The internet is wonderful for many reasons, and one of them is how it’s connected me with writer friends across the country. Chelsea has been an encouragement and help to me in my own writing, and I love how she uses her words to point people to Christ. I’m so thankful for this article she wrote, covering the ever-popular buzzword of “toxic” relationships through the lens of Scripture.
By: Chelsea Stanley
“Toxic” has become a bit of a buzz word these days. A family member just got out of a “toxic” relationship. A neighbor is stuck in a “toxic” work environment. A friend is sick of “toxic” people who don’t support her dreams.
We all have people in our circles who annoy, frustrate, or even wound us, and the world tells us it’s okay—and even good!—to cut these “toxic” people out of our lives completely.
But what does the Bible have to say about “toxic” people? Is it biblical to walk away from these relationships entirely? Or should we turn the other cheek? Let’s set down our scissors for a moment and consider God’s instruction.
Before we start labeling anyone else’s behavior as “toxic,” we’d do well to consider our own hearts first. In her article When Did Everything Get So ‘Toxic’?, The New York Times columnist Lauren Oyler writes, “By pointing out what external influences are poisoning us, we can avoid acknowledging the characterization’s most unsettling truth: If so much around us is and has always been toxic, then we’re definitely sick, too.”
As Christians, we know this to be true. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” the Bible says, “and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)
God’s word says that we were once children of darkness, “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). But instead of cutting us off forever, God made a way for us to be restored to him. While we were still (toxic) sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).
Christ’s love towards us should motivate us to love our neighbors—even the “toxic” ones. As people who have benefitted from God’s lavish mercy and grace, our first instinct shouldn’t be to cut people off; instead, we should desire restoration and be eager to forgive as we have been forgiven (Col. 3:13) .
Does this mean we excuse sin or sweep it under the rug? Absolutely not. It’s never loving to enable sin. If a neighbor continually sins against us, we should go to them with the hope that they would repent and be fully restored to us and to God. Until they’re ready and willing to do that, though, we may also need to reassess the way we interact with our “toxic” neighbors—for their spiritual good and ours. To do this well, it might help to first define our terms.
I grew up a few miles down the road from a nuclear power plant which produced loads and loads of toxic waste each year. But do you know what I feared more than nuclear waste? Toxic crayons. Apparently there was a big crayon scandal back in the early 90s and our parents—well, mine at least—taught us to stick with Crayola lest we be poisoned from nibbling on generic.
When we say “toxic”, are we talking possibly-harmful-if-eaten toxic crayons? Or are we talking potentially catastrophic toxic nuclear waste? In regard to relationships, some people might use “toxic” to describe anyone who doesn’t support their life choices (crayons) while others might reserve the term for truly abusive situations (nuclear waste).
You won’t find the word “toxic” in the Bible which makes it hard to know what scripture actually says about “toxic” people. When we say that someone is “toxic”, what sinful attitudes or actions are we referring to? Are they rude, domineering, or arrogant? Let’s say that. Are they bitter, slanderous, or dishonest? Let’s use those words. When we clearly name sin, we’re better able to see how God’s word speaks to our particular situation.
If you’re dealing with the toxic crayons of gossip or arrogance, you might take extra precautions—loving them by not sharing too much information or putting a stop to uncharitable speech (Prov. 26:20-22). If you’re dealing with the toxic nuclear waste of explosive anger or abuse, you may need to physically remove yourself from danger or seek outside protection (Prov. 27:12). At no point should we stop loving these people, but love might look different in each situation.
Sister, if you find yourself in a “toxic” relationship, I’m sorry. Know that God sees you and feels your pain. Jesus himself was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). And yet, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2).
Let’s look to Christ as we discern how to interact with our “toxic” neighbors—trusting him to give us wisdom, grant us grace, and execute perfect justice towards us and others. May we set aside our scissors and open our arms in anticipation of what God might do.
Chelsea Stanley has been called a child of God, and so she is. She’s also a wife to her high school sweetheart, a #boymom of three, and a member of Crossway Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin where she serves on the women’s ministry team. Chelsea has written for Desiring God, Risen Motherhood, and Unlocking the Bible, and she loves helping women apply the truth of the gospel to daughterhood at her own blog, Daughter Redeemed. Connect with her on Instagram or Facebook.