Disassociate from Toxic People! (The “Turn Away Principle”)
There are numerous passages in the New Testament where we are instructed to disassociate from toxic people who are hostile, quarrelsome, lazy or carnal and refuse to accept or follow God’s Word. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Romans 16:17-18, Titus 3:9-11, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and 2 John 10-11 (for details see this article).
I call this the “turn away principle” based on a notable Old Testament passage. Chapter 17 of 1 Samuel details the famous account of David and Goliath. The 9.5’ Goliath was the Philistine champion who came down from his camp and challenged the Israelites every morning and evening for forty days. King Saul and his entire army reacted with great fear to the giant’s menacing threats, but when the shepherd boy David came to visit his brothers in Saul’s camp he expressed courageous interest in fighting Goliath for the considerable reward. Note the hostile reaction of David’s oldest brother:
When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is: you came down only to watch the battle.”
1 Samuel 17:28-29
Why was Eliab so angry with his youngest brother? Why did he insult David’s work (“those few sheep”)? Why did he call him conceited and wicked? Why did he make erroneous judgments concerning his intentions for visiting the army (which David actually did in obedience to their father, Jesse)? Eliab’s objections were all rooted in the flesh since David was clearly anointed of God to fight Goliath and deliver the Israelites from the Philistines. Eliab was jealous, pure and simple. Why was he jealous? Obviously because he was ashamed since, if anyone in his family was going to take on Goliath, it should’ve been him, the eldest brother with the most military experience. Simply put, David’s ultra-confidence in the LORD and his boldness at the prospect of fighting Goliath while the entire army shrunk back in terror seriously threatened Eliab’s sense of manhood and self-respect. In addition, Eliab was passed over a few years earlier when the prophet Samuel anointed David (1 Samuel 16:6-13). He was also likely jealous of the honor David received at such a young age in Saul’s court as a musician and armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21-23).
Notice David’s response to Eliab:
“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” (30) He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.
1 Samuel 17:29-30
David’s response – “Now what have I done?” – reveals that he was used to Eliab’s hollow accusations and insults. As the firstborn and eldest brother, Eliab had sibling authority and he obviously abused that authority via his constant unprovoked attacks on David, the gifted and anointed sibling who most threatened him. But this time David wasn’t going to take it; his adrenalin was pumping with righteous anger after hearing Goliath’s defiant challenge (verse 26) and he wasn’t about to let his brother’s discouraging words hinder him from fulfilling his divine commission. So what did David do? He “turned away” from his brother and inquired of someone else about the king’s reward for slaying the giant. Saul caught word of David’s bold interest and gave him his blessing to face Goliath. The rest is history – David slew Goliath with his slingshot and the Israelites had a great victory. He received a high rank in Saul’s service, fought many successful campaigns and ultimately became king of Israel.
This is important: In one day David graduated from a lowly shepherd boy to a mighty warrior and Eliab tried to stop this incredible promotion because of his pathetic rivalry. Since David’s promotion was clearly God-ordained, Eliab’s attempt to abort it was not only carnal, it was Satanic. But David was very close to God and therefore knew his divine calling; he wasn’t about to let Eliab’s false accusations and insults discourage him from fulfilling the LORD’s will and receiving the subsequent reward and promotion.
Yet, notice what David did and didn’t do. He didn’t enter into some draining quarrel with his brother; he simply “turned away,” which means he disassociated from him.
At some point you too will have to “turn away” from some of your relatives, friends or colleagues if they’re treating you the way Eliab treated David. Don’t fight with them, as far as it is possible. Like David, refuse to enter into life-sapping conflicts of this sort because they’ll inevitably pull you into the realm of the flesh and break your focus. If you make a battle out of everything you won’t have enough energy left over for what’s important. Just turn away.
And always remember that spirit is thicker than blood. What’s this mean? On one occasion Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him while he was ministering from town to town but they weren’t able to get inside the domicile where he was teaching due to the crowds. Someone announced that his mother and brothers were outside waiting and Jesus responded, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:19-21). Was Jesus disrespecting his blood relatives? No, he was simply making an important point: Your true relatives or friends are any who follow the ways of God and truth, which naturally includes those who recognize your worth and respect your divine assignment, not those who mock and discourage you because they’re arrogant, ignorant, insecure or jealous.
One last thing: Turning away from someone doesn’t have to be a lifelong affair; hopefully it’s temporary, depending on the person’s change of heart. David, for example, didn’t turn away from his oldest brother forever as Eliab later acknowledged David’s divine call and served as an officer under his kingship. This shows that, although Eliab really blew it on this occasion, he wasn’t a hopeless fool.
