I just need to work on myself right now. I need to care for myself. If you are ‘toxic’, or negative, then I’m done with ya. If you aren’t on board with helping me care for myself, then I’m done with ya. Forget the nay-sayers. I’m doing me.
I have seen a ton of these types of posts on social media as of late. Like at least one each week.
Our culture, and unfortunately our Christian sub-culture, is all about individualism and living one’s best life. So the fact that these type of posts show up from Christians and non-Christians alike is not all that surprising.
But church, it is concerning.
As of late, I’ve been diving knee-deep into the book of Philippians. I try and listen to it every day in the car, read it a couple times a week, and memorize different portions of it. I want to know it inside and out, letting it permeate my mind and heart. One undeniable theme that runs throughout the entire book is the way that Jesus primarily, and Paul secondarily, model humble, others-first love.
Let’s start with the well-known passage about the descent of Christ, and then let’s look at how Paul modeled the same type of ‘stepping down’ love.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though, he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:3-7
You’ve likely heard this passage before.
You can see the steps down that Jesus takes (for more on this, read J-Curve by Paul Miller. I’m only halfway through it right now and it has blown up my view of walking with God. In a good way). Jesus forsook the throne for a season, stepping down into the likeness of men, loving the people of this world to the point of death (as the rest of this passage describes). Jesus was a man who put others before Himself.
However, Jesus is not the only example of this in the book of Philippians. Paul also lived an others-first life. Look at what I mean.
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. – Philippians 1:7
But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, – Philippians 1:24-25
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. – Philippians 2:17
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Philippians 4:1
Honestly, this is just a sampling. But I figured I didn’t need to type out the entire book. Paul held the Philippians in his heart. We see all throughout the letter that they financially supported him and that they cared for him. This obviously is not the ‘toxic’ relationships many of us try to avoid. But it is still a reminder of our need to have affection for one another.
Paul wanted to be with Jesus. He desired to be with Him. But he knew that it was likely that he would stay on earth. Why? So that he could help them progress in the faith.
Paul was willing to be literally offered up for the people of this church.
Paul loved and longed for this church.
Jesus is the ultimate example of humility leading to selfless love. Paul followed suit.
So, what does this have to do with toxic relationships and working on ourselves?
Let me boil it down for us.
0. If You Are In An Abusive Relationship, Seek Help and Get Out
Let me start by introducing this huge caveat. If you are in an abusive relationship, Scripture does not teach you to suck it up and take it. Seek help. Get out. Go to a friend or pastor.
With that very important truth out of the way, let’s look at how we should treat others.
1. If Someone Is ‘Toxic’, Love Them
I put the word toxic in quotes here, because oftentimes we use hyperbole and exaggeration to state the simple fact that someone is hard for us to be around. Yes, a lot of times it’s deeper than that, but in my experience, we like to call people toxic or negative simply because their world doesn’t revolve around us.
Love them! In Miller’s book, he talks about how we have taken a therapeutic view on most of our relationships. If we don’t feel loved or appreciated by others, or valued or served, we see the friendship as pointless, or in this case, ‘toxic’. But the call of Scripture, the call of Christ, is to love those who may make our lives more difficult.
2. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Serve Them
One way to show love for someone is to serve them. Have you done that? Have you sought to serve the person you’re thinking of right now that is difficult for you to be around? Have you modeled the humility of Christ, stooping low, giving up your rights, to serve them? Guess what. Service and love may not result in restoration or perfect relationships. You may get nothing out of it. We’ve made relationships transactional, and that is not the way of Christ either. Serve.
3. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Pray For Them
Have you prayed for them? I’m not talking a “God help them” kind of flippant or sarcastic prayer. I’m talking an intentional, genuine, Christ-centered prayer for them. Again, the book of Philippians is not a model of dealing with ‘toxic’ people (although chapter four sheds light on some tension in the church), but what is cool is how Paul’s prayers for them are about gospel growth, not circumstantial changes (1:9-10 for instance). Do you pray for those ‘toxic’ people in your life?
4. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Confront Them
My biggest pet peeve in the church (or one of my biggest), is how we just drop people that we’re frustrated with or annoyed by. If someone bothers you, you drop them, because it’s too much work.
Have you confronted them? I’m talking about a real honest talk where you tell them why there’s tension or frustration. Now, we don’t like to do this, because we’ve misunderstood the implications of the gospel in our communities. We think that to believe the gospel is to forgive to the point of not acknowledging wrongdoing.
It’s not pleasant to confront. But brother or sister, if you have dropped a friendship or relationship without telling the other party why the distance occurred, you are not absolved of guilt (so to speak). To do your part is to go to the source and confront.
5. If All Else Fails, Love Them Some More
And if all else fails, keep loving, keep engaging, keep relating. In Miller’s book, he quasi-addresses the whole “Don’t be a welcome mat for people” mentality. He says that life itself is a fellowship in the sufferings of Christ. To be a follower of God is to intentionally take on difficult relationships. To be a follower of God is to focus on others, not ‘working on myself right now’.
Church, let us be men and women who live for others. Not ourselves.
That has been my anthem as of late. I’m a son, saint, and slave of Christ. I’m only still here to live for others. Yes, I’m going to enjoy my life and do things that I enjoy (like going to play golf once a week). But I’m not called to ‘work on myself’. I’m called to engage all people, even the ‘toxic’ ones, for the sake of Christ.
In His Name,