At some point in time in life you have probably had a friend or acquaintance that seemed to have no real positive value in your life. Instead of building you up, they seem to tear down. Instead of pushing you on toward holiness, they drag you back toward worldliness. Instead of making your more like Christ, they end up encouraging you to make devilish decisions. These relationships can be toxic. Yet, even when you know they are toxic, it can still be hard to discern how to deal with them. Do you simply cut them off? Do you stay in the relationship (often to your detriment) in hopes of changing them? Do you simply just deal with it and the inevitable consequences that will follow because of the relationship? I believe Scripture provides some definitive answers when it comes to these types of toxic relationships. Here are a few things to consider.
Consider What Bad Relationships Can do to You
Weather it be a friend, a family member, or someone that you are romantically involved with, whoever you choose to spend your time with will influence you. Solomon reminds us that “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” in Proverbs 13:20. This indicates that those who are influenced by fools often become foolish themselves. Paul reminds us what bad company can do as well when he writes this warning to the Corinthians, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (I Corinthians 15:33). Choosing to stay close friends with bad company often leads an otherwise “good” person to do bad things. Some of these bad things can even lead to great harm. Look no further than Psalm 1 for this truth. The man who doesn’t walk, stand, nor sit with the wicked in agreement is said to be “blessed.” Yet the wicked, who do these things, their way ends poorly. The writer simply writes that they, “will perish.” Both Old Testament and New Testament writer provide the same warning: bad relationships can cause great harm to both the soul and body of the persons who are in them. This is what a bad relationship can do.
Consider What you Might Need to do With These Relationships
You may know that the relationship is not positive, but what can you do about it? Maybe you have been friends for years. Yet, what is more important, your relationship to them or your relationship with the Lord? If they are having a negative effect on your relationship with God, something must be done. I would tell you to take your soul into account. Paul says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test” (II Corinthians 13:5). If this relationship is causing you to sin and you have noticed that you are growing callused to your sin, you need to stop and examine your faith. If your faith isn’t calling your into warrior-like action against sin, you may well not have genuine saving faith. It is a scary thing to know that on judgment day that there will be many who cry “Lord, Lord” yet know Him not. This is why an examination is needed.
After you examine yourself, and if you find yourself to be in the faith it may be time to take some extreme measures in this relationship. Jesus, in the most famous sermon ever preached, uses hyperbole to express how big a deal it is to get sin under control. While talking about lust he says, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out . . . if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off” (Matthew 5:28-30). He is not suggesting physical self mutilation but rather, spiritual mortification. While this text is directly speaking to sexual sin, the principle can also be applied here by extension. If your friendship or romantic relationship is toxic, it may be time for a complete detox so as to provide your spirit with the proper nourishment it needs. Bad relationships most often drain spiritual nourishment, and don’t replenish. It may well be time to cut off this relationship altogether.
Consider How to Help Those Relationships
It is likely that these toxic relationships simply need to end. The Proverbs are filled with wisdom on this topic. However, how do you do that in a God honoring way? The writer of Hebrews says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Pursue peace with them. Explain to them that your relationship with the Lord is suffering and that you need time to focus on Him. Explain that your current relationship isn’t helping with this. They may or may not respond to that well, but they need to see your priority is to please God rather than man.
Secondly, you should pray for your friend. This is one of the areas where Paul commands Timothy to pray. He writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (I Timothy 2:1). If you are a believer, you have access to the throne room of God that allows you to intercede on their behalf. You likely, need to have them out of your life for some time physically, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop caring for them in the way of prayer. This is a great way to show that you love them.
Finally, the best possible thing that you could do for them is to present the gospel to them. The great commission demands us to go and make disciples. Your friend needs more than good morals, they need the gospel. They don’t need your friendship as much as they need the favor of the Father. This is their only hope. So, pursue peace though explaining your need to back away, pray for them, and if possible present the gospel to them as well.
At best we only get 80-100 years here on earth. That is actually a very short amount of time when you think about it. With so little time here, why would you waste it on a toxic relationship? The Lord has called us to be both salt and light. We are told to engage the world, but at the same time not to be conformed to it. So, yes, seek genuine friendships with people who may not be like you . . . who may not even be Christians. However, do not let them influence you in an unholy way. If you see this type of toxicity, it is time to pull back from that which is providing the poison. In a world where we are told that everything seems to be poisoning us (from our food to our water) our relationships are something that we have control over. Choose what is healthy . . . avoid that which is toxic. It seems like sound advice for what we put into our body. Yet, how much more true is it when we think about our soul?
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B. Burrell