I grew up on old movies and classic sitcoms. Summer mornings always included a dose of I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show. Now, when the need to take a lazy break pulls at me until I can’t stand up any more, rather reluctantly I succumb to the TV thing. Me and my tiny man-child plop down for a shared re-run of Andy Griffith.
As I started rewatching the series as an adult, I realized how much watching these TV shows seep into our worldview as kids. Andy Taylor is known for being the “sheriff without a gun” because he says most folks are good and sensible enough that if you just have a nice chat, most things can be worked out.
I love that idea. I wish the world worked that way outside the little box in my living room. I wish the powers that be could sit down to a game of Scrabble and work out the problems all over the globe. And I have wished, prayed, worked, sweated, cried, prayed more, and tried for relationships in my life to work that way too.
I want every issue to be talk-out-able. I want every relationship in my life to brim over with warm fuzzies. But in God’s gracious wisdom, He delineates (for those of us who keep trying to make the world our Mayberry) a series of cautionary red flags for our relationships so we can know who to let into that precious little main street of our heart and who doesn’t belong there. Before we dive into the Scriptures that speak to this issue of hurtful people, let me share a piece of my own wrestling with this matter.
Some years back, I kept returning to the Lord with a broken heart over a relationship that I felt was supposed to work, but just didn’t. I prayed so much over this dearly loved person. I believed that if I gave 100 percent to the relationship, it would be 50 percent better until it grew to become a truly healthy, God-honoring relationship. I went on like this for years.
Eventually, totally worn out, I asked God why He kept allowing this relationship to hurt me so much. I felt the Holy Spirit press the same question into my heart, “Why are you allowing this relationship to hurt you so much?” Then in my devotional reading, I noticed a few Proverbs say things like “do not associate with” XYZ person. I did a quick word search through Scripture to find a number of red flags God gives His children to follow in the relationship department. I wasn’t in a covenant relationship with this person (marriage), yet I was absolutely bound to them despite the clear direction of Scripture not to align my heart with them.
As I struggled with this relationship and how to walk in God’s truth and grace in the midst of it, I confided to one of my Christian friends how discouraged I was over my inability to follow what I thought Scripture was instructing me; that I should be content with insults (2 Corinthians 12:10), and that suffering well finds favor with God (1 Peter 2:20), so I felt I should be able to just live in this pain and do it well. She pointed out that when we go the extra mile for someone or suffer those insults, it’s generally for the purpose of our witness.
But this person was a professing believer and my actions weren’t witnessing. Even when I spoke about the pain I felt, and tried to confront their inappropriate behavior, I was simply told that “love covers all sin” and clearly, I didn’t have enough love. So I felt guilty for hurting and ashamed that I couldn’t figure out how to be healthy in this relationship.
Eventually I felt the Lord impress on my heart “You are not your own, you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). You are choosing not to obey by being in this relationship. It’s not a matter of you being mean or nice. It’s a matter of you choosing to obey Me, the One who paid the price for your heart.”
I reread that list of red-flag Scriptures and prayed about how to follow through with love and grace. So here’s my list of verses I use as red flag warnings to be cautious in a relationship. Everyone needs grace. Everyone makes mistakes. And love triumphs over judgement, so be prayerful as you apply these words of wisdom:
“There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NAS)
(This passage wasn’t a “stay away from verse” but we are wise to avoid close relationships with people who practice things the Lord says He hates. So watch out for those traits in the people you let into your life and don’t be that kind of person either!)
“Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself.” (Proverbs 22:24-25 NAS)
“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” (Proverbs 20:19 NAS)
“But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:10 NAS)
“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” (Titus 3:9-11 NIV)
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.” (2 John 1:10-11 NAS)
The context of those last verses has to do with people who are professing believers. The 2 John passage refers to people who distort Christ and the Gospel.
At first read, these verses feel harsh to me. I’m not great with boundaries. They feel confrontational and uncomfortable. It’s easier to think about obeying God by forgiving or exercising patience. Yet, by limiting the influence damaging people have in our lives, we will end up protecting the energy, purity of heart, and focus God wants to use in our lives to reach people for Him.
Sometimes, we allow ourselves to endure unnecessary wounding in relationships because we figure it’s our duty or because it brings us to a place of humility that honors Christ. While there are a plethora of verses that instruct us to take up our cross and follow Christ (Mark 8:34), there’s much needed discernment in applying godly wisdom to our relationships as well.
In light of these verses, I’ve had to realign some relationships. People I dearly loved but had violent tempers did indeed create sticky snares in my life that God wasn’t calling me to be part of. I also learned to give less of my heart to people addicted to gossip and slander.
In each circumstance where I had to limit the influence that person had in my heart, the individual was a professing believer. They were not open to any correction and did not change that facet of life (or got worse) over the course of years. None of my realigned relationships lost my love, forgiveness, or prayers. They were simply redirected off the main street of my heart. If we truly believe that we are not our own, then regardless of how much we might love a person caught in such activities, we must realign our interaction with them because our Lord tells us to.
When we consider how we are not our own, we must also recognize that sometimes offenses will come our way and they too have been sifted through our Father’s hand. Because we don’t own the rights to our hearts anymore, our Father instructs us to forgive. He allows us to choose whether we will cling to grudges or grace. But in the end, if we are really following Him, the choice has already been made.
It is a tricky tightrope walk that applies with balance verses like:
“But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25 NAS)
“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NAS)
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
Jesus didn’t casually give Himself to people because He knew they weren’t trustworthy, and at the same time Paul knew he was called to give himself freely to the insults and persecutions of the people he was trying to reach. Those are hard to live out with balance! Both Peter and Proverbs declare guarding and loving are to be done “above all!” Personally, I can’t find that balance on my own! I need the help of the Holy Spirit.
As I have been growing in the realization that my heart isn’t cheap (regardless of how I treat it) and growing in my attempts to honor God with my relationships through obedience, I have acquired a few practical tools:
- Pray!Talk to God about every relationship you invest time in. Pray before you go to visit/chat with a friend, pray during your visit and pray afterward. Pray, pray, pray about your relationships!
- Check with someone you know has your best interest at heart.When I was a kid I would talk to my grandma about my friends. She would say, “Honey, those are acquaintances; friends don’t treat you like that.” I would assure her that they were indeed my friends (mostly because they were the only people who were remotely close to being friends) even if they didn’t act like it. Now as an adult, it is generally my husband who reminds me to be careful with my heart. Some people are just people you know, not soul-sisters. Even if you wish they were!
- Recognize that all your friends and family members are indeed human and will let you down– you will do the same to them too. So don’t make perfection the price tag for intimacy.
- Recognize that if you feel lonely in the friendship department, it might be because God wants you to lean into Himmore right now instead of being distracted with people. Cultivate your relationship with the Lord first and foremost!
- When offenses in relationships come your way, ask the Lord how He wants you to respond.Forgiveness is a given, but perhaps He isn’t requiring you to remain so close or maybe He wants you to lovingly confront the other person. Check your motive for being close to the person. Is this a healthy, Christ-centered relationship?
- Consider how your relationships center around God.The relationships that have Jesus as the center (ie. we talk about Scripture, pray for each other, etc.) are the ones that are most precious. So apply grace liberally in those relationships.
Finding balance in relationships isn’t easy! But at the end of the day, our heart belongs to our Lord! It is of great worth to Him, and no longer belongs to us. May we all grow in wisdom to know the true cost of our heart and guard it with honor.