on Christ in His earthly ministry. I agree now, we all have equal access to Christ because He has shed His humanity and now has all attributes as the Father. It seemed that in His earthly ministry Jesus had some who were closer than others, I think in our lives we have some that are closer than others. The struggle is what parameters/things are we employing to allow others to be closer than others. We only have limited time and space (unlike the Master) so how do we relate to others is the question.

    This post was in a series of posts about unity, fellowship, community and divisiveness and looking for a fellowship within a framework of a more Organic/Simple position (I would lean more towards Organic/Simple fellowship vs traditional structures) so how can I serve, come along side and love people in a structure where such differences occur. I posted this post as a possible solution. Often times people say “I don’t agree with you so I am leaving”, this happens way too often. My theological position may cause discomfort for some (my views on women, soteriology, eschatology and hermeneutics) not to mention some of those positions have caused others to seperate and never talk again.

    I am trying to learn how to love people in whatever context they find themselves in to promote the unity and love the New Covenant scriptures talk about; however, that will have to come with some precautions and that is how the three-tier thing came along. Because I believe women can teach/preach (whatever people want to call it) there are some of my brothers and sisters who would write me off so how can I love them, because I disagree with Dispensational Pre-Mill, there are certain churches that will limit my day to day function so how can I love them, because I am “Calvinistic” there are many brothers and sisters who react different, I want to put those things on the shelf and pursue love and unity, because I have begun to learn that only the Gospel is important those things are just opinions at the end of the day.

  6. 11-30-2009


    Hadn’t read Lionel yet.

    Depends who defines “boundaries”! God?

    What “boundaries has He set between His people and the world?

    What “boundaries” does our Father set within His Family (His people)?

  7. 11-30-2009

    If someone wants to build a deeper relationship with us (”get more intimate”), for what reasons would you say we should refuse?


    Any reason which you think would make it too difficult for you to behave lovingly at that level of intimacy. For example, over the past ten years I have learned to appreciate rural culture, even value many of its qualities over the corresponding qualities of the urban culture I grew up in. At this point there isn’t much I’d prefer to spending time with an older farmer and soaking up his wisdom. But even ten years ago I would have appreciated him at best in theory, and would have sat and listen mostly out of politeness. If such a man for whatever reason had wanted to spend a lot of time with me, I think I would have politely put him off, and I think it would have been better for both of us if I had.

    Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t always be working to overcome those difficulties. Much of my increased appreciation for different kinds of people has been hard-won, the reward for many years of studying people and pondering relationships. But even as we work to overcome our limits, we have to also recognize that they are there.

  8. 11-30-2009


    Thank you for explaining the purpose for this post, and the direction that you’re headed with this. It hasn’t been easy for me, since I’ve been taught to separate from others (but still consider them brothers and sisters?) over many different reasons.

    Aussie John,

    Yes, that’s what I’m asking. 🙂

    What do you think?


    I appreciate your comment. It seems that you’re recognizing the difference between the way we’re taught to act culturally, and the way we should act as followers of Jesus.


  9. 11-30-2009


    Where I am at now, I feel the limiting factor or “fence” is time. I am open to more “3rd” tier relationships, but I think there is just a practical level of how many close relationships a person may have.

    Although, I think trust has a lot to do with how open I am willing to be with a person. I do get frustrated with all of the surface relationships that exist in my circles. Seems that many of our relationships are just about hunting, fishing and sports.

    Those things are fun to start a relationship but after a while that gets boring. To go deeper you have to be intentional, and Jesus has to be the center of the relationship or conversation. There seems to be a fear in a lot of men to go deeper. But to go deeper with one another you have to go deep with the Lord. There is nothing more exciting to me, than to discuss and encourage one another with the Word of God!



  10. 12-1-2009


    Excellent thoughts. I’ve also been frustrated (often with myself) with surface level relationships that never seem to take that next step.



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