The Bible speaks a great deal about the changes we need to be making in our lives now that we are followers of Jesus. Of course, He will help us with these changes as we journey with Him in our daily life. As believers we are to live differently than the world. We are to be a counter-culture and not a sub-culture; living within the world but with a Kingdom perspective and biblical values, morals, and ethics.
We have many examples to follow. As we are discipled and then mentored we can see and follow the example of those who are walking with us on the journey. We can read the Bible and see how early believers lived. And, there are numerous books that can help us get a handle on the changes that we should be making for our own benefit and spiritual health as believers.
Paul’s words to the Colossians are particularly fascinating in this regard because he was writing to a young Christian community that didn’t really know how Christians were suppose to act or live. They didn’t have Christian grandparents who had been believers before them. They didn’t know any mature believers who had spent decades walking in the faith and who could model the way Christians live. In Colossae, faith was brand-new. Everyone was a pioneer of sorts, with no generational influence to build on. They were the first Christians they had ever known, forcing Paul to be clear and precise as he taught them how to behave. Without getting all flowery, Paul writes to the Colossians with explicit and specific words: This is how Christians act. This is how our faith and belief affect our attitudes and actions.
Paul tells the Colossians that a central theme of behaving like a believer is first taking something off: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Colossians 3:8).
In other words, “Don’t be toxic.” The entire human disposition that intentionally hurts others has to die in us. Toxic people are always putting themselves first in all relationships. They say and do things that hurt you and the relationship. They are controlling and manipulative. Harsh in what they say and how they say it. And usually abrasive.
Paul then tells the Colossians what they are to put on: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
These qualities are the polar opposites to toxicity. Compassion means you feel for others rather than setting yourself against them. Kindness means you want to help, not hurt. Humility puts others first instead of wanting to control them. Gentleness means you are tender, not harsh, and patience means you are encouraging rather than abrasive.
Notice something that is crucial for personal transformation: before Paul tells the Colossians how to behave, he reminds them of how much they are loved and prized by God, “…as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12).
Knowing that we are chosen and loved by God is the essential mind-set through which we love others and reject being toxic. With all our spiritual needs met in God, we can live in a toxic world without becoming toxic ourselves, providing we remember we are chosen and dearly loved. Because we live in a toxic world filled with toxic people, we will be treated in a toxic manner. We avoid responding in a toxic way by living out of and being motivated by the gracious love of God, who chose us when we were still living toxic lives and who ushers us into gracious living.
Toxic people find sick satisfaction in being mean, controlling, and hurtful. Believers find true satisfaction in being chosen and loved by God. That love is so overwhelming that we don’t expect people to meet our needs. We don’t want to control people or hurt people; we want people to experience the same joy and satisfaction in God that we have come to know.
God’s love and affirmation lift us to a dimension of living where fighting each other doesn’t make sense. When I feel spoiled by God, what you do to me or think of me doesn’t matter all that much, because God’s opinion is superior to yours. God’s protection makes me feel secure in the face of your assault. God’s affirmation speaks louder than your opposition or hatred. One of the primary ways we show that God has taken such good care of us spiritually is how we live and take care of others.
And, the key to that is to allow God to transform us … and we cooperate by “taking off” and “putting on.” We are partners with God in bringing about these needed changes in our life as believers and disciples of Jesus.