Important, But Rarely Considered (Toxic People)
January 06, 2019 | Randy Smith
Important, But Rarely Considered (Toxic People)
2 Timothy 3:1–7
Sunday, January 6, 2018
Pastor Randy Smith
Throughout the day my mind is always at work – thinking and praying. I’m pondering about what God is teaching me. I’m pondering about what He wants for this church. And I’m pondering concepts of life and how they relate to the Bible.
This particular topic is something I have been thinking about for over a year. It’s been taking thoughts and verses and experiences and seeking to weave them together to formulate a clear concept. It is a topic that has brought much pain to my life and to our church in general. It’s a topic that I believe is the greatest threat to God’s work here at Grace Bible Church. And as the title of the sermon indicates, it’s a topic that is rarely discussed, even one I have never heard a pastor address from a pulpit.
It’s going to be hard to get months of thinking into one sermon (especially on a Lord’s Table Sunday), but I will try to give you only the essentials. This sermon might make some of you very mad, but I submit the madder it makes you the more you are guilty of this devastating sin. In the time we have together I want to talk about toxic people.
Here is where we are going. What is a toxic person? Are you a toxic person? How do we deal with a toxic person?
What Is A Toxic Person?
So what is a toxic person? A toxic person from a theological perspective is an individual that is so obsessed with self that they prevent others from reaching their full potential in Christ. Often they are so consumed in their self-worship that they control other people, demanding an allegiance as if they were God. They needlessly drain others of their time, money and energy with the result of little personal change on their part and discouragement of the part of those who seek to help them. When the resources run dry, they move on to another unsuspecting individual, oftentimes vilifying the former person who poured so much into their lives. They may be an acquaintance we are trying to help. They may be someone we know as friend, family or church member.
Christians and churches are fertile ground for toxic people and the primary reason is because we are compassionate, patient and caring. We accept all people. Our strengths become our weaknesses. We do not think we need to establish boundaries. We do not believe we have the permission to tell people “enough is enough.”
If I were Satan, the greatest way I would destroy this church would be through toxic people. I am not implying we are above false teaching, immorality, physical harm, financial impropriety or disunity in the body. You see, these are the things we are looking for. We are vigilant in these areas. Satan is crafty. Strategic attacks there? No, too much work with minimal results.
If I were Satan I would send toxic people to Grace Bible Church. It would only take about 3-5 of them and they could successful destroy a church of one-thousand people. Satan knows Galatians 5:9, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” Oh yes, I would get them to make every small group discussion about their problems. They would dominate all the time so there would be no time for the Bible. They would put the spotlight on themselves every evening so it is taken off Christ. They would exasperate the leaders. And they would make others in the group wonder why they have to come out and deal with this every week. Then when people feel that serving others if fruitless (because of the time spent with no results), they will be less motivated to serve others in the future. And the moment anyone thinks they need to cut the person off or even ask them to leave the group, I’ll remind them that Christians need to compassionate and it is our responsibility to help everyone!
But I won’t stop there. I’ll put them in the prayer meetings and they will dominate the prayer time with long prayers about themselves. I’ll use them to bleed the church dry of money that could be better used for the Lord’s kingdom. I’ll have them wear down the counselors in the church. I’ll have them kill the congregation through their manipulation, complaining and gossip. I’ll get them to think that it is the church’s fault that they have problems. I’ll get them to make visitors and new believers that are coming out very comfortable to be in their presence. And through it all, the leaders’ and the congregations’ attention will be on them so genuine needs are not met and teachable, spiritually-hungry people are not discipled. They will be lord of the church. And when they move on, they will bad-mouth the church and I’ll just keep sending new replacements to such gullible people.
I can’t tell you how many times have told my family that the greatest enemy to the American church is people in the church.
Now that I have probably freaked you out, let me back-peddle a little bit. I am not implying that everyone who has a need or is going through a tough time or disagrees with you or even sins against you is toxic. This is life in the church. And if we base toxicity on that stuff, all of us could then be defined as toxic.
This is a personal sermon, so let me provide an illustration from my personal life in this church to define such an individual. My primary responsibility is teach the Bible and of these times, primarily Sunday morning. I’ll work all week on the sermon. I’ll go through it on Saturday night and twice at different times on Sunday morning. I’ll examine my life against it. I’ll pray over it. I will internalize it to such a degree that it comes directly from my heart. I’ll give everything I’ve got in the proclamation two times every Sunday morning.
