Toxic People

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.”

 

Wrong Voices

One year while fly-fishing in the Smoky Mountains, I came across a boundary marker that said: “Area Closed.” The park rangers had set up the boundary and closed the trail because bears were unusually active. Crossing the boundary meant putting one’s life in danger, but the fishing was always good on the other side of the boundary. So, the temptation to cross the boundary was high, even though it was dangerous.

Boundaries are markers that set up lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Boundaries are essential to health in our relationships. They help us keep things that will nourish our souls inside and keep things that will starve our souls outside. God has set up boundaries for our lives and relationships to lead us to health and satisfaction, but there are voices that tempt us to ignore the dangers and call us to cross the boundary into places that God has closed.

The Psalms begins with a picture of boundaries and wrong voices:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;” (Psalm 1:1, ESV)

David presents in powerful images the choices that followers of Jesus make in our relationships. Simply, he suggests that a person who chooses to follow God’s boundaries will experience a blessed life in the same way that a person who refuses God’s boundaries will experience a devastated life.

When we listen to the wrong voices, we make bad choices and end up in sorry places. God establishes boundaries for our relationships so that we can experience a flourishing life. When we walk in the counsel of ungodly, stand in the path of sinners, and sit in the seat of the scornful, we’re ignoring God’s boundaries for our relationships and starving our soul of life and health.

1. What happens when we ignore God’s boundaries.

Our soul withers when our counsel comes from the wicked. The “wicked” (rāšā) are those who do not know God and do not worship Him, and yet, we seek their advice about life. We see the sign God has posted saying, “Area Closed,” but the crowd around us declares: “It’s safe! Go ahead and walk that path.”

When we listen to the “wicked,” we join them in rationalizing sin. We listen to the wrong voices, and we make bad choices. We’ve listened to the people declaring it’s safe to walk past the sign and we jump the rope and walk down the path. We have convinced ourselves that the path we are walking is the best path, so we make our stand in the sin that poisons our soul. Along with the others on this path, we embrace a lifestyle of toxic living, where the toxin is that which is contrary to God and His will.

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 one chooses to ignore God’s boundaries, he or she will be fruitless in life and will wither away (Psalm 1:4). We walk past the sign and wander down the pathway that God says is “Closed.” And we are surprised when we encounter a bear that mauls us and devastates our life and relationships.

2. What happens when we follow God’s boundaries.

We are blessed in life and in our relationships when we follow God’s boundaries. To be “blessed” (‘ăšrē) is to experience the full measure of God’s favor. It is the picture of a beautiful life.

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2, ESV)

We taste a beautiful life and experience God’s favor in our relationships when we passionately embrace God’s instructions. Our relationships are set on a flourishing path when we embrace His boundaries. We listen to His voice speaking to us night and day, leading us safely and securely to satisfaction (Psalm 1:3).

So, let’s keep it simple today. If we obey God’s boundaries in our relationships, then we will experience blessing. If we listen to the wrong voices in our relationships, then we will experience a withered life.

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.

 

Watch Your Step!

When I was a little boy, my grandfather would take me on long walks through the woods surrounding his home. We would climb up steep ridges and through underbrush. Whenever we went walking, he would tell me, “Watch your step.” Why? He didn’t want me to miss one moment of the joy on this journey.

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV)

Paul is calling us to watch our step in our life and relationships. With careful exactness, we rescue every moment for the good in God’s purposes (“redeeming the time”), and we avoid the bad (“the days are evil”). This is what boundaries in life and relationships are all about. We receive the good and keep out the bad.

1. Let in the good and keep out the bad.

God made us to need relationships (Genesis 2:18), but not every relationship is one that we need. God, therefore, establishes boundaries for our life and relationships. He establishes a boundary for us letting in the good, which is His love (Ephesians 5:2). As we let in His love, God also establishes a boundary to keep out the bad, which Paul identifies in verse 3.

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:3–4, ESV)

“All impurity” (akatharsia) is everything that is outside God’s will. Before we can have health in our relationships with others, we need to acknowledge any and all “impurity” that we have in our lives. When the Spirit pinpoints impurity in us, we need to be immediate in our repentance. Through repentance we set up a boundary, declaring that we won’t walk that way again. In the same way, if we have a relationship that leads us into “impurity,” then we need to set up a boundary, refusing to share our journey with that relationship (Ephesians 5:7).