I’ve had to “turn away” from a few people over the years due to consistent bad fruit like arrogance, disrespect, strife and pure folly; one was even a best friend for about decade. They were stubborn and unrepentant, so I cut ties. But this doesn’t mean it has to last a lifetime. I’m more than willing to restore these relationships if any show genuine signs of repentance. They don’t even have to vocalize it to me; all they have to do is indicate that they’ve had a sincere change of heart. Heck, I’m open to being best buddies, as long as they repent. Isn’t this exactly how God deals with humanity? He’s willing to be close with any of us as long as we come to him with humble, respectful, pliable, repentant hearts, but if we’re stubborn and disrespectful, forget it. I’m happy to report, by the way, that one of these relationships was restored recently – God is good!
New Testament Passages that Support the “Turn-away Principle”
Observe these instructions Paul gave to the Roman Christians:
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (18) For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.
Paul tells the believers to watch out for those who have a penchant for causing strife and he instructs them to simply “keep away from them.” Notice he didn’t instruct them to confront and rebuke these divisive individuals; he simply told them to stay away from them. Were these divisive people Christians or unbelievers? It’s clear that Paul was referring to people within the community of Roman believers who at least proposed to be Christians. Regardless of whether or not they were legitimate Christians, Paul points out in verse 18 that they’re not serving the Lord but rather their own selfish desires.
He then shares telltale signs of such divisive persons: They’re known for smooth talking and deceiving naïve people, meaning individuals who are unable to discern their true ungodly character. What’s “smooth talk”? In modern vernacular, it’s bullcrap or another word that shares the initials of Barbara Streisand. Such people have a natural gift for storytelling and exaggeration. In other words, they have a social talent to dazzle others with bullcrap, yet not everyone, just those who are naïve and unable to recognize their smooth talk for what it is – bullcrap. They’re liars, exaggerators, boasters and flatterers who naturally provoke strife and disunity wherever they go because it’s their nature. In modern lingo, they’re narcissists.
Be on guard against such supposed Christians and keep away from them. Unless the Spirit moves you otherwise, don’t try to confront and correct them because they’ll hate you for it and turn the confrontation against you (Proverbs 9:7-9); they’ll do everything in their power to tear you to pieces like the savage wolves they are. They’ll draw you right into the realm of the flesh, which is the only plane they’re comfortable with, and bring out the worst in you. Don’t fall into their trap; don’t take the bait. Simply stay away from them, pray for them and protect the innocent lambs in your midst from their smooth-talking clutches.
This reminds me of an in-law who was so insulting and contentious that I simply stopped taking his calls. If he’d leave a message I’d automatically delete it without listening. Why? Because talking to him, or even listening to one of his messages, was like drinking spiritual poison; it would literally ruin my day – needlessly destroying my focus and sapping my positivity. I discovered that my godly sister Becky refused to take his calls as well. Trust me, neither of us came to this decision rashly; it took a full decade of loving patience, mercy and prayer. But life’s too precious to waste on people who have proven themselves to be disrespectful, arrogant ingrates, no matter how loudly they claim to be Christians. The only way I’d open my life or ears to such a proven divisive, aggravating person is if I hear from a respected source that he (or she) is willing to talk with a modicum of humility and respect. If so, I’m all ears.
Here’s another pertinent passage on the subject:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. (2) People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, (4) treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – (5) having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
These instructions were given to Paul’s young protégé, Timothy. Paul encouraged him to “have nothing to do with” these carnal individuals who had a form of godliness but denied its power (verse 5). This indicates that these were people who professed to know God but clearly lacked the power of a transformed life. Instead of “fruit” like love, joy, peace, kindness, humility and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) they showed consistent evidence of selfishness, greed, boasting, pride, abuse, ungratefulness, profaneness, hostility, slander, intemperance, rashness, conceit and hedonism (including drunkard-ness and drug-worship). As in the Romans passage above, Paul doesn’t even tell Timothy to confront and rebuke such people; he simply instructs him to have nothing to do with them.
Likewise, if the people who offend you share these consistent fleshly traits confronting them — as Christ elsewhere instructed (Matthew 18:15-17) — is useless because they lack godly character; the primary fruit being love. It’s simply impossible to correct arrogant, abusive, brutal, rash, hedonistic narcissists without being drawn into a big ugly quarrel. Again, it will inevitably draw you into the flesh and bring out the worst in you. Such people despise godliness and correction, regardless of whether or not they confess the Lord and go to church. “Have nothing to do with them.”
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