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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Responding Biblically to Toxic Attacks

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Just because someone sounds like a Christian or uses Christian language doesn’t mean they’re offering Christian truth. Until we get this down, we’ll be discouraged and confused by toxic attacks couched in Christianese.

Jesus faced this with the Pharisees. They talked with feigned respect, “’Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth’” Matthew 22:16 (NIV).

Jesus saw right through them and called them out on it. “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?’” Matthew 22:18 (NIV)

Their language sounded good and holy, but the motives were sinister. A dirty person can wear clean clothes, but that doesn’t make the person clean underneath.

Religion, under the guise of grace, can be a powerful force for good. Absent grace, religion can corrupt. Self-righteous religion pours gasoline on the fire – “I’m only defending the faith!” – rather than bringing convictions to our own toxic actions.

If you are truly a follower of Christ, you won’t just speak Christ’s message; you will also employ Christ’s methods.

A pastor friend of mine in California, who also travels and speaks widely, has plenty of experience handling Christians who present themselves as well-meaning but who come off as toxic.  One gentleman used to come up to him after every sermon and say something along the lines of, “That was good as far as it went, but you could have added . . .”

Finally, my friend had to tell him, “Stop!” It was so discouraging every week to hear how his sermon could have been “just a bit” better. Besides, this weekly five-to-ten minute critique kept the pastor from meeting visitors and earnest attenders who had genuine questions or prayer requests.

A couple of ways my pastor friend learned how to handle toxic haters, in general, can be found in Hebrews:

  1. Keep my eyes on Jesus – “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). Jesus was brutalized, rejected, and hated by many. In times of attack and hurt, I am inspired, taught and empowered when my eyes are on him.
  2. Keep my eyes on other great saints who have gone before me – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV).   Both biblical people and people from church history show us a pathway of enduring suffering and standing strong. When I remember their journey, I am strengthened.

One of the “benefits” of being attacked by toxic people is that God can use them to scour our souls and perfect our motivation.

Taken from When to Walk Away by Gary Thomas. Copyright © 2019 by Gary Thomas. Used by permission of Zondervan

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