“Covetousness” (pleonixia) is, in essence, being greedy for oneself. It means we chase what we want regardless how it hurts or harms another. If we are supremely selfish, then we need to confess it as sin and repent. If we’re in a relationship with one who is supremely selfish, then we need to set up a boundary, telling the selfish person that we will limit our relationship with them as long as they are greedy for themselves.

Another boundary that God establishes is “filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting.” In essence, this amounts to making demeaning comments about others. If we demean or disrespect others, then we need to set a boundary with repentance of our sin. If we are on the receiving end (or in company with people who demean others), then we need to set a boundary and limit our relationship with those individuals.

2. Ask the right questions when setting the boundaries in relationships.

We are children of light because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. But we need to ask the questions to see if the fruit of our lives reflects the right boundaries set by God toward healthy relationships.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10, NKJV)

“Is it good?” Because we are followers of Jesus, we live to bring benefit and blessing through extravagant generosity to others. We set up a boundary for ourselves and in our relationships. If it doesn’t bless others or invite God’s blessing, then we don’t let it into our lives.

“Is it righteous?” Because we are followers of Jesus, our lives and relationships should align with God’s commands. We set up a boundary for ourselves and in our relationships. If it doesn’t align with God’s commands, then we don’t let it into our lives.

“Is it true?” Because we are followers of Jesus, our lives and relationships should be true to Christ’s character in us? We set up a boundary for ourselves and in our relationships. If it doesn’t fit in the character of who we are in Jesus, then we don’t let it into our lives.

“Does it please God?” We must first and foremost discern what God wants. We must give our heart, mind, emotions, and actions to do what honors Him. Through discovering what is acceptable to Him, we walk in the light. If our relationship, or any part of it, isn’t pleasing to God, then we need to set up a boundary.

The key to setting the boundaries in our lives and relationships is to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-18). To be filled with the Spirit means that we are completely consumed and controlled by the Spirit. The Spirit illuminates the Word of God and the way of God for our lives. The Spirit determines our direction, showing us the truth and the lie in our lives and our relationships.

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.

 

Love is … (Part 4)

I don’t really enjoy going to the doctor. It is not something I do easily. In fact, if things are left to me, I probably wouldn’t do it at all. So, when I am sick for an extended period of time, with a hacking cough or persistent fever, my wife will take the matter into her own hands. She will make the appointment to the doctor for me and then tell me to go. That’s a strong, life-giving love. Despite my complaints and groans at her intervention, she loves me enough to take the tough road for my blessing.

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7–8, NKJV)

When Paul describes the kind of love that leads to healthy, satisfying relationships, he paints a picture of a strong, tough, enduring, positive love.

1. Love stands up under the weight of disappointment and difficulty.

Life-giving love “bears all things.” The idea is that love stands up under the pressure and stresses of life. It does not fold when the going gets tough in life or relationships, and there are a lot of stresses and disappointments even in the best relationships. Love becomes life-giving when we settle back into the arms of Jesus for strength and stand up to bless the other in the face of stress and disappointment.

2. Love displays a generous spirit of trust toward the other.

Life-giving love “believes all things.” When Paul talks about love always believing, we find the essence of trust in others. Although this does not mean that a person is naïve or gullible in relationships, it does indicate that love displays a generous spirit toward others rather than turning a cynical eye toward them.

3. Love moves forward with a spirit of optimism toward the other.

Life-giving love “hopes all things.” It always hopes for the best in and from others. There is an optimism expressed here that is somehow sorely lacking in so many today. Because of God’s never-ceasing love for us, in spite of our repeated disappointments to Him, He continues to hope in us. We in turn trust God’s continued work in the hearts of others so that we believe that the best is on its way.

4. Love has a warrior’s undaunted spirit to fight for the good of the other.

Life-giving love “endures all things.” It is the picture of the battle-weary warrior who remains undaunted and not dismayed. Jesus nourishes our soul with a continual feast of love. This love gives us confidence and courage to endure, and we in turn pour that love toward others.

5. Love never becomes invalid or useless, but it builds an eternal legacy in the life of the other.

Life-giving love “never fails.” The apostle Paul declared that only love will last as a legacy for our ultimate future. Love will never become unimportant, love will never become useless, love will never become invalid, love will never become a crumbling dynasty that has no power in the future.

“There is a sense in love is never brought down; it reflects God’s character, after all, and cannot fluctuate from what it is. Yet that very reality is what also gives it eternal character, so that it ‘remains’ even after all other things have come to their proper end.” (Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 643)

Without life-giving love, our relationships will become crooked and empty. With life-giving love, even the most difficult relationships can become filled with satisfaction and health.