When I finish, especially after the second service, it is a joyous time. It is the highlight of my week. I feel I gave both you and the Lord my very best. I feel so inspired to be here with all of you each week. But I can’t tell you how many times I left this church discouraged by what one person said to me when I finished. Some words, as the Bible teaches are “restless evil” and “deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8) and have the ability to devastate you. Our topic is toxic people.
You say, “Is it comments of disagreement?” Not really, I need to expect that. This is controversial material.
You say, “Is it people that rush the pulpit immediately when I finish only to talk about trivial things?” Not really, they need to grow in the faith. Perhaps they are not even saved.
You say, “Is it someone who interrupts your conversation with another or stands right in your face when you are talking to another?” Not really, we can all grow in our social skills.
You say, “Is it someone who gets upset with me because they want me all to themselves on Sunday morning but I politely tell them there are visitors I need to greet and others that I need to speak with?” Not really, they simply do not see things from my perspective.
You say, “Is it someone who corrects something you say?” Not really, I want to grow in my preaching skills. Although I believe after 45 minutes of hearing God’s Word and only wanting to talk about a run-on sentence is a little off-base.
You say, “Is it someone who shares a major personal problem?” Not really, we are here to help, although I think dropping a bomb on me during those circumstances is poor timing and better suited for a more productive meeting in my office.
So what is it then?
What do you do when someone nearly every Sunday wants to drop all their emotional problems on you? What do you do when someone nearly every Sunday has nothing but negative for you without a word of encouragement or perhaps something they might have learned from the message? It is my job because I am a pastor to just let them tear me down every Lord’s Day? Moreover, permitting this destructive behavior is only enabling them in their sinful tendencies that most likely, if it’s done to me five minutes a week, are being done to their spouse and children throughout the week.
So, how can you identify a toxic person? Here are four things to consider.
Number 1: Toxic people seek to control others.
A toxic person wants to be your functional god. They want to make you more nervous about letting them down than you should be about letting God down. They will manipulate in a way that oftentimes you do not realize what’s happening. They wish to be lord over your life. You will find yourself centering your priorities, thoughts and actions on their agenda. Christ has come that we might ultimately serve Him. John 8:36, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” As a Christian, you are now free from the slavery to sin and even the slavery to sinful people. Christ strengthens and builds up. Toxic people (antichrists) weaken and tear down through their controlling tendencies.
Number 2: Toxic people will play the victim.
This relates to their desire to control you. Often they control you by a never-ending pity-party about their problems. Instead of turning to Christ, you become their Messiah; at least they let you believe that. The relationship then denigrates into a dysfunctional co-dependency. They simply know their apparent problems combined with your caring heart are a ticket to receive never-ending attention. They prey on your feelings to exhaust your resources. Be wise brothers and sisters! Are they implementing your biblical advice? Is there any repentance? Are they always negative? Do they get defensive when you point out their wrongdoing? Are they continually blaming others (and often you) for their problems?
Number 3: Toxic people are masters at emotional abuse whether they realize it or not.
You know if you let them down they will retaliate with harm. Oftentimes they are passive-aggressive people. They threaten, manipulate, criticize, accuse, complain and intimidate to such a degree that you will be tempted toward despair, depression, frustration, anxiety, self-blame and apathy. You often feel you are walking on eggshells in conversation with them in fear of what they need to tell you or what they will say in response to what you tell them. Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Continual passive-aggressive attacks from our so-called friends (cold shoulder, mean looks, unforgiveness, gossip, and the like) should serve as a warning sign.
Number 4: Toxic people will draw you into their sin.
“Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him” (Pr. 26:17). When you spend time with another person, do you find yourself complaining more? Are you giving people a platform to share gossip? Do certain people continually rob you of your joy and peace? Do they tend to make you worried or anxious? Do you continually walk away discouraged? Don’t enable and don’t be a partner-in-crime regarding one’s sins.
Since we are enjoying this so much, let me give you a bonus one, number 5: Toxic people have no respect for boundaries.
In order to function in any community (civil society, church, family) we need to establish boundaries. Barring an emergency, I would not want you calling me at 3:00 in the morning just to chat. There are general boundaries that we establish with all people and there are at times specific boundaries that we need to establish with certain people. Toxic people do not respect boundaries. And their toxicity is ultimately exposed when you establish a specific boundary for them and they make it a point to cross the line. Their goal is to break your will. Control you without you having any say in how the relationship is constructed.
Are You A Toxic Person?
Point number 2 is short, but perhaps the most important. Are you a toxic person? I know we all have a tendency to possibly manifest all of these toxic traits. But what I am asking here is, “Do these traits characterize you?”
