daily Broadcast

How to Deal with Difficult People in Your Life, Part 1

From the series Love One Another

Do you have a difficult person in your life - a person who makes you nuts? Do you wonder, "Is there a Godly response to this person?" If you’re faced with that person right now, join Chip as he shares how to deal with the difficult people in your life.

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Message Transcript

Well, I’d like to start off a little bit differently in that I’d like to start with a survey, okay? Here’s my first question. How many people here, question number one, have a difficult person in your life? Yes. Some people call these “sandpaper people” because they rub you the wrong way. Other people call these people “EGRs” – Extra Grace Required – to deal with them.

How many people, in your honest heart of hearts, would really like for God to relocate some of these people? If they are your boss, they could get transferred. I won’t go any further than that.

How many of you aren’t quite sure if you have a difficult person or not? Honestly, you are thinking, “You know, I’m not sure.”

Let me give you, I was listening to a similar subject by a fellow named John Ortberg and he gives kind of, six characteristics of when you know you have a difficult person in your life. So, let me pass them on.

First, when they call, you get a sinking feeling and you don’t want to talk to them. Second, when you are with them, and after they leave, you feel like all the energy in your whole body just gets sucked right out of you, and you’re drained.

Third, when you’re in conversation with them, you feel artificial, awkward, and uncomfortable. And what you like best about the conversation is when it’s over. Fourth, you feel guilty about how you behave around them. You find yourself telling little white lies like, “I know I’m really here but I can’t tell them I’m not here but I really can’t come to the phone.” You find yourself seeing them and taking other corridors, you find yourself acting like you don’t see them when you do, and then you feel bad and guilty about how you treat them.

Fifth, after being with them, you eat more. This just happens, you just need something to eat. And then sometimes after you’re with them, you begin to bite your fingernails. If it’s a really bad experience, you want to bite theirs.

And the final little one is you have private, imaginary conversations because they build frustration and struggle and tension, and you can never get it quite right and so you have imaginary conversations with them because it never quite gets the way you want it to be and you have these conversations where finally you say it, and you say it really clear, you get it all out, they get it, you’re the hero, and they are sort of the goat.

But in real life, it never works out that way. Ever.

Now, if you have at least half of those symptoms, I would suggest you have a difficult person in your life. And although you long and I long, on days, for God to remove them,

here’s the thesis of the morning. I put it on the front of your teaching handout.

I’d like to suggest, from Scripture and the very lips of Christ, that sometimes the person we most want God to remove from our lives is the person we need the most. Okay? Lean back, lean back and I want you to digest that.

Sometimes, the person we most want God to remove from our lives is actually the very person we need the most.

Now, I can hear your mind spinning, saying, “Wait, wait, wait, wait a minute, Chip, are you actually saying that God has allowed this person to come into my life?” Yes, in fact, I’m going to go beyond that and say since God is good, God is sovereign, God is all knowing, I’m going to suggest that He not only allowed this difficult person in your life, but I’m going to go so far to say that in some cases, sometimes, He has actually placed them there purposefully in order to do some things in you and through you that can never happen without this difficult person.

Now, by the way, I said “sometimes.” There are some people that maybe God doesn’t want in your life. You say, “Well, why?” Why could God, I mean, you’re thinking, you got this sinking feeling, there’s a picture of someone’s face in your mind for most of you and you’re thinking of this difficult person. They make you nuts, they make you crazy, your personalities don’t mesh. In fact, I’m sure I’m the difficult person in some people’s lives.

Why in the world would God allow these sandpaper people to be in our lives? Let me give you three reasons. First, because how we treat difficult people reveals the true condition of our heart. We’ll look at that later. Second, difficult people cause us to grow in ways we couldn’t on our own. The fact of the matter is you would never grow in the way that God wants apart from some of these people in your life.

And third, and I think most importantly, the most distinguishing mark of Jesus’ followers is their love for those they would not and could not love on their own.

I went on a little vacation in the middle of last summer with my wife. Went to a real neat spot, it was an awesome time, and I thought I needed not only to be emotionally refreshed and have this great anniversary time with her but I thought, “God, I want to be spiritually refreshed. I would like You to bring a passage,” you know, I tend to like to read big chunks and then study, “God, I’d like a passage that would just really minister to me. Something I really need that You’d grab hold of me.”

And I was reading through the book of Luke at the time and I got to chapter 6 verse 27 through 36. And I read that on our vacation and I read that every day, every day for about three weeks because I couldn’t let it loose. There was something about that passage that I knew God wanted to speak to me, it was so radical.

I’d like to read it because it’s exactly what’s said here. The most distinguishing characteristic, historically, of Jesus’ followers is loving people that we either would not or could not love. Listen to the very words of Christ.

He says, “But I tell you who hear Me, love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also, if someone takes your cloak do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from who you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

“But,” listen to this, “love your enemies, and do good to them, and lend to them, without expecting to get anything back, then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” And then He ends with a little command, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

You know, as you read through the gospels, Jesus does this uncanny thing. He makes His people nuts, doesn’t He? He loves Gentiles. Jews don’t like Gentiles. He loves Samaritans. Jews hated Samaritans. He treats women with respect, He treats slaves, He loves lepers, He reaches into the life of a Roman centurion.

We read that and we’re a little bit distanced. He is purposefully moving through society – tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes – He just keeps doing what no one can understand. He loves the unlovable of His day.

And what He is teaching here, in Luke chapter 6, is that the most distinguishing mark of a genuine follower of Jesus is not how we love people that are easy to love. It’s how we love people that are hard to love. Basically, what He says is, “When you’re in the mafia, you’re in the family, they love one another! So what? Drug dealers love other drug dealers.” He’s saying, “Big deal!”

