Relationships. Why are they so hard? I am sure you have read a number of articles on this very topic, perhaps with wide and varied opinions on the cause of these hardships. Since there has to be ‘the unpopular opinion’ in the mix, I’d like to offer another perspective –a biblical view on how we can be the problem. Unpleasant as it might sound, I beg you to read on as it could prove to be the most honest opinion you have come across.
“This relationship is about me and my needs”. Of course, no one in any sort of relationship would say that out loud. But often, our actions and responses say this quite explicitly. The popular movement of “cutting toxic people off” is more often than not rooted in selfishness. The favourite line in the quotes or teachings of this movement is, “If the (relationship) no longer serves you, leave”. This statement is a mirror of that unspoken sentiment, [the selfish expectation] of the relationship revolving around you. Granted, there are situations when people want and need to separate themselves from emotionally, mentally, psychologically or physically abusive individuals. This is not really a case of cutting off a toxic person, but rather, of removing themselves from an abusive relationship.
Who we are and what we’re called to
I know a number of Christians who have embraced this teaching, who are putting it into practice. I have been struck by their eagerness to jump on board with it, forgetting who they are and what they have been called to. The idea of cutting people off who do not comply with an agreeable standard is undoubtedly from a worldly mind-set. So, what then is the Christian mind-set?
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
This passage gives us a striking picture of what the Christian mind-set and attitude should be. It is to be in the likeness of the object of our faith, Jesus Christ. What we learn from this is selflessness in relationships, and what “loving your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31) looks like. This attitude goes against our DNA, which is selfishness. Naturally, we are inward-focused, and we love ourselves above anything and anyone else. It’s no wonder Jesus said “love your neighbour as yourself”, because there is no question about whether we love ourselves or not. We do. The challenge then, is to adopt a Christ-like attitude and position in our relationships.
A worthy example: God demonstrates His love for us
Is there room for cutting people off then for Christians? Let us consider what Jesus did. Being God, worshipped in all eternity by the heavenly beings, he lowered himself to become a human being, one of his creations. Why? To serve us. How? By dying on the cross. In this way, he reconciles us to God, taking upon himself all our guilt, sin and shame, and in exchange, giving us his righteousness. He did not have to do this, of course; he could’ve left us in our state of awaiting God’s judgement and just wrath. But, because of his love, he did that for us. Romans 5:8 is astounding. It says, “But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. While we hated God, while we ignored him and lived in rebellion to him, he showed the extent of his love for us. Jesus left his glory in heaven, to come serve people who hated him – in love – unto death. How great a love! Therefore, we who are called to belong to Christ are called to “be made new in the attitude of our minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:23-24). We are to be like Christ in our interactions with people – to love, despite.
The end goal of our relationships should not be about what we can get out of it, but considering others better than ourselves. Loving is hard. It is not comfortable. It requires a lot from you. Even sacrifice. And that’s exactly how we are meant to function. Our call is to love. And when we are done wrong, we must remember and trust that God will judge and avenge. Romans 12:19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’, says the Lord”. Ours is, as far as it depends on us, to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). The Christian life is ruled and guided by love because our God is love.