If they do I am begging you to come to Jesus Christ for the only power to be released from the sinister behavior that stifles your joy and pollutes every relationship you will ever be a part of. If you claim to be a Christian, look deeply at your life. Pray. Humble yourself. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal reality. Of course you need to get help, but rather than using the help as a means to further your toxic behavior, use it as a means to bring forth repentance as you can change from being a self-worshipper to a God-worshipper and a burden to a blessing. As you go from serving yourself to serving others. As you go from a source of discouragement to a source of encouragement. As you go from a seed of Satan (that tears down the church) to a fruit bearing Christian manifesting the traits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23 – that serves as an example to the church).
And listen carefully, if you refuse to repent, we will not let you steer us off our Lord’s mission to proclaim Christ to make it about you as you fill this body of believers with constant complaining, using others, controlling others, depleting others with your problems when you have no desire to be used, controlled and filled with Christ. Proverbs 22:10, “Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, even strife and dishonor will cease.”
How Do We Deal With A Toxic Person?
So odds are I would like to believe far fewer of us are in the category of being toxic person ourselves and more in the category of having to personally deal with toxic person. So, third point, what do we do when a toxic person is in our life? Here are four things to consider.
Number 1: Choose your friends carefully.
Proverbs 18:24, “A man of too many friends comes to ruin.” God does command you to love people, but He does not command you to be close friends with everyone. We often let toxic people into our lives. You give an inch they will take a mile. They will own you. Get to know people before you invite them intimately into your life. Friends are there to enjoy, sharpen you biblically (Pr. 27:14), build you up in your faith – not tear you down, drain you emotionally and love you conditionally.
Number 2: Be very careful who you marry.
You can remove a toxic friend out of your life. You cannot, under most circumstances, remove a toxic spouse out of your life. This is a tough one to be in, especially since you share the same house together. If that’s you – pray, establish boundaries, get help together, pray more. If you are not married, be careful who you marry.
Number 3: Do not enable other people in unrepentant sin.
Listen carefully, if professing Christians come to you for biblical help, you have every right to expect to see change in their lives. They should do some “heavy-lifting.” They should be showing up for church on the Lord’s Day. Give them Bible-verses to study, books to read and life-examination assignments. If they refuse to follow the expectations or do follow the expectations, but refuse to repent, cut them off. I can tell you from experience that the people I have counseled the most over the years have shown the least amount of change and dislike me the most. That is a waste of their time, my time, the money you are paying me to be here and the others who are legitimate from getting the help they desire. Be a good steward of the limited time God has given you. Let’s be wise, asking God for wisdom (Jas. 1:5). We are called to “bear one another's burdens” (Gal. 6:2), but let’s not bear foolish burdens. The Christian life will have “afflictions” (1 Thes. 3:3), but let’s not subject ourselves to needless afflictions.
I love the story about the “woe-is-me man” from John 5. “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (Jn. 5:7). What did Jesus say? “Do you wish to get well?” (Jn. 5:6). How many times I’ve heard, I have a problem with spending. I have a problem with alcohol. I have a problem with negative thinking. My kids hate me. My spouse hates me. Stop! Do you want to be made well? If not, no one wants to hear your problems! We all have enough of our own. However, if you do want to be made well you are at the right place.
Number 4: If toxic behavior persists warn the individual and then separate yourself from them.
This is a biblical principle. Romans 15:17, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” 1 Corinthians 5:9, “[Not to] associate with [them].” 2 Thessalonians 3:6, “Keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life.” 2 Timothy 3:5, “Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” We can even get specific: “Do not associate with a gossip” (Pr. 20:19). “Do not associate with a man given to anger” (Pr. 22:24). “Do not associate with those who are given to change” (Pr. 24:21). Don’t hate, just separate.
Now I know so of you might be saying that is mean. First it’s mean to watch these people destroy a church. Second, it is mean to enable people in their sin. This is only after attempts have been made to give them help. But when they refuse the help and all they want to do is destroy there is not any other option.
And if you still feel it is mean, I will be more than happy to give them your phone number. And after you are put through the emotional and spiritual wringer, sapped you of your time and energy with nothing to show for it, I promise you will agree with just about every word in this sermon. And by the way, when you do finally cut them off, I can almost guarantee you will be public-enemy number-one. So prepare yourself for the backlash.
Brothers and sisters, you have been set free in Christ. Don’t subject yourself to the bondage others seek to impose upon you. Be alert to anything that damages your spiritual health or the unity in the church. Jesus Christ is your new Master. He is your Lord. He is your sufficiency. He is your Shepherd. He is gentle and humble in heart. His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Mt. 11:30).