Both sayings, I think, suggest that some sort of separation is helpful in tenuous relationships. They also imply how we live in a fallen world with negative, hurting people. As Proverbs observes and warns:
“Do not accuse a man for no reason—when he has done you no harm.” (Proverbs 3:30)
“A perverse person stirs up conflict.” (Proverbs 16:28)
“Every fool is quick to quarrel.” (Proverbs 20:3)
“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered.” (Proverbs 22:24)
In today’s mental health language, dealing with such people may require setting “boundaries” that control contact. Although I try to be an approachable person, wise friends helped me realize my need of boundaries when targeted by ongoing hostile words and actions. I found insight about this in Safe People, a book by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (Zondervan, 1995). They pointed out how people who have unresolved grief and hurt tend to withdraw and lash out at the very people (their “safe” people) who could help them move toward emotional wellness. Sadly, when these “safe” people react with “fences” or boundaries, the “unsafe” are deeply offended, even though their own behavior purchased the boards, hammer, and nails.
In seeking Biblical perspective on this complicated issue, I felt drawn to John 10, the “I am the Good Shepherd” chapter:I am the gate for the sheep....The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full....I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:7, 10, 14)
The phrase “He laid down his life” for the sheep brings to mind, of course, His death on the cross for my sins. The analogy to a sheepfold is so tender. In ancient rugged lands, rocks were cheap and accessible building materials for livestock pens. Some shepherds topped the walls with thorny brambles, an early version of today’s barbed wire. At night, a shepherd would herd his animals in the sheepfold. If it lacked a door or gate, he would become the “gate” himself by sitting or lying across the entrance. Any harm had to encounter him first.
This helped me see that sometimes, when faced with hurtful people, I need to prayerfully set up “fences” with Jesus guarding my heart’s gate. This doesn’t mean I am rejecting that person, but that I am seeking protection from the Savior who cares about both sides of the fence. His love is truly boundless love.