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How should Christians deal with toxic relationships?

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How should Christians deal with toxic relationships?
Posted on March 17, 2020  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

Christians are called to forgive like Christ. How should a Christian deal with toxic relationships though? Especially when it involves a first degree relationship, such as a parent, sibling or spouse? Cutting off such a relationship is so painful, even unthinkable, so there’s a lot of internal conflict and guilt that comes with asking this question — but when the other party isn’t a Christian, is constantly and wilfully sinning against you, and damaging your mental health in the process, are we still compelled to continue with them, or is it possible to forgive someone without necessarily having them in our lives?

In life, it is inevitable that we will encounter toxic people. In fact, we ourselves may be toxic, when we fall into sin and act selfishly towards others. The Bible teaches that, as Christians, we are to forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness, however, does not mean that we ignore abuse, or allow others to take advantage of us or use us.

The Bible also teaches that we are to pray for our enemies and be kind to them so that they will come under conviction and repent. In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Being kind does not mean becoming a doormat for people to walk all over us. Christians are to strive to live in peace with all people. They are not to be gossips or speak ill of others, but they are called to the truth. When someone continually mistreats you, you must put boundaries in place. Ideally, this should be done in a loving manner — not with harsh words or insults.

Why draw the line?

Boundaries ensure that you will be treated with dignity. And all people deserve to be treated with dignity because all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).

All people deserve to be treated with dignity because all people are created in the image of God

We may wonder why we find ourselves in such situations in the first place. But Scripture is clear that to follow Christ is to be at enmity with the world. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” So, while we do have trouble, it should comfort us to know we also have a God who heals our wounds. As Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” While God heals our wounds, as responsible people, we must also do what we can to take care of ourselves and foster healthy relationships.

Putting up boundaries with loved ones (especially loved ones who are not Christians) can be difficult. But, over time, those boundaries should help the relationship get back on track. Boundaries are not permanent, but they are for your protection.

Boundaries help you grow and help relationships grow in the right direction. They can involve your emotions, your time, your obligations, your body, and your intimacy.

You may have to tell someone that you will leave a situation if they yell, or if they speak to you in an inappropriate manner. You may have to be selective concerning what they get to know about your thoughts, feelings, plans, or actions. You may have to ask someone for space, or tell them ‘no’ when they ask you to do something you are not comfortable doing. You should be able to do all of these things without guilt or shame, because you are a person created in the image of God and you do not deserve to be mistreated by anyone. No one deserves to be mistreated by others.

Boundaries are not permanent, but they are for your protection

Growth is the goal

As others begin respecting your boundaries more, you can extend the boundaries to allow the person closer access to you. If the person stops respecting you, then you put the boundaries back in place. Over time, holding your boundaries will become easier.

There is nothing shameful or wrong about having boundaries. It is how we teach people how to treat us. Telling someone ‘no’ or distancing ourselves from that person if they do not deal respectfully with us may be necessary to this end.

Christ utilised boundaries in His ministry. He did not allow others to abuse Him (until the time had come for Him to face the cross). We look to Christ as our example. He knew we would have trouble, and He continues to be right there beside us in our despair.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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