HOW DOES THE BIBLE CAUTION US ABOUT TOXIC PEOPLE?
By Heather Adams
“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
The word “toxic” evokes an image of something poisonous that poses a danger to anyone who approaches it. We often use this word in relation to chemicals and waste matter. Every once in a while, though, a person can be described this way.
Like signs that caution us not to touch hazardous material, Scripture warns us about the danger of spending time with someone who can spread false and destructive beliefs. Part of the problem is the actual behavior they display. But perhaps the more concerning issue is how easily their attitudes can contaminate those around them.
What Is a Toxic Person?
Being toxic goes beyond being disagreeable or even troublesome. In fact, one definition of the term reads, “very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.” This points to the seriousness of having someone toxic in our lives: not only can they affect our mood by what they do and say, but their negative spirit can end up bringing our hearts down as well.
In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, we find cautions about getting too closely connected to someone with a noxious personality because of the trouble it brings to us:
“A troublemaker and a villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks maliciously with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart — he always stirs up conflict. Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed — without remedy” (Proverbs 6:12-15).
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).
“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25).
What the Bible Says about Toxic People
Scripture tells us repeatedly that a person’s true beliefs will eventually show themselves in an outward way. Jesus Himself spoke of the connection between toxic thoughts and toxic behavior.
“He went on: ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person’” (Mark 7:20-23).
Many times, a toxic person has lived that way for so long, he or she is unaware of their heart condition. That can lead someone to believe they are always right and to freely express all their opinions.
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
If confronted about it, that person might not see the problem with their thoughts or actions. So, they may not respond well to correction, even given in love – at least at first.
“‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you’” (Psalm 32:8-9).
Verses and Examples of Toxic People in Scripture
God’s Word gives us examples of those who not only disregarded His Ways, but openly tried to turn others against Him. Some were willing to repent and become aligned again with the Lord, but others stubbornly kept to their ways and suffered the consequences.
“He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, ‘I’ll pin David to the wall.’ But David eluded him twice” (1 Samuel 18:10-11).
“Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. ‘I will give her to him,’ he thought, ‘so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him’” (1 Samuel 18:20-21).
“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to’” (Matthew 23:13).
“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matthew 22:15).
Some at the End Times
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
As Christians, How Should We Respond to Toxic People in Our Lives?
God is passionate about protecting the purity of His people, and yet hopes that all will eventually come to repentance. So while He calls us to reach out to and show His love to all we meet, the Lord warns us not to let ourselves be contaminated in the process. But it is a challenging balance to strike.
Part of that balance has to do with staying strong in our own faith. Studying God’s Word daily and fellowshipping with other believers are just two activities that keep us aligned with Him. When we have a strong foundation, ministering to others becomes another way to worship the Lord.
Some verses instruct us to keep seeking the good of others, no matter what their manner toward us might be.
“‘…bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’” (Luke 6:28).
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
Another way to maintain the right balance in this area is to keep our personal boundaries healthy and secure. If we become too weary or tempted, our own faith could be at risk. So, while working for the good of others, we must respect our needs, too.
“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position” (2 Peter 3:17).
And in the end, we must give others the respect of making their own choices, and realize that God will decide their fate.
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Is God’s Grace Sufficient for the Toxic People in Our Lives?
When people are willing to be honest, self-aware and humble, God’s grace is more than enough to do a life-altering work in them. He longs to be asked into someone’s heart, so He can help them become more like Christ.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God often works through His people as well:
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4).
Though we may long to help even the most toxic people, we must protect our own well-being. As we decide whether to actively reach out to them, or to quietly keep them in prayer, we must look to God to help us keep our faith pure and strong in the process.
In Psalms 101, David declares a pledge that we can say for ourselves:
“I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil. Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate. My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me. No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence” (Psalm 101:3-7).