I don’t remember the last time I intentionally harmed someone, verbally or otherwise. So knowing my intentions before God, it was a bit of a shock when people started attacking me. But any God-given mission attracts opposition. That’s where toxic people come into play.
This was a lesson I had to learn when I first entered a bit of public ministry, as I was initially surprised by the intensity of the personal attacks.
I don’t want to intentionally hurt anyone. I mean that. I try, before God and by His grace, to live by Romans 13:10, which teaches that “love does no harm to a neighbor” (NIV).
I have a pretty conservative approach to Scripture. I tend to think the clearest meaning, especially one the church has had throughout almost its entire history, is the one we should accept and aspire to, which I understand can be considered “mean” if Scripture appears to question something someone wants to do.
Added to this, however, was the sometimes seemingly deliberate misrepresentation. I have had to come to grips with the fact that people have lied and will lie about me. They will rip a few sentences out of context, twist a few passages, and make me sound like I believe something I don’t because they need something to be angry about and oppose.
And they’ll post it all on an Amazon review or in a blog.
I’m not trying to defend myself
It has taken me too long to learn that it’s often best to simply not respond. (One could make an exception, of course, if a spouse needs to defend her or his reputation during a custody dispute, or something similar.) Here’s what I’ve come to terms with in regard to mission: My first goal in life isn’t to defend me.
What someone thinks about me won’t impact their future spiritual destiny. For every minute someone lies about me, I want to spend an hour telling others the truth about Jesus Christ. I don’t want to be distracted even to defend myself.
God’s kingdom is more important than mine. Infinitely more important. There’s no time for lesser concerns.
Jesus urged his disciples, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me” (John 9:4 NIV).
Without this sense of mission, I could waste a lot of time and energy. Something I’ve done at times in the past. Understanding the brilliance and depth of Matthew 6:33—seeking first the kingdom of God, not my kingdom, reputation, or comfort—keeps me on course to live a life that matters most.
It’s about mission
I want to help deliver you from engaging in “fantasy arguments” with toxic people in your head or “Facebook fights” online. Armed with an acute sense of mission, you will realize that sometimes (though not always) defending your reputation is a waste of time when you could be focusing your energy on proclaiming the glory of God.
The reason this is anchored in talking about mission is deliberate and crucial. Otherwise, what I have to say could be misunderstood and used for destructive aims.
Our mission is not to seek out and defeat toxic people. In most instances, unless we have vocational authority over them, our job is to ignore them so we don’t get distracted from our mission to love others.
The mission is our focus; toxic people are merely the distraction we need to avoid.
Celebrated novelist and philosopher Aldous Huxley warns,
“Those who crusade not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptibly worse than it was before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself . . . To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous. Every crusader is apt to go mad. He is haunted by the wickedness which he attributes to his enemies; it becomes in some sort a part of him.”[i]
Generous and sacrificial
Christians are called to love generously and even sacrificially. And that includes loving some very difficult people. If you think your job is to spot and confront toxic people for the sake of stopping toxic people, you’ll miss the entire point.
Service comes first; everything else flows from that. If I’m driving down the highway eager to get somewhere, I’m not going to stop whenever I see litter on the roadside. However, if something is blocking the road, I have to stop the car, jump out, and move it out of the way to get to where I’m going.
That should be your attitude with toxic people. Leave them in the hands of God when you can. Confront and remove them when you must. But always keep your focus on seeking first the kingdom of God.
Taken from When to Walk Away by Gary Thomas. Copyright © 2019 by Gary Thomas. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
[i] Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun (New York: HarperCollins, 1952), 192, 260.