Loving Difficult People
Loving Difficult People
Of course, Jesus has already plainly spoken on this subject: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48). One writer noted, “As you aware of the tremendous advantage frogs have over humans? They can eat anything that bugs them! Wouldn’t it be great if we could consume our relational problems rather than letting them consume us!” (Be a People Person, Maxwell, p. 104).
We must first begin with the right view of the love that Jesus commands. Such love is an act of the will more than an emotional feeling. The love that Jesus commands is an undefeatable good will toward others. Consider the following facts as motivation to love people as Jesus commands:
1. God is not respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). 2. God desires all people to repent and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). 3. Every person you ever encounter is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). 4. As you encounter people, look into their eyes, you will always see someone who has a soul worth more than the entire world (Matthew 16:26). You will never look into the eyes of someone who doesn’t need God in their life. 5. If we can’t love others whom we can see, how can we love God, Whom we cannot see? (1 John 4:20) 6. Every one of us, probably at some time in our lives has been a difficult person to love. Remember, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Look back on your past and remember the times when you were moody, arrogant, selfish or ornery. Did you appreciate the attempts that people made to treat you with kindness and patience?
“Show me a person who sees himself or herself in a negative light and I will show you a person who sees others in a negative way. When you realize that people treat you according to how they see themselves rather than how you really are, you are less likely to be affected by their behavior” (Maxwell pp. 105,107). This is something important to remember about an enemy or a difficult person. If they don’t like you, then probably, they don’t like themselves much either. “The key to successful relationships really gets down to responsibility. I am responsible for how I treat others. I may not be responsible for how they treat me; but I am responsible for my reaction to those who are difficult. I can’t choose how you’ll treat me, but I can choose how I will respond to you” (Maxwell p. 107). (See Proverbs 15:1; Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”; 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”; Luke 6:27-28 “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”.
First of all, this is just a sample of what we might call difficult people. What each person needs is a relationship with Jesus Christ, they need to be converted, born again! (John 3:3-5) The good news is that any one of these people can change, for a good number of faithful Christians used to be in one of these categories. Remember, each one of the following categories is a choice and can be removed just like everything else that is associated with the old man (Colossians 3:9 “since you have laid aside the old self with its evil practices”; 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come”).
· The Space Cadet: This person lives in his or her own world and definitely walks to the beat of a different drummer. Many space cadets are extremely brilliant and creative and often this is part of the problem, they know they are extremely brilliant and at times their weird behavior is nothing more than a manifestation of pride. Like the Pharisees, the space cadet can fall into the trap of viewing everyone else as inferior (Luke 18:11). The good news is that in the gospel there is exactly what this person needs: 1. First, they will be humbled at the fact that before God, we are all inferior, and that the ground at the cross is level (Romans 3:23). 2. Secondly, the gospel message forces a person to think logically and reasonably. The gospel is very convicting and will force us to get rid of any “off-the-way theories” (1 Timothy 1:3). 3. For someone who loves to think and be creative with their mind, the doctrines in the Bible will provide them with all the mental exercise they can handle (Hebrews 5:12-14). 4. Space cadets can be irresponsible, superficial, or loners, and the gospel is the answer to each one of these character problems.
· The Volcano: The Volcano is an explosive, unpredictable type of person who tends to be unapproachable. Those who have to work or live with this person can never relax; they never know what might set him or her off. The good news is that the gospel has the answer for such a person. Anger is a choice; we know it is a choice because God says that it can be removed (Ephesians 4:26,31). It isn’t a pleasant task trying to help a Volcano, but remember if the Volcano doesn’t change, he or she will end up lost (Galatians 5:20). 1. The gospel message can convict an honest heart of the anger they are harboring. In light of the fact that we have sinned, what right do we have to be angry about anything that has or hasn’t happened to us? (Psalm 103:10). If anyone has the “right” to be angry, it is God! 2. Such a person needs to be convicted concerning how his or her anger is really hurting the people they claim to love. 3. These people need to be held accountable for the things they say and the people they harm. 4. Deal with them in a calm, but strong manner(Proverbs 15:1). Remove them from the crowd and remain calm yourself. 5. When listening to their venting, don’t allow them to exaggerate, remove any hearsay, pin them down on the details, and bring them back to what God has done for them. Often the Volcano is a person who has completely lost sight of all their blessings. 6. Don’t buy the excuse that this is an inherent part of who they are, for such a person has used anger, because anger up to this point has enabled them to get what they want. Explosive anger is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:20), and like every other work of the flesh, selfishness is behind it.
