How Can We Deal With Toxic Relationships As Christians?
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Luke 6:27-29
The term ‘toxic’ relationships is of modern use, so it does not have a 100% correlation with anything in scripture. As with every struggle in life though, the Bible does provide wisdom and guidelines for godly living. There are many examples found throughout scripture of how to deal with difficult people, and we are given enough information to discern God’s character and make the right choices in regards to relationships.
The World’s Definition of a “toxic relationship”
The world’s definition of a toxic friendship or relationship with another person is one that exhibits at least several of these traits:
- Is emotionally draining
- Damages your ‘self-esteem’
- Makes you feel ‘insecure’
- The other person is constantly selfish
- The other person seeks to dominate one’s actions
- The other person makes you feel like you can’t ‘be yourself’
- The other person is manipulative, often via false guilt
- The other person belittles or makes fun of you, often in public
- The other person has a hair-trigger temper
- The other person rarely keeps commitments
- You feel used or taken advantage of
The world’s solution to relationships like these (whether friendship, family, spouse, boss, or other) is to cut off the other person and exit the relationship.
You may also be interested in: What Does Jesus Say About Friendship?
What To Do With Fellow Believers
With fellow believers, our perspective needs to be based in the insurmountable debt that God forgave us, and not on exacting every last ‘debt’ out of our brethren, whether physical or emotional. (I John 4:7-8, Matt 18:32). We need to love for God loves, forgive for God forgives, and have mercy for God showed us mercy (Matt 6:12, Luke 7:47, II Cor 2:6-8, Eph 4:31-32, I Pet 3:8-18, etc).
As believers, God does not cut us off when we are selfish, make things all about us, don’t appreciate what we give Him, take His name in vain, try to get Him to do what we want, minimize His works, resist the spirit working in us to change, direct our anger at Him, fail to follow His path, etc. Rather, God is patient with us and forgives us when we confess our sins (I John 1:9).
We are to extend every opportunity for forgiveness and restoration, especially to those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
God asks us to seek this same heart of forgiveness to other believers, even in the face of those who let us down or take advantage of us.
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”‘ Matt 18:21-22.
What To Do With Unbelievers
For unbelievers, though they are hostile to God, God also holds out His arms through Christ. He does not say, ‘sorry this relationship is too toxic, I would never offer you redemption’, but rather seeks reconciliation (II Cor 5:18-19).
As for our relationships with unbelievers, there is a lot of advice in scripture as well.
Some people we are to avoid friendship with:
- The violent man (Prov 16:29, Prov 1:10-12)
- The wicked man (Prov 12:26, Prov 4:14-17)
- The gossip (Prov 16:28)
- The perverse (Prov 16:30)
- Those who engage in deeds of darkness (Eph 5:11, Prov 2:12)
- The thief (Prov 1:10-19)
- The adulterous woman (Prov 2:16-19)
- Lovers of self, lovers of money, the proud, the abusive, those disobedient to parents, the ungrateful, the heartless, lovers of pleasure, etc (II Tim 3:1-5)
Also check out: What Is Some Good Christian Relationship Advice?
In Our Daily Living
Yet in our day to day interactions (parents, work, school, government, etc), we may encounter those who make us uncomfortable or take advantage of us. How do we respond in these cases?
- Turn the other cheek (Lam 3:30, Luke 6:29)
- Pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:28, Rom 12:14, Matt 5:44)
- Give to anyone who asks, without demanding return (Luke 6:30)
- Repay evil with good (I Pet 3:9)
- Don’t gossip or ridicule (I Pet 3:9, II Cor 12:20)
- Go above what they demand (Matt 5:41)
- Obey authorities with sincerity (Tit 3:1, Tit 2:9, I Tim 6:1-2, Eph 6:5)
- Forgive (Mark 11:25)
Our response is not to exit the world to protect ourselves from suffering, but rather to reflect the love of God and share the gospel.
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