Question: "What does the Bible say about dealing with difficult people?"
Answer: Our response to difficult people should center on the examples provided by Jesus, for He surely dealt with many difficult people during His time here on earth. His interactions with these people was never with an attitude of superiority or dominance, but rather one of subservience. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was quite specific: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, 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” (Luke 6:27-31).
We also see a related statement by Jesus in Matthew 19:30: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” This is a very difficult assignment, and it is certainly not something we can do on our own or in our own power. Yet it is not impossible if we seek the Lord’s help, because power from the Holy Spirit will enable us to do things we could never do on our own. In so doing, however, it is important to recall the admonition given by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” When we succeed in dealing with difficult people with a Christ-like attitude, it is never a cause for pride or self-aggrandizement; it is an occasion to praise the God who makes all things possible through Christ, who strengthens and empowers us (Philippians 4:13).
Some advice similar to that of the passage by Luke, and just as difficult to follow, is given by Paul to the Christians in Philippi, when he tells them to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2: 3-4). Furthermore, Proverbs 12:16 tells us that “a fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” Chapter 13 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains a description of true Christian love—it is to be patient and kind (v. 4).
Putting all this together, the way to deal with difficult people is to love them, pray for them, expect to give rather than to receive, maintain a humble spirit, and relate to them in patience and kindness. But more important is the need to pray for the Spirit’s power to change our own hearts and minds toward the difficult person and enable us to see him as needing the same love, grace and mercy that God extended toward us. Jesus even forgave the men who were killing Him, as related in Luke 23:34-39. The way to deal with difficult people, then, is to imitate Christ’s humility and love. That kind of response is both edifying to us and pleasing to the Lord.
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