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

Jesus Isn’t Your BFF

I truly believe I could have 100 students in my youth group.

It would take a while, but I think we could get there. The formula is fairly simple. Have live music that’s cutting edge, play a lot of fun games, and have crazy giveaways week in and week out. At the end, have some sort of message that’s loosely based on a verse of Scripture but functions more as a motivational talk about Jesus helping you overcome difficulty in your life rather than a call to come and die with Jesus.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I’m not trying to knock that version of ministry. There are great men and women of God involved in that philosophy and style of ministry and God is saving young men and women through those ministries with that mentality.

That’s just not me.

Instead of 100+ coming to a cutting edge service, we have a little less than forty who come to a honestly pretty boring service from a worldly sense. We don’t play music (although I’d like to I just don’t have the talent), we don’t play that many games and we very rarely have some sort of a giveaway.

What we do have is God’s Word.

We walk through it, week after week, often focusing on chunks of the Bible (I don’t know if that’s an acceptable term for a portion of Scripture or not, but I’m running with it) that are not even all that entertaining to read. What’s been phenomenal to me is that we’ve seen growth come in the midst of it.

I’m not talking breadth.

Last Fall we did a semester-long study through the book of Deuteronomy, and that certainly did cause our numbers to explode.

I’m talking depth.

It’s not been anything crazy. At times I face discouragement because it doesn’t seem like it’s clicking with some students. But for some, their depth in their faith is obvious and powerful.

Yet if you look at the modern evangelical church as a whole, you likely see a trend, especially in the Baptist tradition, to make church about being entertained or feeling good and that’s simply not the call of the follower of Jesus.

Here’s what I mean.

We have emphasized a personal relationship with Jesus.

Now, that is obviously a phenomenal aspect of our faith. Christianity certainly encompasses the opportunity that we have to commune with God through union with Christ and fellowship with the Spirit. What a wonderful thing.

What we’ve done by emphasizing this time and time again however is unintentionally taught people, I think, that they have a private relationship with Jesus. One where they see Him as their best friend forever, but not the Head of the universal church and certainly not the Lord telling them to come and die to their own desires each day.

Jesus isn’t my best friend forever. Sure, He calls me friend. What a marvelous truth. But He is also the Lord of all the universe, worthy of awe and worship, adoration and healthy fear. Jesus is fully man. Yet He is also fully God.

Look around our churches though and you again see that many are hesitant to present a Jesus that is worthy of our fear and worship. Instead of liturgy and church history, we have a modernized Christianity that forgets the 2000 years of faithful men and women who have gone before us and set the foundation for what it looks like to follow God. All of that legacy is tossed aside for the hip new trends that gets the most people in the door.

What we’ve created is a version of following Jesus that is about one’s own comfort and self-worth. I can’t tell you how many posts on social media I have seen recently that say something like “I’m committed to working on myself right now. If you aren’t helpful, if you’re toxic, I’m tossing you to the curb.”

Now, that’s not completely bad.

That mindset creeps into the church though, doesn’t it?

Getting up and getting to church on Sunday mornings is hard. And I say that having zero children and as someone who gets paid to be there.

It’s hard to get there. So, if one is expecting to get a self-help sermon about Jesus’ power to make them overcome any difficulty in their life, (complete with hilarious jokes and illustrations from modern entertainment, oh and music that is right up their alley) when those things are lacking their commitment to church falters.

They’re working on the betterment of themselves. If the church doesn’t help their self-image, and if the people in their church are ‘toxic’ (or in my opinion ‘human’, because we all battle sinful thoughts, words, and actions), then they bail on it.

Church is a declaration that we are allegiant to King Jesus. Church, if done right, should absolutely encourage and train us in righteousness. But it should also convict us, challenge us, and get us outside our comfort zones. It should call us each and every week to die to ourselves in the week ahead. That’s not a fun message in the world of self-help motivational speakers.

Jesus isn’t my BFF or a self-help guru. 

He’s Lord. 

Daniel Darling puts it this way:

I wonder if average worshiping evangelicals feel the weight of what they say they believe. I wonder if they grasp that Jesus is more than a fun bumper sticker or billboard, that he is the Head of the church, the Lord of creation, and the sovereign King of the universe. . . our homogenized evangelicalism can at times make weekly worship more like a divinely inspired TED talk than an act of worship, offering a Jesus who desperately wants to be your BFF but is totally chill if you’re, like, not that into him. – Daniel Darling 

Actually guys, if you would like to read a spectacular book on this subject, get The Original Jesus by Daniel Darling. This post is basically me thinking through what he talks about in his book.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach