Since Jesus came from Heaven to walk among us, Christians tend to think that walking away from anyone, or letting anyone walk away from the truth, is a failure on our part.
But Jesus walked away or let others walk away… a lot.
There are forty-one such instances in the gospels of Jesus walking away or letting someone else walk away.
Sometimes Jesus walked away from others who wanted more of Him. Other times He walked away for His own refreshment and renewal or protection. The point is that Jesus didn’t let the needs, pleas, attacks, or unresponsiveness of others distract Him from the mission given to Him by His heavenly Father.
One important thing is we don’t see when others walk away is Jesus giving chase. As powerful as Jesus was, as brilliant as Jesus was, as pure as Jesus was, and as surrendered to God as Jesus was, not everyone He interacted with “changed,” repented, or agreed with Him.
Sometimes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk away from others or to let them walk away from us.
Today I read another excerpt from that same book, When to Walk Away but this time Gary says that there may be occasions where we either don’t want to or can’t walk away from a toxic person. In this excited excerpt Gary uses the relationship between Judas, who we know was very toxic, and Jesus. Although Jesus, who knew the kind of man Judas was, could have kicked him out of the group, He didn’t. Jesus allowed Him to remain a part of His inner circle because it was necessary in Jesus’ mission to save mankind.
But Sometimes We Can’t Walk Away
Editor’s Note: This is edited content from “When We Can’t Walk Away” published on faithgateway.
When we can walk away from toxic people, we probably and usually should. But when financial necessity, work obligations, family relationships, or even the accomplishment of our God-given mission necessitates that we find a way to live or work with a toxic person, we can learn much by following Jesus’ example with Judas.
Though Jesus often walked away and let others walk away, He obviously and clearly kept one toxic person very close to His side — His betrayer, Judas. Let’s focus on three key strategies, based on Jesus’ interaction with Judas, for how we can live with or work alongside toxic people.
Jesus Didn’t View His Mission as Stopping Toxic People from Sinning
Jesus knew Judas was a thief and never chose to stop Him.
One of [Jesus’] disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. — John 12:4-6
If John knew Judas was a thief, Jesus knew Judas was a thief. In fact, Jesus knew that Judas was worse than a thief.
“Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray Him.)
Jesus knew Judas was toxic. He could have stopped Judas from stealing and His future betrayal by kicking Him out of their group at any time.
But He didn’t. Why? Jesus kept the bigger mission in mind. To seek first God’s Kingdom, He had to raise up a band of disciples. He also had to die on the cross. He wasn’t waylaid by individual battles of piety with His disciples, as we are prone to do with people around us. Addressing Judas’s thievery would be like a neurosurgeon clipping someone’s fingernails. There were more important issues at hand. And Jesus’ mission was not to stop everybody from sinning.
This is actually a freeing word for believers. Your mission is not to confront every sin you hear or know of, even among your perhaps toxic family members or coworkers. Of course, if you’re a parent of a child still living at home, confronting sin is an appropriate part of spiritual training.
But at extended family gatherings, with hard-hearted friends and certainly coworkers, our job isn’t to be “sin detectives” who discover how others are messing up and then unleash havoc by sharing our opinions with those who don’t want to hear them.
Jesus could have spent all twenty-four hours of every day trying to confront every one of His disciples’ sins. Instead, He focused on training and equipping reliable people. Focusing on others’ sin makes you focus on what’s toxic. Because our goal is to seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, we may have to deal with some things differently. Witnessing sin in your presence doesn’t require you to act as prosecuting attorney, judge, and jury.
Jesus Didn’t Let Judas’ Toxicity Become His
Jesus gave him a front row seat to the most significant life ever lived, and Judas sold Him out.
And yet at the Last Supper, when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, Jesus made sure that Judas was still present. He even washed the feet of His toxic betrayer. Even in the face of ungratefulness and malice, Jesus kept the door open to relational reconciliation.
Later when Judas walks up to Jesus to hand Him over to the soldiers, Jesus looks at Judas and says,
Do what you came for, friend. — Matthew 26:50
Friend? How about skunk? Jesus said “friend” because Jesus didn’t have a toxic molecule in His body. There was nowhere for toxicity to take root. God is radically for people. He wants everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). As His followers, we also must be for everyone, even if we oppose what they’re doing. If we must live and work with toxic people, our call is to make sure their toxicity doesn’t become ours. We don’t treat them as they treat us. We don’t offer evil in exchange for evil. We love. We serve. We guard our hearts so that we are not poisoned by their bad example.
Jesus Spoke Truth to Crazy
Jesus never pretended that what Judas was doing wasn’t toxic. In fact, He warned Judas at the Last Supper that if he were to go through with his plans, things wouldn’t end well for him:
Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. — Mark 14:21
When Judas kissed Him in Gethsemane, Jesus replied,
Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss? — Luke 22:48
When dealing with toxic people, you don’t have to pretend they’re not toxic. You don’t have to pretend they are well-meaning but perhaps misguided. Toxic people are experts at twisting things, making us feel crazy for admitting the truth (what counselors call gaslighting).
Sometimes we can’t walk away but have to learn how to live or work around toxic people. This will require us to become stronger than we’ve ever been before. Don’t try to control a controller. Don’t let their ups and downs become your ups and downs.
Keep first things first. Our job isn’t to stop people from sinning.
Guard against letting someone else’s toxicity tempt you to respond in a similarly toxic fashion. We can’t control what toxic people do and say, but we can control what we do and say.
Don’t allow someone who is ruining their life to ruin yours as well.
We live by the truth. We don’t have to pretend toxic people aren’t toxic; we just have to learn a nontoxic way of interacting with them.