How can we love like that? Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, nourish my soul today with Your love so that I can love others the way that You have loved me.”

 

Love is … (Part 3)

Have you ever watched the slap-stick of Charlie Chaplin, Red Skelton, and Jerry Lewis? In slap-stick comedy, an actor makes people laugh with his make-believe misfortune. On shows like “Funniest Home Videos” or “Ridiculousness,” it’s the not-so-make-believer hurts of people that seeks a laugh from the audience. Life-giving love doesn’t take its cue from these shows when seeking to build healthy, satisfying relationships.

“[Love] does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6, NKJV)

1. Love never takes delight over the mistakes of others.

Life-giving doesn’t rejoice in iniquity. It refuses to delight over the misfortunes of others. The term for “wrong-doing” (adikia) is a general term that can point to anything from a violation of the law to injustice to deceit. It is a picture of seeking personal glory rather than God’s. For love to be love, it must refuse to delight in the sin that others embrace. We don’t giggle or grin when they walk a path that is contrary to what God wants. Love is never gladdened when someone else falls.

2. Love delights itself in the right things shaping the heart of the other.

Life-giving love rejoices in the truth. It delights itself in the right things shaping the heart of the other. This is the intense, passionate desire for truth to come alive in the hearts of the other. Love rejoices when those we love live each moment in concert with the truth of the gospel. Love looks for victories instead of failures. Love looks for forgiveness offered instead of bitterness harbored. Love looks for kindness given rather than selfishness embraced.

To experience love in our relationships that produces satisfaction, our love has to be the kind of love that celebrates all those things in the lives of the other that brings God pleasure. Our love takes delight in the deeper things that bring a smile to the face of God.

Our love is on the right track when we long for the salvation of the ones we love. Our love is on the right track when we rejoice over obedience to God in the one we love. Our love is on the right track when we rejoice over the brokenness of the other (Ps 51:16-17). It delights when the other displays a heart broken before God in confession and surrender.

How can we love others like that? Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, nourish my soul today with Your love so that I can love others the way that You have loved me.”

 

Love is … (Part 2)

Life-giving love is better than a fake smile pasted over a deeper resentment. Love is more than a kind word that hides a jealous, bitter heart. We need a love like Jesus! One that is real and healing and life-giving.

“[Love] does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil.” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV)

1. Love refuses to act in a way that demeans, disrespects, or demoralizes the other.

Life-giving love isn’t “rude” (aschēmonei). Think about how Jesus related to Zaccheus (Luke 19). Here was a man who had disregarded God’s laws and sought what would benefit himself at the expense of others. Jesus didn’t smile at Zaccheus, while thinking to Himself, “What a jerk.” He didn’t demean the man; He sought to bless the man.

The love that God demands from us refuses to behave in a way that brings disrepute and dishonor to God Himself. When we relate to other people, our conduct is a reflection on God’s character. If we behave in a manner that is outside the pattern of His character, then we have failed to love others in the way that God demands. So, “rude” is out of the question in our relationships.

2. Love elevates the needs of the other.

Life-giving love doesn’t “seek its own” (zētei ta heautēs). Love encourages others and seeks the good for others rather than the fulfillment of personal rights or freedoms. Life-giving love that builds healthy relationships isn’t “self-seeking.” Loving like God has loved us means that we seek what’s beneficial for others, not ourselves.

3. Love has a long fuse, refusing to become irritable over the actions of the other.

Life-giving love isn’t “irritable” (paroxunetai). We all have a tendency to become quickly dismayed and angered over someone’s behavior. Paul shows us that the love God demands from His followers has a long fuse. It is not quickly or easily provoked into anger.

4. Love has a short memory, refusing to keep a ledger of wrongs done to us by the other.

Life-giving love “thinks no evil” (logizetai to kakon). Paul paints a picture that looks like a ledger sheet. It is the description of putting the record of a wrong done to the credit of one who is doing us wrong. Just as God’s love “removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12), our love does the same. Because we love others the way God loves us, we don’t store up the wrongs done to us and bring the charge to someone later.

But how can we love others like that?

“According to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16–19, ESV)

I pray that you and I might be captured by the love of Jesus so that His love sinks its roots deep into our hearts and nourishes our soul. When His love grasps our hearts, we will be equipped to love others with His life-giving love.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, nourish my soul today with Your love so that I can love others the way that You have loved me.”