· The Thumb Sucker: Thumb suckers tend to pout, are full of self-pity, and try to get people to cater to their own desires. This pouting is used as leverage to manipulate others. “If things are not going their way, they can create a heavy atmosphere that is as oppressive as a rain cloud. They can do this very cleverly. Often they employ the silent treatment to get what they want” (Maxwell p. 110). 1. Such a person needs to be informed that their moodiness is a choice. People become moody to manipulate people and gain control. They are very seldom moody by themselves. 2. Everybody in the world has problems, so this person has no right to place their problems at the head of the line. 3. Expose such a person to people who have “real problems” and yet who are living faithfully and cheerfully (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). 4. “It is important to never reward or give attention to moody people. Giving them an opportunity to publicly exhibit their negative attitudes gives them a sense of recognition” (p. 111). 5. Even people who have “real problems”, from God’s perspective, do not have a right to become moody or wallow in self-pity (Hebrews 10:32-34; 12:1-15). 6. Such a person needs to be made aware of how damaging their moodiness really is. The sad fact concerning all these chosen personalities is that the world often tends to excuse them or, even worse, reward them. The fact of the matter is that self-pity can keep us out of heaven (Numbers 13-14). God in times past has been very stern with people who become a discouraging factor among God’s people. 1. If we are focused on our own problems, how are we going to help others? (Matthew 25:35-40; Galatians 6:1) 2. The command from God is to “encourage” others, not discourage them (Hebrews 3:13; 12:12; 1 Thess. 5:14).
· The Garbage Collector: “Oh, how they love to rehearse and replay the injuries they have suffered at the hands of other people. They nurse their wounds and hold onto their wounded ill spirits. The fact that there is garbage in life is depressing enough, but to collect it and haul it around town in a dump truck for public viewing is downright sick” (p. 111). 1. First, never allow these people to generalize. If they say, “There are many others who feel this way also”. Demand names! What you will find is that behind the “big deal” is maybe one or two people. 2. Remind them that they have committed sins against God! (Matthew 18:21-35). 3. Such a person needs to be reminded that they are not unique. Everyone has been sinned against from time to time, everyone has been wronged, and that their situation is not the most important. 4. If they have been truly sinned against, then such a person needs to be encouraged to practice Matthew 18:15. 5. The passage in 1 Corinthians 13:5 is very convicting; “Love does not take into account a wrong suffered”. 6. Garbage collecting, holding on to all the wrongs you have endured, carrying around all the “trash” that has happened in the church, using it as an excuse not to be faithful or involved, is a manifestation of hate, not love.
· The User: Is the person who manipulates others for his or her own personal gain. Users avoid responsibility themselves, while demanding time and energy from others to benefit their own situations. They often use guilt to get what they want. They might put up a weak front in order to get people to feel sorry for them. 1. First, set predetermined limits on how far you will go to help them (2 Thess. 3:10). 2. Require responsibility and accountability from such a person (Galatians 6:5; Philippians 2:12). If they need help, then demand that they do something to help themselves. 3. Don’t feel obligated to such a person, and don’t feel guilty for not helping them. 4. Be willing to say no to a request. Remember, the church and world is full of people who really do need assistance! 5. Give them what they really need, not what they want. For example, food instead of cash, a lift to a job interview, a Bible class, and so on.
Love people as God loves them, that is, do what is best for their eternal interest and not their or your comfort. Ask God for wisdom in dealing with others. Stay emotionally and spiritually healthy yourself. Be honest with God, yourself and others.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017