It doesn’t take a devil to drain me. It just takes one exhausting person.
My life possesses its fair share of problematic people. You know the type: They want more than you can give. They take more than you have to offer. Some people are rejuvenating. Others are depleting. Over time, you realize something: They’re affecting you.
Who are these toxic people? One man explained to me that the ‘toxic’ are the ones who don’t support your dream. As a matter of fact, according to him, I was toxic. He wanted to be a famous Christian singer and I told him to first be a healthy church member. Since I didn’t support his dream, I was the problem. Yet others are toxic because they irritate you; they make you angry; they frustrate you. No matter who they are, you can tell if someone is toxic as they seemingly keep you from growing and going where you hope.
Fangs do not only hurt. Their venom, it seems, is now in your veins. Your life begins to spiral. You’ve lost all joy. You have trouble sleeping at night. You’re angry. In your opinion, this toxic person is the cyanide in your soda. You’ve been poisoned. They are the problem.
What’s the answer? Cut them off.
Cut-Off-Toxic-People: A False Gospel?
Many of these fancy little phrases popularize themselves in pointless conversations. Often harmless, they’re nothing but hashtags for healthy living. This one, I believe, is a little different.
It’s different because people actually presuppose that problematic people are the problem. It’s different because I’ve heard prominent pastors work this phrase—“Cut off toxic people”—into their sermons. They preach this, not as a mere application point, but as the main point of their sermon. It’s different because Christians are called to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matt. 5:43–44). It’s different because Jesus was surrounded by and served toxic people. We’re called to follow Him.
But it’s present, sometimes implicitly, in modern-day preaching: “You’re created for more than this,” the preacher might say. “You’ve got people in your life who don’t believe in you. They don’t believe in your dreams. They don’t support you. It might be time to drop some so-called friends.”
Cut-Off-Toxic-People is a miserable gospel which doesn’t save. Before I present its problem, allow me to present its gospel narrative. Cut-Off-Toxic-People begins with the belief that society has created some people toxic, and others pure. It is embraced by those who believe themselves to be among the pure. According to this false gospel, the Fall happens when the pure allow toxic individuals to negatively influence them. It happens as you’re surrounded by poisonous people. Redemption is found in cutting off toxic people. Ultimate restoration is living a peaceful life.
Friends Do Matter
First, it should be stated that friends do matter. A glance at the book of Proverbs reminds us: “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Prov. 13:20). Tight friendships with the angry rub off on you. Proverbs 13:20 contrasts the effect of good friends versus bad: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Paul adds his own Proverb in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Bad company ruins good morals.” James takes it a step further, displaying the damning results of bad companionship: “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4b).
Christians are a new community and ought to have close companionship with like-minded believers. Sure, Christians may have non-Christian friends, but their nearest and most impactful friendships should be with Jesus-people. The problem with Cut-Off-Toxic-People is not a misdiagnosis concerning the importance of companionship. The problem with this false gospel is that it maintains a proud view of oneself, a shallow view of sin, a blunted remedy, and a worldly hope.
Proud View of Oneself. No one ever asks the question: “Am I toxic?” The problem with this worldview is that it views oneself as pure and unable to be the problem. In my own life, a careful evaluation of any relational problem is always a two-way street. I can be problematic and need to be honest with myself. God said, “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Prov. 8:13).
Shallow View of Sin. The biggest problem is not any toxic individual, but sin. A person doesn’t make us sin. All sin comes from our own wicked desire. Allowing someone to lead me to discouragement, laziness, or anger is on me, not them. I must realize that, because of sin, I am toxic. If not to others, I’m certainly toxic to myself.
Blunted View of the Remedy. Therefore, Cut-Off-Toxic-People leads to a blunted view of the remedy. You must repent of not merely bad friends, but of your own partnership with wickedness. Repentance is not merely cutting someone off (though certainly may include that at times). Repentance is sorrow for your participation in the world’s schemes. The remedy is not in mere subtraction, but in addiction. One finds a new friend. John 15:13 tells us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This friend is Jesus, and He laid down His life for toxic people—and that includes me.
Worldly View of Hope. Cut-Off-Toxic-People tells us a delightful life is discovered in dropping people. Let’s be real: hang with anyone long enough and they can feel toxic. Our hope isn’t in this rat race of blocking phone numbers and social media profiles. Our hope is in heaven. One day, peace will come to earth. On that day, Jesus will judge the wicked and His people will dwell in peace.
Where to Look
So we look to Jesus. Carefully choose your friends. Surround yourself with people who build you up in Jesus, not simply you. Yet, love the broken and the lost. Remember, Jesus hung with outcasts, forgave sinners, and selflessly served others.
Following His lead, Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Pet. 4:8-10).
Author’s Note: This short series is intended to explore the subtle false gospels which pervade the inner city ministry context (and many others). While there are hundreds of additional false gospels, these simple evaluations are intended to inspire ministers and gospel workers to discover, diagnose, and dismantle false gospels in every community.