There’s a lot of talk about toxicity nowadays. Toxic people. Toxic relationships. Even toxic churches.
When people speak of toxicity they have in mind something poisonous that creates an atmosphere unconducive to sustaining life. Toxic people can infect others with their critical spirit and negative outlook. Their negativity sucks the life out of others and causes relationships to wither and effectiveness to flounder.
This toxicity can not only characterize individuals, it can describe churches. Such churches can be life-draining rather than life-sustaining. They breed burnout. They smother the fire of God’s Spirit.
I think I know the problem.
In my book, A Vine-Ripened Life, I address cultivating the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in Christ. The garden of Galatians 5 grows lush through the union with Christ illustrated in John 15. Essential to the growth of Christian character is humility. Like chlorophyll to a plant, humility enables the nutrients of the Vine to invigorate life, growth and vitality. Humility serves as a conduit of grace.
We are told that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humility, on the other hand, eschews self-glory and self-sufficiency and roots itself fully in the Vine. Isaiah opens our eyes to the power of humility.
For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
Humility not only receives grace. It receives God Himself. It brings life, revival, energy, enthusiasm and all those outflowings of communion with God through union with Christ.
Contrary to humility is pride. Pride exalts self and asserts independence. It’s no wonder that God opposes the proud, because pride is rebellion against Him. At its core pride wants to be as God, robbing Him of His glory.
Pride is the active agent in toxicity. Like an infection of the blood, pride weakens, incapacitates and destroys. It is life-taking rather than life-giving. It is so full of self that there is no room for another, not even God. Its indicators are arrogance, abrasiveness and self-righteousness.
We’re talking about more than negativity here. The remedy to pride is not optimism. The remedy to pride is repentance because the root problem is rebellion against God.
As fallen creatures, all of us carry the infection of pride in our sin-steeped hearts, and we will be carriers as long as we are in the flesh of this mortal being. That infection flares up with little provocation, like a root of bitterness depleting us and defiling many.
That means part of our daily self-maintenance must be confession, opening ourselves to the Searcher of hearts, asking Him to wean us of pride and weed out those deeds of the flesh that set themselves against the fruit of the Spirit. It’s all part of the grace-induced effort to abide in Christ that we might display the love and patience and gentleness and all the rest that come from walking in the Spirit.
Toxicity might be an overused concept. But where we see its telltale effects in our own hearts, in our relationships and in our churches, we should test for the carcinogen of pride. The only remedy is the grace of our God, bound up in Christ, bestowed through humbling ourselves (James 4:6-10).