January 19, 2019
Radioactive Relationships: Loving Unhealthy People Without Getting Sick
Below you will find an audio of the devotion being read for you, followed by the written devotion. Listen on the go, listen as you read along, or enjoy reading it without the audio. God bless!
“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” – George Washington
Toxic Tag-Alongs
The people we associate with can be helpful or hurtful. They can help us move closer to the Lord or push us further away. They can be life-giving, loving, and inspiring, or they can be life-draining, hateful, and discouraging.
While people cannot control us, they can certainly influence us. We may have intentions of rescuing or helping someone else, but if they are leading us away from the Lord, we need to minimize their access to influence our lives.
“Paul, in dealing with toxic people, warned Timothy, his spiritual son in the faith, to “avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:16 – 17). I don’t know if you’ve ever seen gangrene, but it’s one nasty disease. The flesh-eating ordeal starts as a small, simple infection. But then blood stops flowing to that infected part, and the body rots. The disease cruelly eats away at the flesh, which decays a little more day by day. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one of what our souls will suffer if we aren’t careful about our relationships. The Bible tells us to stay far away from discussions that are ungodly, or we too will decay and rot morally, becoming more and more ungodly. Bad company is toxic to your soul. The wrong relationships corrupt, pollute, infect, rot, and destroy good character.” (1)
Three Kinds of Toxic People
The first kind of toxic person is the chronic critic. They complain about everything, and sadly, it is rarely constructive. They complain to complain. Things are too hot or too cold. The weather is too wet or too dry. The food never tastes quite right.
The Israelites in the wilderness were like this. After God had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt, they constantly found things to complain about. No matter how many miracles the Lord did on their behalf, it was never good enough. At least 14 times in Exodus they complained that they wished they would have never left Egypt. Really? Yep, they always had a reason to complain.
Unfortunately, if we are not careful, negative people drag us down. They begin to negatively affect our outlook on life in general, and their gossip erodes our opinions of others.
The second type of toxic person is the controller. Controllers are constantly trying to control your life, telling you what you should think, wear, and do. For some reason, they don’t find their own life challenging enough to control, and they want to control yours as well. It may start of innocently, but if not kept in balance, they will start trying to make all of our decisions for us. They can make us feel like we are incompetent, and begin to steal our sense of personal identity. We have to ask them who we are.
The third type of person described by Groeschel is the tempter. These people are always tempting you to do wrong. They may be aware of it, or they may be ignorant of it, but they tempt you to sin. They are always asking you to join in sin with them. They don’t understand why you let your church control you. It is your life. One time won’t hurt. C’mon! It is no big deal.
Good Fences
If you find yourself being influenced too much by a toxic person in your life, God can empower you to set some boundaries that minimize their impact and allow you to be stronger in the Lord.
To some this sounds harsh and unnecessary, but it is exactly what Jesus did. He loved everyone equally, but He did not treat everyone equally. He called 12 men to be his disciples, not 1200. He allowed those 12 men far greater access to himself than anyone else.
And even with the disciples, there were boundaries. Peter, probably a bit of a controller, told Jesus that He was wrong to go to the cross and die. Jesus established a very clear boundary by telling Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” Jesus was not going to allow Peter, or anyone else, to influence Him away from the will of God.
Good boundaries are not unloving. If someone is treating you inappropriately, we have the authority to say, “It is not okay to treat me that way.” We don’t have to put up with unfair treatment in the name of love.
If someone wants to gossip about others or be negative about serving God. You can simply reply, “I am not going to have this conversation. I love that person. I love God. I love my church. I love my family.” Whatever the case, you don’t have to go down that road with someone.
If someone starts to tear down your wife, or women in general, you can say, “I have more respect for women than that.”
If someone starts ranting about how all men are idiots, all Christians are hypocrites and bigots, or anything else like that, you don’t have to go along with it. You can say something like, “You have a right to your opinion, but that is not how I feel. I have had a different experience than you have.”
If a person tries to get you to go somewhere that is going to tempt you to sin, you can say, “I am sorry, but I am not going to go there with you.” It is not unloving or unkind to stay away from somewhere that is harmful to you. You don’t have to cave into the pressure.
Cut to the Quick
Groeschel shares a little bit about his family cat being hit by a car and having one of its legs amputated. He joked about wanting to call the cat tripod, but his children didn’t want anything to do with that name. But the point of his story is that the amputation was necessary to save the cat’s life. It was a drastic measure, but it was necessary to preserve life.
As a last resort, we sometimes have to cut off relationships in our life. That doesn’t mean we are cutting them off for good. People can change. I believe that. But if they refuse to change, and they are affecting us in a toxic manner, we may have to sever the relationship until things change. Again, that is a last resort. It isn’t something we do because we don’t like someone’s breath, choice of clothing, preferred supermarket, or some other arbitrary matter. It does not justify divorcing a spouse because you don’t like them anymore, or you think someone else will make you happier.
It means that if someone is leading you away from Christ, or even the character of Christ in your life, we need to take drastic measures to preserve our Christianity.
We should always try to make peace and get along the best we can. Severing a relationship is not a light matter, but sometimes it is necessary.
Using Wisdom
We should befriend ungodly people. We want to show them the love of Christ and the gospel that can save them. We are not doing God’s will if we decide to cut ourselves off from the rest of society and ignore the lost.
But, it is equally unwise to allow others to influence us into disobeying God. The Lord will lead us to minster to some pretty toxic people, but we need to exercise wisdom and understanding. We need to make sure we are gauging how much we are being influenced.
The goal is to influence them to draw closer to Jesus and find eternal life in Him. That is always in order. Just make sure you are leading them, and not the other way around.
(1) Groeschel, Craig. Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World (p. 200). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.