He says, “The real issue is when you love someone who is outside of your circle, and you say to yourself, “Well, I don’t have any big enemies,” well that’s good because here’s my suggestion. You know your difficult person? They are not even an enemy, they are probably not persecuting you, I hope.

But here’s the deal, an enemy is someone you don’t want to be around, right? So, I think a difficult person qualifies. Here’s the question we want to deal with today: How do you love people that are hard to love? How do you love your difficult person? What’s the Scripture say?

How do you treat the people that make you nuts? How do you treat sandpaper people? How do you treat people that you want to avoid? How does God want us, in the body, to respond to them and why?

And let me tell you the answer to that question. The little phrase in Scripture called, “Bear with one another,” it’s found only in two places in this form.

Ephesians chapter 4 verses 2 and 3, and Colossians 3:13. How are we to respond to these people? We are to “bear with” difficult people. In the context, Ephesians 4 verse 1 says, “I urge you therefore, as a prisoner of the Lord, to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” He said, “I want you to live up to how God made you, new in Christ.”

And then he tells us how in verse 2, “Being completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love, make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

It’s interesting when you diagram this. When you diagram this, out of the original text, basically, the main thought is, “Walk in a manner worthy,” and then, “of your calling.” And then, literally, it’s just, “With humility, with gentleness, with patience,” and those are all modifiers of – how – this participle, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort,” another participle, “to bring about unity in relationships.”

It’s hard to have unity when people make you crazy, isn’t it? But that’s what our calling is.

In fact, let’s do a little digging, let’s find out the meaning of the word “bearing with one another,” you ready? The literal meaning of that phrase is “to hold yourself back,” I thought that was interesting. To bear with a person means “to hold yourself back.” That’s what I have to do.

The difficult people in my life, I have to hold myself back from what I really want to say. I have to hold myself back from what I’d really like to do. I have to hold myself back from those cutting remarks that, and they sometimes are so funny, I just want to say them! They just zoom right from my brain right to my tongue and it would just slice them. But I just know, other than being cruel and ungodly, it’s not the right thing to do.

The idea means “to put up with people.” It has the concept of enduring that in other people that irritates you, frustrates you, and makes you not want to be around them.

This little phrase, “bearing up,” means tolerating and looking beyond the idiosyncrasies, the personalities, the weaknesses, the mannerisms, the differences, and the styles of others that bother you. Did I get it all in? Did your difficult person get in there somewhere?

I know, some of them, it’s just their personality. I understand, I think I know how I’m wired up, and then if I get someone a lot like me, I make them nuts. Or if I get around someone who is way, way different than me, I make them more nuts. And sometimes vice versa.

See, we all have difficult people in our life. And, often, it’s not a moral issue. Sometimes it is. Sometimes, it’s just water and oil. It just doesn’t mix.

Well, what’s it look like? It’s one thing to say, “Okay, we need to endure, we need to put up with them, we need to look beyond those things, we need to be tolerant, we need to be loving,” but what does that look like?

Well, in both passages where this little word is used, there are these three modifiers. We’re to bear up, how? With humility, with gentleness, and with patience. Let’s take a look at what each one means. First, we need to bear with them in humility.

The word literally means “lowliness.” In the New Testament, it has the idea of having an accurate view of yourself. It’s not thinking too high, not thinking too low. In fact, genuine humility is not thinking of yourself at all. Philippians 2:3 and 4 it tells us, “Don’t do anything out of emptiness or vainglory or conceit but with humility of mind, treat other people as though they were as important,” but it goes on to say, not as important but “as though they were better than you, as though they have more importance.”

That difficult person, I want you to let the picture of them come to your mind. Do you know why you have to deal with them in humility? Because down deep you have this sense that they are inferior to you.

Often difficult people lack social skills, don’t they? Everyone has a feel in the group and everyone knows how it flows, and they just come into the conversation like that and you go, “Oh man.”

And so, down deep, you feel like you are here and they are here, right? If you were really honest you would say they have a personality defect. If you were really, really honest you would probably evaluate them on a sliding scale like they are just a little less intelligent than you. They have a little less savvy than you. They are probably a little less spiritual than you. And so you know what? Over time, you know how you start looking at a difficult person? You’re superior; they are inferior.

And so what you do then is your head is always tilted. You prejudge them. Whatever comes out of their mouth, whatever comes out of their mouth, you know it’s – what? “Well, what do you expect from them?”

And so we get in the habit of prejudging and we get in the habit of passing judgment on their opinions before they even open their mouth. And so, if we are going to bear with them, the first step is humility.

And I’ve translated this into a sentence that I thought would be helpful: See them and treat them as people of equal or superior value than yourself. Ooh. Now, think of your difficult person. And you’re thinking, “You’re kidding.” No. I mean, no. See them, first, and then treat them as people of equal or superior value.

See, we sometimes think that we pray these prayers and there’s going to be this spiritual transaction. All of a sudden you get patient, you get gentle, how does it work? Woo! I think I got patience coming on! You know? It doesn’t work like that!

God works these things in your heart, in your mind, and He changes you – how? By practicing the very thing you need to develop.

I’d like to suggest that God may well have purposefully put the difficult person in your life to help you grow. The first step, then – what? – is you need to bear with them, not grudgingly, how? But with humility. But it goes on.

After that it’s with gentleness. We have looked at this word before. It means “power under control.”

See, it’s the idea of instead of using your power to control, you use your power to love. That’s what Jesus did. He said, “I’m meek.” He had all power. He speaks, it comes into existence.

But instead of using His power to make people obey, Jesus was so strong that He could be meek, or gentle, and extend love because He was secure. And we tend to be harsh, if not in our words and our actions, at least in our mind, don’t we, with difficult people.