Toxic Relationships

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.

But.

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,

Nathan Roach

Practice Vulnerability. Pursue Community.

Vulnerability. 

The word itself is enough to make most of us cringe. We often are scared of it and, if we’re being honest, being vulnerable with a friend is usually the last thing on our agenda. We assume that it will make us look weak, that people will judge us for the things we confess, or that any number of negative outcomes are possible. So, instead of stepping out in faith, we choose to be silent. 

However, most of us desire community. And we should. The Lord calls us to pursue community and it is so vital to our spiritual growth. But, when we are asked to be vulnerable, we shy away, we change the subject, or we remove ourselves from the conversation instead of diving in. 

Friends, this doesn’t work.

I have learned that you cannot have community without practicing vulnerability. 

The Lord has been so gracious to bless me with some God-ordained friendships that have radically changed my life. I am so thankful for these relationships, but they require work. They require honesty. They require trusting that the Lord has placed the right people in your life. They require vulnerability. 

Vulnerability is not comfortable and it is rarely easy, but I have seen firsthand the fruits of my labor, of my pursuit of vulnerability. I won’t tell you that being vulnerable is easier for me than the next person, but I have learned that it is essential and vital to the growth of God-ordained friendships. 

I would love to tell you that vulnerability is easy when you engage in deep relationships with the people that you know God has intentionally placed in your life to be your community. However, to tell you that would be a lie. My heart still beats a little faster, my hands still start to shake, and I still laugh nervously every time I prepare myself to be really vulnerable.

I don’t know what vulnerability looks like for you. Maybe for you it simply means expressing how you feel about something to a close friend. Maybe it means confessing a sinful practice in your life that you need to be held accountable for. Maybe it means discussing your past struggles that you haven’t healed from or your anxieties about the future. This deliberate choice of vulnerability may feel like the hardest thing you have ever done. But, I can tell you that it is so worth it. 

This, however, is not a guarantee that you will not be hurt. We are all human and we all, whether purposefully or not, let the people we love down. We speak before we listen. We don’t bite our tongue when we should. We say things we don’t mean. We are human. It happens in every relationship, and a God-ordained friendship in which you consistently practice vulnerability will not be void of these things. 

BUT, it will push you to be better and do better. It will push you to grow in your faith and to pursue the Lord more fully. It will teach you how to love yourself, the Lord, one another, and others better. 

When we choose vulnerability instead of silence, instead of surface-level relationships, we learn how to point each other to Jesus more. We learn how to hold each other accountable in our sinfulness. We learn what Biblical truths our friends need to be reminded of a little more often. The Lord can use others to pour into us much more when we are practicing vulnerability than when we choose to sit silent. 

Pursuing deep, God-centered relationships is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It takes effort. It takes discipline. It takes energy and so much heart. And it takes courage to be vulnerable. 

The Lord will use your vulnerability to grow relationships in ways that you could never imagine. He will supply you with just the right people in the most unexpected of times. He will do what only He can do, but the Lord cannot make us trust that He has put people in our lives for the purpose of vulnerability. He cannot choose to put in the work and the effort to grow and build a God-ordained relationship for you. He cannot be vulnerable for you. We have to do our part. 

The Lord calls us to be in community and we cannot do that without practicing vulnerability. 

My challenge to you is to look for the people that the Lord has placed in your life. Look for those people that God wants to give you a relationship with. It may be a person that you have known your whole life. It may be a person you have known for two months. The Lord loves to surprise us with beautiful things when we choose to look to Him, when we choose to look for His people. Look for and pursue those God-ordained friendships. When you find them, hold tightly to them. Practice vulnerability. It won’t be easy, but it will always be worth it.  

– Mackenzie Knox