What a Toxic Relationship is Not

October 22, 2020  - By Heather Cofer

Well-Watered Women Blog-What a Toxic Relationship is NOT According to Scripture

Toxic or Not?

In my previous blog post, I identified what a toxic person is, according to Scripture. The word “toxic” is often used indiscriminately to describe relationships, but Christians need to be careful that our terms line up with Scripture. 

As important as it is to correctly identify a toxic person, it’s equally important that we are not labeling people toxic who are not. Sadly, people are sometimes labeled toxic for following God’s Word.

Christians Will be Labeled Toxic

Scripture is clear that believers are not going to be loved by the world (Luke 6:11). We may even be labeled harmful and hateful. Other believers may even consider us toxic when we refuse to embrace the world’s philosophies.

2 Timothy 3:12 warns us, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Being rejected by people doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing wrong. If we are being loving, patient, kind, and humble as we boldly proclaim truth then we can take heart that we are being persecuted for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 5:11; 1 Peter 3:15–16).

Followers of Christ must remember that we were once dead in our toxic sin before God made us alive in Jesus. Our battle against the flesh and the devil is ongoing. This should make us cautious to hastily label fellow Christians as “toxic” since we have experienced the same grace and are fighting the same enemy. We always need to go back to Scripture to help us discern whether someone is acting in a toxic way or not. 

Here are three traits commonly labeled as toxic that are actually not toxic according to Scripture. Someone who exercises these traits in love and humility demonstrates maturity as a believer, because they are willing to do the hard and right thing to love another person.

Someone who speaks hard truth

Sometimes the truth is really hard to hear. But often, we really need to hear that hard truth. It’s a faithful friend who truly loves and cares about us who is going to speak that truth in love (Proverbs 27:6). 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been admonished by my husband or parents or friends and bristled at their words, but am now grateful they chose to speak up. 2 Timothy 2:25 describes the Lord’s servant as one who is “...correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” The hard truth has often revealed a blind spot I really needed to see and pointed me to Jesus. 

Someone who disagrees with you

Our world is saturated with the mindset that if someone disagrees with you, they are your enemy. The world claims that love actually means condoning and agreeing with everything someone does, and that if you disagree you cannot have a relationship. But this isn’t true. Sometimes it’s those very differences that cause us to take a close look at our assumptions. They drive us to God’s Word to test whether we are believing what is right and good. Sometimes the people whose words are always agreeable and pleasant-sounding will actually turn us away from what is true (Psalm 55:21).

Be wary of people who cut others out of their lives whenever they disagree. This is evidence of a stiff and unteachable spirit. We should have hearts that are prepared to be challenged. We should be rock-solid on the Gospel, but willing to listen when someone has a differing view on something that is not absolutely clear in Scripture. 

God will bring his people into greater unity with one another as they sharpen one another in love and truth (Proverbs 27:17).

Someone who rebukes or confronts you

“A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.” (Proverbs 17:10)

When a believer whose life demonstrates obedience to the Bible and who displays the traits of a true Christ-follower confronts us, we should listen up. It is a very loving person who is willing to confront even when it is hard to do so, and they know it’s going to hurt us. Ecclesiastes 7:5 reminds us, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.”

A loving rebuke is laced with humility, and is firm yet gentle. Someone with wrong motives usually comes with accusation, unwillingness to hear someone out, and is being driven by anger. A prideful rebuke is harsh and tears someone down. A love-driven rebuke comes from a heart that desires to see someone thrive. 

Kelly Needham reminds us of our need for this kind of fellowship: “We need friends to lovingly show us our sin. We need friends to help us see our blind spots. We need friends to speak with brutal honesty (Matthew 18:15) and tender compassion (Galatians 6:1), telling us the truth about ourselves even when we don’t want to hear it (Ephesians 4:15).”

God’s Wisdom Guides Us

God will give us the wisdom and discernment we need to tell who is detrimental to our spiritual lives, and who is going to point us back to Christ. He will sanctify our own toxic tendencies as we submit ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit. He will also give us grace to be willing to be called toxic by the world in order to shine the light of Jesus Christ to those who are in such desperate need of it. 

Meet the Author:

Heather Cofer lives in Windsor, CO with her husband and four little kiddos. She is a writer for the ministry of Set Apart Girl and loves spending time doing life-on-life discipleship with other women. Her book Expectant: Cultivating a Vision for Christ-Centered Pregnancy released this year. She enjoys playing piano, modern calligraphy, sipping coffee with her husband, frost-covered trees, and laughter with friends. She has a heart for overseas missions, having grown up on the mission field (where she met her husband), and where both their parents still serve.

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  1. Anne Guerrero says:

    This is beautifully written and very True. Thank you and God bless!

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