At Yellowstone Park, there is a geyser by which you can set your watch. Every sixty-five minutes, out of a 170-foot shaft in the ground, a spray of boiling water comes gushing to the surface. Old Faithful is not the largest geyser. It doesn’t shoot water the highest. But it is the favorite of all geysers because it is faithful.
We love the company of faithful friends, people with whom you can set your soul. Sadly, there are relationships that aren’t like that. There are people who are faithful only to themselves, who think only of themselves, and who treat us with disrespect. These are toxic people that lead to noxious relationships.
We can’t have healthy relationships that are infected with toxic people, so God helps us set up boundaries. As we read Jude’s letter in the New Testament, we discover that he had to deal with these types of relationships. Listen to how he describes them.
“These people are discontented grumblers, walking according to their desires; their mouths utter arrogant words, flattering people for their own advantage.” (Jude 16, HCSB)
God establishes boundaries in our lives and relationships so that we might live a life faithful to Him and satisfying to us. He helps us today set up boundaries in our lives to keep out the toxic in our relationships.
1. Who are the toxic people in our lives?
Toxic people are discontented with their life, and they grumble against most things, especially those things over which they have no control. They are constantly finding fault in everyone including you. They lead their lives according to their own desires and interests without any consideration of God’s needs or yours. Toxic people can be charming at first, but their agenda is to use flattery to achieve their selfish interests.
In the Old Testament, the word that defines toxic people is “scoffer” (lēṣ). The scoffer is a person who acts with self-centered arrogance in relationship with others.
“A proud and haughty man—“Scoffer” is his name; He acts with arrogant pride.” (Proverbs 21:24, NKJV)
The scoffer is a person who is fixed on a lifestyle that is contrary to God’s will and poisons others with that same lifestyle. They ridicule those who pursue what God wants and stir up anger and contention.
When we encounter a person who is filled with a prideful attitude, who seeks preeminently self-exalting pursuits rather than sacrificial love in relationship, who disregards instruction and correction from God’s Word, who responds to correction with vitriol, who schemes trouble without any regard for accountability, and who stirs up a fight with his words, then we have encountered a toxic person.
2. Boundaries with toxic people.
When we identify toxic people in our lives, we need to set up boundaries. The first step is to approach the toxic person and clearly state their behavior that is out of bounds, relying on the Bible to direct the conversation. Once we address behavior that is out of bounds, we firmly tell them that we cannot continue in the closeness of relationship while that behavior remains. It is vitally important that we lovingly confront this person and demonstrate how his conduct is out of line with the way God has designed relationships.
As followers of Jesus, we strive to live for God’s pleasure, especially in our relationships. Sometimes a person is having a tough season in his life. The mangled circumstances in his life create a self-seeking mode of living, resulting in a mangling of relationships. A conversation about their behavior that is out of bounds may be sufficient to bring restoration. If not, we must cut ties with those people altogether.
“Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease.” (Proverbs 22:10, NKJV)
The initial personal pain of that removal will be short compared to the pain that toxic people inflict in our lives. Because we set up this boundary, God will bless our lives and relationships, even in the difficulty of dealing with the toxic behavior of a scoffer.
So stop, take a breath, and pray:
“God, by Your Spirit, give me the wisdom and courage to submit to the boundaries that You set in my life and my relationships.”